Setting a Watch

Holy Saturday commemorates the day between our Lord’s brutal execution, and his glorious resurrection.

From the rising of today’s sun, to the setting of the same, his precious body was separated from his human soul, such that he who is eternal Life truly experienced the deprivations of death.

God, of course, cannot die, and such a state could not have lasted long. By taking death upon himself, therefore, the living God overthrew mortality itself, in a maneuver more amazing than those of any judo or chess champion.

If today is then the day that death died, we would do well to ponder what the Lord’s death teaches us about our own.

Death entered the world on account of sin, and sin is the attempt to live without reference to God. Since God is the source of all that is, such an attempt is suicidal. To divorce ourselves from God is to sever our ties to reality itself, and therefore to court complete annihilation.

In his generosity, however, our Father is unwilling to retract any of the gifts he has given. This also includes the power of free will. Those who will not have him in their lives will not cease to exist, but they will in a real sense get what they choose, in the form of a diminished existence, ultimately terminating in a condition best described as eternal death.

In the office of Holy Saturday, we recite the following meditation: Sepúlto Dómino, signátum est monuméntum, volvéntes lápidem ad óstium monuménti: ponéntes mílites, qui custodírent illum. Accedéntes príncipes sacerdótum ad Pilátum, petiérunt illum.

“After the Lord was buried, they sealed the sepulcher, rolling a stone to the door of the sepulcher, setting a watch to keep Him. The chief priests came together unto Pilate, and made that request unto him.”

Here, the princes of God’s chosen people set an example for us by setting a watch at the tomb of our Redeemer.

Their intention, of course, is to maintain the separation between themselves and God, by enforcing the separation of Christ’s body and soul, which they wickedly brought about. Ours should be precisely the opposite: by mourning our separation from God, to allow him to restore that bond that is the only source of any life worth living.

As we set a watch of our own at our Lord’s tomb, here is a setting of the above prayer by a composer well known to readers of this blog, Jan Dismas Zelenka:

May it assist us in embracing the lesson of this stupendous day, in which the victory of death became its defeat, and our Lord’s loss became our eternal gain.

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