After all the tumult and activity associated with the passion week – the entry into Jerusalem, the clearing of the money changers from the temple, the Passover supper in the upper room, the arrest of Jesus in the garden, the circuitous trial proceedings, and the crucifixion of Christ – very little is written about the day after. Holy Saturday. While little is written about it, it would be a mistake to think that all was quiet.
One thing which is recorded is the panic-stricken activity among the chief priests and the pharisees. It is clear this crucifixion they have orchestrated has not put an end to the Jesus problem. More is going on here than they anticipated. The death of Christ is associated with ominous signs including earthquakes, walking dead, and most importantly the ripping of the temple vail.
The religious leaders are fearful of what Jesus’ followers might do – stealing Jesus’ body and perpetrating a hoax about a resurrection. The status quo is at risk. Rome’s tolerance of Jewish culture and their political control may be lost. There had been other supposed messianic figures before Jesus which were cause for some disruption, but the Jesus movement apparently had more momentum than others, and the threat was real. Any more upheaval in Jerusalem, and the Empire might put its fist down.
The angst of the priests and Pharisees no doubt spilled over into the house of Pilate. The city of Jerusalem is still overflowing with people who came to observe the Passover. Pilate made efforts the day before to avert a riot or insurrection. Until the pilgrims have left the city, he certainly perceived he was sitting on a powder keg. So, the worries of the religious leaders heightened his own concerns. He was all too eager to grant them their request of posting a guard at the tomb – anything to avoid more trouble which could put his political ambitions at risk.
If the strange events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion troubled the religious leaders, they no doubt caused a stir among the crowds of people who were hanging out in Jerusalem. They had been carried away in adulation about the prophet Jesus when he entered the city, and then just days later are stirred up over his trial which ended with their cries for his crucifixion. They too would have been perplexed by the strange signs they witnessed the day before.
Then of course there are the followers of Jesus. Their revered leader, in a sudden whirlwind of events, has been captured and killed. Would they be next? We have some sense from what is written in the gospels that most of the disciples had scattered and were hiding out. With sanctified imagination we can guess that these disciples were holding up in various places trying to figure out how they can transition back into society and avoid their own persecution. Trying to continue what Jesus started was likely far from their minds.
As an entomologist, I cannot help but relate all this to what occurs during the life cycle of a butterfly. Its juvenile stage is filled with constant processes of eating, molting and growing. There is a flurry of activity up until the time the caterpillar enters its chrysalis stage, and then everything seems to go quiet. Despite appearances, the pupal stage is the most energetic time in its life cycle. Everything is changing.
Nearly every body system is being broken down in order to transform that fat worm-like larva into an adult body fitted with coiled proboscis, long legs, slender body and big beautiful wings. Early on in the chrysalis everything seems like a mess – if you open a chrysalis early on, it will appear like a bunch of goo. But, in the middle of all that goo, all the new body parts are emerging. To say the change is dramatic would be an understatement.
A general rule in looking back on history is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because the gospel record does not record much activity on Holy Saturday does not mean there wasn’t any. The appearance of quiet is only that – unrest and chaos were everywhere – everything seemed like a mess. Little did all those involved in the events in Jerusalem know at the time that everything was changing. What would occur over the next day and many days to follow would usher in a transformation which would change the course of history, and more importantly, change lives for eternity.