HIS LIFE-GIVING SLEEP
“He who shut in the depths is beheld dead, / Wrapped in fine linen and spices. / The Immortal One is laid in a tomb as a mortal man. / The women have come to anoint Him with myrrh, / Weeping bitterly and crying: / ‘This is the most blessed Sabbath / On which Christ has fallen asleep. He will rise on the third day!’” (Byzantine Kontakion-hymn of Holy Saturday)
Today, on this “most blessed Saturday,” Christ “sleeps” in the Tomb, while those who buried Him “rest,” according to the commandment.” (Lk 23: 56) But the silence of Holy Saturday is packed with invisible, life-giving activity, as the Maker of all things visible “and invisible” is busy at work, “shutting in the depths.” What does that mean?
As He is “beheld dead,” buried in the depths of the earth, His work is not finished. He goes further into our depths, into our hell, to shut down its dominion over all of us. Christ indeed dies a physical death, but “it was impossible for death to hold Him” (Acts 2:24), as Giver of Life. He does pause in death, going through it, but He now descends into hell as One already triumphant, as a very unpleasant surprise to death and its servants. Today He paves the way out of death and darkness, for me and all of us; Indeed we still die a physical death, as He did, but a seed “does not come to life unless it dies,” as St. Paul reminds me (1 Cor 15:36).
Let me stay close to His life-giving Tomb today, beholding the life-giving sleep of One Who now does for me what I could not do for myself: He “shuts in the depths,” so they are no longer the bottomless pit they were before, swallowing us up. No, in Him and with Him our suffering is transfigured into a life-giving journey toward new life. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55) To Him Who sleeps today, swallowing up my death in victory, I ascribe all glory here and now, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.