This afternoon at 4pm was the service of Vespers for Holy Saturday – also known as the taking down of the cross, or the “unnailing service”. This prayer service marks the end of the crucifixion of Jesus, the taking down of His body, and the preparation for burial by Joseph of Arimathea. This theme continues into tonight’s service, the Matins of Holy Saturday, which is also called the “burial service”. After several readings from the Old Testament, including the profound “Suffering Servant” passage in Isaiah (53:13-54:1) and a final composite Gospel reading, telling the story of the crucifixion, a burial shroud with the image of Jesus as He was taken down from the cross, is lifted high in the air and brought out among the people and placed on a prepared “tomb” in the center of the church. The faithful then approach the tomb and actually anoint the shroud with the image of Christ and place rose petals around it, also venerating it.
The story of the tomb, as it is prepared at St. Stephens, and in parishes across the world, needs told. This afternoon I stopped into the church between services to take care of a few things. I knew that several of the young people in the church were planning on being there, along with a few adults to work on the tomb. I showed up to find a full parking lot and went in to see a flurry of activity, beloved parishioners of all ages – some working on the tomb, some working on spring cleaning preparations for Pascha, some preparing music, and some working on putting in the new rugs that were generously donated to us – so that they could be in before Pascha. It was a beautiful picture of the other side of the liturgical life of the Church – really, its not two sides, the prayer life and the community/fellowship/shared work side — the two are completely interconnected and both are needed for a genuinely healthy church community — I’m blessed.
The tomb remains out through tonight and tomorrow – the burial shroud remains on until the words “But I shall arise!” are sung at the Paschal Vigil tomorrow. One parishioner mentioned that the shroud held so much meaning in our parish because it had our tears, our prayers, our love for the Savior all wrapped up in it. It is a good thing to be with the people of God, standing watch by the tomb, awaiting the promised Resurrection.
Next Up – Matins of Holy Saturday (Burial Service) 7pm, All Night Psalm Reading/Vigil by the Tomb, 9pm-10am (Byzantine Lamentations at Midnight)