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Saturday: Sabbath

Luke 23:56; Matthew 23:62-66

I sometimes wonder what Sabbath would have sounded like in ancient Israel. I imagine it would be quiet. There would be no rattle of cart wheels in the streets, no shouting of vendors in the market, no braying of donkeys on the roads.

Of all the verses in Scripture about the week leading up to Jesus’ resurrection, only six talk about what happened on the Sabbath. In Luke’s telling of the story, the Sabbath gets half a verse, tacked on to the telling of Jesus’ burial late on the day of Preparation: “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (23:56). It’s only Matthew that gives any detail of what happened on that day: the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate with their concerns about grave robbers (23:62-66).

When I lived in Pennsylvania, my small town had a Chabad- Hasidic Jewish synagogue at the top end of State Street. Newtown was full of historic buildings where George Washington had slept, and most along State Street—the main street of the town—had been converted into boutique shops and restaurants. I lived at the bottom end of State Street, and on a Saturday afternoon, the street and sidewalks between my apartment and the synagogue were crowded with chatting shoppers, hands full of bags and Starbucks beverages.

Every Saturday afternoon, quiet in the midst of the bustle, families, dressed in their finest, their heads covered, their prayer shawls showing from beneath their coats, walked slowly up State Street to worship. It was often a bit of a shock for first- timers. I had friends over one Saturday and when the fourth or fifth family passed by the window, my friend asked, “What is going on out there?” What always surprised me was how quiet the families were as they went to worship. I rarely heard them in conversation, and if they spoke to one another, it was in undertones. They stood out from the chatting shoppers, not only visually, but audibly.

I wonder what the Sabbath after the crucifixion would have sounded like on the streets of Jerusalem. Following the shouting crowds of the day before, it probably seemed even more quiet than usual. In the silence, then, there rang the tramping of feet, the creak of leather armor, the rattle of swords in sheaths, and the pounding of spear handles hitting the ground every other step. A small group of soldiers had been ordered to guard a tomb on the outskirts of the city.

And, sitting quietly in their homes on the Sabbath, the people would have heard the disturbance, surprisingly loud. They would have looked at each other and asked, “What is going on out there?” And some, in the know, may have said, “They’re afraid. That Jesus said He would rise again.” But most would likely have shrugged their shoulders and gone back to their day of rest, little realizing that they stood in the quiet moment between two cataclysms which would change the world: the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

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