We come to the full circle of this eight day week. We experience the resurrection of Lazarus and the death of Christ on the Cross – knowing both to be signs of the Kingdom of God and the universal resurrection. We experience baptism in this week in which we ourselves put on Christ, overcoming death so that we can live with Christ.
St. Paul in his letter to the Romans says:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (Romans 6:3-9)
On Holy Saturday we already begin to experience the victory of Christ. The Kingdom of heaven is breaking into this world, our world. In Genesis 1, it is on Saturday that God creates humans. It is on Holy Saturday that God recreates humanity, descending into Hades to free humankind from the ravages of death.
A week ago on Saturday, with Christ resurrecting Lazarus, we begin anticipating the resurrection of the dead at the end of time. With Christ’s death on the cross we experience the fulfillment of God’s plan to conquer evil by love. As we sing in the Church’s liturgy:
“Those who buried themselves with Christ by baptism into death
And risen with him, sing praises and cry out, saying:
‘Where is your victory, O Death? Hades where is your sting?
For the Lord is risen, the Life and Resurrection.”
And so on Holy Saturday we in anticipation of life in the world to come celebrate the resurrection of our Savior. Already we proclaim the resurrection Gospel lesson from Matthew 28.
“Only God can save. In order to save man, he voluntarily ‘lowered himself not only to mankind itself, but to the very depths of human fallenness, to the very last degree of disintegration – unto death itself.’ For death is inextricably tied with sin: it enslaves a person to sin and engulfs one in one’s own self-interest, forcing one to fight for one’s own survival, often sacrificing the lives of others. Not being involved in sin, the incarnate God took on death, a result of sin, breaking the vicious cycle of sin and death. ‘In a world in which the battle for survival at the price of others has become a law, he showed death for others as the highest revelation of love. When this highest manifestation of love was accomplished by God himself, a truly new life entered the world.’ (John Meyendorff)” (Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, CHRIST THE CONQUEROR OF HELL, p 186)
“Searching for fallen Adam but not finding him on Earth, the incarnate God entered the depths of hell to redeem him. This image is reminiscent of the parable of the lost sheep and the drachma. As in many hymns of the octoechos, the universal character of Christ’s redemption—not for one category of people but for all of mankind and every human being – is stressed. They also speak of Christ’s resurrecting the dead, described as an ‘emptying’ of hell by the risen Lord…” (Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, CHRIST THE CONQUEROR OF HELL, p 188)
Christ comes for the salvation of the world. He dies on the cross so that we might each and all might receive the forgiveness of our sins and inherit life in the world to come. We celebrate this salvation in Holy Week in and through baptism and the Eucharist.
“Any time is right for salvation by baptism: whether it is day, night, a particular hour, or an instant. But the best time is one that shares the spirit of new birth. What time could be more suitable than the day of Easter? For that is the day that commemorated the Resurrection—and it is baptism that facilitates our own resurrection. On the day of the Resurrection, therefore, let us receive the grace of resurrection.” (St. Basil the Great – d. 379AD, ON FASTING AND FEASTS, p 42)