Holy Saturday: The Great Silence

This is not the kind of silence one creates by "emptying oneself" (as if that were even actually possible). This is the silence into which we find ourselves knocked when terrible news arrives. This is the silence that those who have grieved deeply have come to know, and at once dread and welcome.

This is the silence of the tomb, or perhaps more accurately, the silence from the tomb. This is the silence that grabs us, if we are paying attention at all, when we contemplate the aftermath of the crucifixion.

This is what Holy Saturday has been about for centuries in the liturgical life of the Church. It is this silence, embodied in an assembly. It is the ultimate silence. The horror of the execution and our role in it was the day before. Facing the violence head on as we do and must on Good Friday also tends to move us into a kind of alternate reality removed from the usual patterns of our lives and thoughts. We can be tricked into thinking it was all just a horrible dream.

But on this day, on Holy Saturday, there is no question left. There was real horror. And the real horror took its real toll. Jesus is dead, buried in a tomb. On Holy Saturday, this reality sinks in.

And so on this day we gather in that silence. Everything we say or do in liturgy springs from that silence and returns to it. That silence-- crushing, undeniable, and at times unspeakable.

Just as we do the story of our redemption harm if we skip from Palm Sunday processionals straight to Easter, so we lessen its formative power in our lives if we move from the cross at mid-day on Friday straight to the Great Vigil of Saturday night or the Easter trumpets or Sunrise Service on Sunday morning without making the stop, together, in this silence.

For whatever reasons, the lectionary in The United Methodist Book of Worship did not include the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Holy Saturday. The Book of Worship does include one collect for Holy Saturday,  borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer (BOW 367).

So here is a proposed service for our use, however you may assemble on this day, in face to face or in virtual communities. It is designed with responses short enough to fit within Twitter's 140 character limit.

I will offer this service via Twitter this Holy Saturday, March 26,  at 10 AM Eastern Daylight Time. You may follow it at the hashtag #holysat16. If others wish to do so at other times or places, I would be delighted for you to do so. Just use the same hashtag.

The Twitter script, with the #holysat16 hashtag included for each tweet, may be downloaded for use in worship services via Twitter or other online platforms.

And so, may we keep the Great Silence.

All stand. Silent procession of worship leader (lay or clergy) carrying a Bible to the lectern or holding it in the midst of the people.

Leader: The Lord be with you.

People: And also with you.

Let us pray:

O God, creator of heaven and earth,

the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath.

(Silence for one minute)

So we may await with him the coming of the third day,
and rise with him to newness of life.


(Adapted from The Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Public Domain.)

(Silence for one minute)


First Reading Audio:

(Silence for two minutes)

The Psalm
(Read in unison, pausing in silence for a full breath between verses. Or, if via Twitter, simply tweet the entire psalm, pausing between verses, and encourage those following to say it aloud as it appears in their feed).

(Silence for two minutes)

Second Reading


(Silence for two minutes)

(All stand)

(Silence for three minutes)


Let us pray for the church and the world.

Hear our silent prayers, O God.

For the leaders and mission of your church in every place…
(Silence for one minute)

With all that lives and moves upon the earth, and all that sustains our lives…

(Silence for one minute)

For every leader and with all who work for justice, freedom and peace…

(Silence for one minute)

With all who labor and the fruits of their work…

(Silence for one minute)

With all who are sick, imprisoned, or lonely, and all who remember and care for them…

(Silence for one minute)

For all who are born this day, and all who will die…

(Silence for one minute)

With all who have commended themselves to our prayers...

(Silence for one minute)

We pray as Jesus taught us…

The Lord’s Prayer
(Unison. If on Twitter, encourage all to pray this aloud in their first language or the version they know best by heart)

(Silence for one minute)


Leader: Go in peace.

All depart in silence. If on Twitter, persons may respond Amen or PBWY.