Remembering Jesus’ Self-Isolation: Holy Saturday & COVID-19

Matt Anslow encourages us to recover the tradition of Holy Saturday as we find ourselves in our own uncertain 'time in between'.

It is indeed a strange Easter season in which we find ourselves.

Restricted from gathering due to COVID-19, the majority of Christians, for the first time ever, will be watching our Easter services streamed online.

For many, the restlessness, frustration, and even agony of enforced isolation, necessary as it may be for the common good, is taking a toll. Both together and separately, we share fear, loneliness, and angst.

How might we find solace in this time of anxious uncertainty?

One way, I believe, is that we recover the tradition of Holy Saturday.

For many Protestants in Australia (by no means all), Easter basically jumps from Good Friday directly to Easter Sunday, from Jesus’ death directly to his resurrection. 

But the Christian calendar traditionally features a time in between Friday and Sunday, called Holy Saturday or Easter Eve. It is a time in between Friday’s sorrow and Sunday’s joy.

A time in between death and life.

Holy Saturday is the time when Jesus’ body rested in the tomb. You could almost say this was like Jesus’ own self-isolation, not unlike Christ’s body, the church, now resting in our homes, awaiting our liberation from death’s grasp.

In Catholic tradition, Holy Saturday is the day Mary grieved at the death of her son. In fact, in Catholic liturgy it is referred to as the Feast of Our Lady of Solitude. How fitting.

Not that Holy Saturday is all doom and gloom. In Eastern traditions, Holy Saturday is the time when Christ’s spirit descended into Hades, the place of the dead, and liberated those held captive there. One Orthodox hymn proclaims that Christ trampled down death by death, bestowing life to those in the tombs.

Holy Saturday, in other words, is a time for grief, and also for patient expectation of Christ’s victory over death. Like for Christ, it requires from us a deep connection with the pain of our world, but also an ability to see beyond that pain.

The observance of Holy Saturday seems especially relevant to us in our current season of COVID-19 as we settle into the uncertain “time in between.” Holy Saturday also resonates with numerous issues we seek to confront as a Common Grace community.

After all, we live in the time in between for creation, which groans under the weight of human carelessness and destruction, awaiting its future liberation.

We live in the time in between for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, who continue to experience the effects of innumerable past and present injustices, awaiting true reconciliation and liberation.

We live in the time in between for those who live with domestic violence as they suffer under the weight of violence and deeply broken systems, awaiting the time when every tear will be wiped away.

We live in the time in between for people seeking refuge in Australia as they are caught between violence and freedom, between death and life, awaiting their release from captivity.

This coming Holy Saturday, may we remember who we are: those who follow the way of Christ, called to live at once in the midst of this world of violence and death-dealing, and according to the hope of the Resurrection breaking in.

We live in the “time in between,” the time of sorrow and uncertainty, but we are a people who point to the coming defeat of death. May we live as if it were true.


Matt Anslow is a lecturer at Morling College in Sydney, a founding organiser of Love Makes a Way, and serves as the Vice President of the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand. He also has a PhD in theology from Charles Sturt University. Matt lives at Milk and Honey Farm with his wife, Ashlee, and three young children.