"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Liturgy for Holy Saturday

Introduction:  For some time, I have been fascinated with theological ideas around Christ's descent to the dead, between the time of His death on the cross and His resurrection.  This was viewed by the ancient Church as a central event in the salvation story, and the idea of Christ's 'harrowing of hell' gained particular prominence during the medieval period.  I have compiled the unauthorized liturgy below, which is simply a modified and slightly expanded form of the Liturgy for Holy Saturday, as contained in the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer, 1979.  This prayer book is the source of both the opening collect and the closing anthem, 'In the midst of life.'  I have changed the Old Testament reading, and some of the psalter.  The Scripture passages are from The Bible in Today's English Version (Good News Bible), and the psalms are from The Book of Common Prayer, 1979.  I found the reading from the apocryphal Book of Nicodemus in the prayer book of the Northumbria CommunityCeltic Daily Prayer, which provides this introduction:
"The passage is taken from chapters 15 and 16 of the Book of Nicodemus, one of the manuscripts circulated early in the life of the Christian community.  It is not, of course, accepted as canonical, but is rather in the style of the medieval mystery plays which teach through recounting the stories dramatically.  This section, which may be used as a spur to meditation during the strange period of waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, vividly illustrates the statement in the creeds that Jesus descended into hell, and imagines what happens when He gets there!"
May you have a blessed Easter season!     Peace.

A Liturgy for Holy Saturday

The Opening Collect
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Psalter and Lessons

Psalm 130
de profundis
Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice;
     let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss,
     O Lord, who could stand?
For there is forgiveness with you;
     therefore you shall be feared.
I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him;
     in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning,
     more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the LORD,
     for with the LORD there is mercy;
With him there is plenteous redemption,
     and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

A reading from the Book of Jonah.

At the LORD's command a large fish swallowed Jonah, and he was inside the fish for three days and three nights.  From deep inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God:
"In my distress, O LORD, I called to you, and you answered me.
From deep in the world of the dead, I cried for help, and you heard me.
You threw me down into the depths, to the very bottom of the sea,
Where the waters were all around me, and all your mighty waves rolled over me.
I thought I had been banished from your presence
And would never see your holy Temple again.
The water came over me and choked me;
The sea covered me completely, and seaweed wrapped around my head.
I went down to the very roots of the mountains,
Into the land whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O LORD my God, brought me back from the depths alive.
When I felt my life slipping away, then O LORD, I prayed to you,
And in your holy Temple you heard me.
Those who worship worthless idols have abandoned their loyalty to you.
But I will sing praises to you; I will offer you a sacrifice, and do what I have promised.
Salvation comes from the LORD!"

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Psalm 24
Domini est terra
The earth is the LORD's, and all who dwell in it,
     the world and all who dwell therein.
For it is he who founded it upon the seas,
     and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
"Who can ascend the hill of the LORD?
     and who can stand in his holy place?"
"Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,
     who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
     nor sworn by what is a fraud.
They shall receive a blessing from the LORD
     and a just reward from the God of their salvation."
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
     of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors;
     and the King of glory shall come in.
"Who is this King of glory?"
     "The LORD, strong and mighty,
     the LORD, mighty in battle."
Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors;
     and the King of glory shall come in.
"Who is he, this King of glory?"
     "The LORD of hosts,
     he is the King of glory."

A reading of The First Epistle of Saint Peter.

Since Christ suffered physically, you too must strengthen yourselves with the same way of thinking that he had; because whoever suffers physically is no longer involved with sin.  From now on, then, you must live the rest of your earthly lives controlled by God's will and not by human desires.  You have spent enough time in the past doing what the heathen like to do.  Your lives were spent in indecency, lust, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and the disgusting worship of idols.  And now the heathen are surprised when you do not join them in the same wild and reckless living, and so they insult you.  But they will have to give an account of themselves to God, who is ready to judge the living and the dead.  That is why the Good News was preached also to the dead, to those who had been judged in their physical existence as everyone is judged; it was preached to them so that in their spiritual existence they may live as God lives.
The end of all things is near.  You must be self-controlled and alert, to be able to pray.  Above everything, love one another earnestly, because love covers over many sins.

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

A reading from the Gospel according to Saint John.

After this, Joseph, who was from the town of Arimathea, asked Pilate if he could take Jesus' body.  (Joseph was a follower of Jesus, but in secret, because he was afraid of the Jewish authorities.)  Pilate told him he could have the body, so he went and took it away.  Nicodemus, who at first had gone to see Jesus at night, went with Joseph, taking with him about one hundred pounds of spices, a mixture of myrrh and aloes.  The two men took Jesus' body and wrapped it in linen cloths with the spices according to the Jewish custom of preparing a body for burial.  There was a garden in the place where Jesus had been put to death, and in it there was a new tomb where no one had ever been buried.  Since it was the day before the Sabbath and because the tomb was close by, they placed Jesus' body there.

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

The following is from the apocryphal Book of Nicodemus.
Satan, the prince and captain of death, said to the prince of hell: 'Prepare to receive Jesus of Nazareth Himself, who boasted that He was the Son of God, and yet was a man afraid of death and said, "My soul is sorrowful even to death."  Besides He did many injuries to me and to many others; for those whom I made blind and lame and those also whom I tormented with several devils, He cured by His word; yea, and those whom I brought dead to thee, He by force takes away from thee.'
Then the prince of hell answering, said, 'Thou saidst to me just now, that He took away the dead from me by force.  They who have been kept here until they should live again upon the earth, were taken away hence, not by their own power, but by prayers made to God, and their almighty God took them from me.  Who then is this Jesus of Nazareth that by his word hath taken away the dead from me without prayer to God?  Perhaps it is the same who took away from me Lazarus, after he had been four days dead, and did both stink and was rotten, and of whom I had possession as a dead person, yet He brought him to life again by His power.'
Satan answering, replied to the prince of hell, 'It is the very same person, Jesus of Nazareth.'
Which, when the prince of hell heard, he said to him, 'I adjure thee by the powers that belong to thee and me, that thou bring Him not to me.  For when I heard of the power of His word, I trembled for fear, and all my impious company were at the same time disturbed.  And we were not able to detain Lazarus, but he gave himself a shake, and with all the signs of malice, he immediately went away from us; and the very earth, in which the dead body of Lazarus was lodged presently turned him out alive.  And I know now that He is almighty God who could perform such things, who is mighty in His dominion, and mighty in His human nature, who is the Savior of mankind.  Bring not therefore this person hither, for He will set at liberty all those whom I hold in prison under unbelief, and bound with the fetters of their sins, and will conduct them to everlasting life.'
And while Satan and the prince of hell were discoursing thus to each other, on a sudden there was a voice as of thunder and rushing of winds, saying, 'Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, O everlasting gates -- and the King of Glory shall come in.'
When the prince of hell heard this, he said to Satan, 'Depart from me, and be gone out of my habitations; if thou art a powerful warrior, fight with the King of Glory.  But what hast thou to do with Him?'  And he cast him forth from his habitations.
And the prince said to his impious officers, 'Shut the brass gates of cruelty, and make them fast with iron bars, and fight courageously, lest we all be taken captives.'
But when all the company of the saints heard this they spake with a loud voice of anger to the prince of hell: 'Open thy gates that the King of Glory may come in!'

A Litany

V. I have set the LORD always before me.
R. Because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
V. My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices.
R. My body also shall rest in hope.
V. For you will not abandon me to the grave.
R. Nor let your holy One see the Pit.

In the midst of life, we are in death;
of whom may we seek for succor,
but of thee, O Lord,
who for our sins art justly displeased.

Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Savior,
deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts;
shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer;
but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty,
O holy and merciful Savior,
thou most worthy Judge eternal.
Suffer us not, at our last hour,
through any pains of death, to fall from thee.

The Lord's Prayer

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.  Amen.


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