Easter is a significant time in the modern calendar. A long weekend, Easter eggs, hot cross buns—what’s not to love? But for Christians the world over, Easter is much more than chocolate bunnies and Easter egg hunts.
More people attend church at Easter than any other time of the year—for good reason. It’s a time of remembrance and reflection, a time of recalibration and renewal as we remember Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Church events are anchored around Good Friday and Easter Sunday, two very important days in the crucifixion-turned-resurrection narrative.
But why exactly are these days so important? And what happened on Easter Saturday in between these two days?
The biblical account
The sequence of events we now refer to as Easter is found in all four of the Gospels in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each writer has their own unique spin on exactly what happened, however they all agree with the key events: Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross on Friday morning, He was buried in a borrowed tomb on Friday evening, He lay dead in the tomb on Saturday—and just like was prophesied centuries before—He miraculously rose again on Sunday morning. Each writer clearly outlines the sacrificial death of Jesus; and in an understated, stick-to-the-facts way, capture the outpouring of grief and shock from those who loved Him.
Good Friday? It’s a funny name, really. The day we remember the violent death of Jesus—an innocent man who was tortured and killed by the Romans after He was rejected by His own community—should be called anything but good.
It was a day of tears and suffering, of torture and loss. What’s so good about that? Well, Good Friday is indeed good, but only if we remember what happened on Easter Sunday.
Very early on Sunday morning while it was still dark, some of the women who were Jesus’ friends, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Joanna and Salome went to His tomb (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10). It must have seemed like a bad dream to them. The Friend who they loved, the Man they had followed and believed in for three years as He travelled the countryside teaching, preaching and healing was dead. It had all happened so suddenly they didn’t even have the chance to anoint His body with spices, as was their custom. The sorrow must have been unbearable as they walked in darkness to the tomb.
But when they arrived, the stone blocking the entrance to the tomb had moved and Jesus’ body was gone! There was initial confusion, but soon after they encountered a living, breathing Jesus and exclaimed with great joy, “He is Risen!” It’s the same cry that echoes in our ears each Easter some 2000 years later.
Good Friday brought sadness and loss.
Easter Sunday brought joy and celebration.
But what about Saturday? What happened during the in-between?
The Bible accounts are strangely silent about what happened to Jesus’ followers that Saturday. The seventh day was the Jewish Sabbath, a day of rest that was observed each week and is still observed by Jews and some Christian denominations around the world today. Matthew and Mark skip over this day completely with just a casual mention of Sabbath (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1). John doesn’t mention Saturday at all. Only Luke gives any indication of what happened during the in-between: “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56).
We don’t know a lot about what happened that day, but what we do know is that on Sunday morning after the women encountered the risen Jesus, they hurried back to where the other disciples were gathered and told them what had happened (Luke 24:9–12). Since it was very early in the morning, we can assume that this little band of believers, broken and bruised, had spent Saturday, their day of rest, together.
Together in their grief.
Together in their loss.
Together in their confusion.
Maybe you know what that kind of grief is like. The pain that ambushes you, steals your breath and just doesn’t make sense. The pain of abandonment and crushed dreams. The pain of dying and death. The pain of shattered hope. I imagine the followers of Jesus were living in the in-between that Sabbath. Hope was lost on Friday and found on Sunday, but on Saturday they didn’t know what was coming.
The funny thing is, Jesus had actually tried to tell His followers what was going to happen. And not just once, but repeatedly. Time and again He referred to His impending death, but they couldn’t—or wouldn’t—understand. But He also spoke often of hope. Hope in a future where wrongs would be righted, where death would be defeated and where hope dashed would become hope restored.
The older I get, the more I realise that Saturday is my favourite day of the Easter weekend. I find comfort in thinking about the in-between, maybe because my own life is filled with so much in-betweenness. I’ve experienced both horror and joy at different times in my life, but most often I feel like I inhabit in-between spaces.
Between parenting small children and raising young adults.
Between caring for ageing parents and caring for my family
Between leaving the job I loved that burned me out and finding whatever comes next.
Between youthfulness and old age.
Between the past and the future.
Between the now and the not-yet.
Yes, I live in the in-between. It’s often a place of confusion and waiting. It’s a place of mourning what’s been left behind while not quite being able to see the blessings of what comes next.
But it’s also a place of rest, togetherness and hope.
You see, with the benefit of hindsight, I know how the story ends. In the darkness of living in the in-between, Jesus is still the light. Why? Because I know joy comes in the morning.
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the very heart of Christian theology. It’s the moment where Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, died in our place, carried the weight of our collective sin and defeated eternal death once and for all. This act brought salvation—the saving of people from their sins—for all who accept Jesus, then and now. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, everything else in Christianity becomes meaningless. Christmas becomes just another cute story of a baby born in Bethlehem. Easter becomes a myth. Jesus becomes just another good teacher and the power of death still reigns supreme in the universe. The events we remember at Easter are the defining events of Christianity.
Good Friday was filled with horror.
Sunday was filled with joy.
Saturday was filled with waiting, mourning and disappointment. Saturday was also filled with rest and togetherness and fragile hope.
In this season of my life, I often find myself living in the in-between. But along with the pain, confusion and fear, I cling to hope. Because like those faithful women who attended Jesus’ tomb that Sunday morning, I know one thing to be true: He is risen!
Karen Collum is a children’s author, storyteller and teacher. She is based on the Gold Coast, Queensland.