Columbine and Holy Saturday

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Today is also Holy Saturday.


A few years ago I went to the Columbine Memorial. I was there with some high school students from a church where I was a pastor. Our group was serving at a church in Littleton, along with a much larger group of junior high students from another church. Both groups chose to go to the nearby memorial on the same night, although our smaller group of students got there first, and were silently walking around the holy ground of the place, reading the names of those who had died, and taking in their stories. It was a quiet, somber moment.

Then the other group got there, barreling in with loud, junior high energy. My annoyance that a holy moment had been ruined, though, didn’t last, for within seconds all of the students were quiet. No one scolded them. They didn’t need to be instructed. They knew, as did we, that the place required silence, commanded it, even.

Silence is the final and most pronounced expression of what the Bible calls lament. Lament is grief and rage and doubt and bitterness all rolled together. All of this is directed toward God. Somewhat surprisingly, it is a form of prayer commended in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms. It can often be loud, particularly at first. But eventually words fail, as do our voices, and there is only silence.

Holy Saturday

Today is about silence. Holy Saturday is the day in between, the interstitial space flanked by Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is the day Jesus was in the tomb, dead. His body was decomposing. It was, and is, a day of silence. The wailing of the faithful women who were at the cross is finished. The jeering of the crowds has ended. Jesus’ disciples are holed up in the upper room, afraid for their lives. Silence pervades, not by choice, but by necessity.

In the Bible, there is not much written about Holy Saturday, because, well, nothing happened. The Gospel of John, for example, moves from Jesus’ burial (“. . . they laid Jesus in the tomb”-19.42) to resurrection (“Early on the first day, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb . . .”-20.1) without comment. What comment can be made? A corpse requires no narration.

And yet. Resurrection does not happen immediately after Jesus’ death. He dies, and then stays dead. His death is durative, and in this duration, in this silence, there is hope. This is true, to be sure, because the tomb that was filled would soon be empty. We experience Holy Saturday knowing how the story ends, and knowing that death will lose its sting. But it is precisely this knowledge of resurrection that makes Holy Saturday so important. Biblical hope is not cheery optimism; nor is it Pollyannaish ignorance. Biblical hope–resurrection hope–flourishes in a Holy Saturday world.


It is that world which is so palpable today, twenty years after Columbine. We wonder, what would have become of their lives–the twelve students, the one teacher, and, yes, the two shooters. The tragedy is somehow sharpened by the duration of twenty years, rather than attenuated. This duration, though, and its attendant silence, also sharpens the hope. Because Jesus was raised from the deadfrom the tombfrom the silence. He was raised out of a Holy Saturday world, and so has transformed that world.


Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed is the silence.

Blessed is the not-empty tomb, for it will be emptied.

Blessed is this world, this Holy Saturday world, for it is the fertile ground of resurrection.

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  1. Michael Guthrie says

    Thanks, Hoff, for such a profoundly simple exegesis of the meaning of Holy Saturday, and honoring the Columbine anniversary. So many lives directly and indirectly impacted by what happened here in Colorado. I’ve been ministered to by your reflection. Thanks, Bro.

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