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detail of Holy Saturday by Eugene Burnand

“Holy Saturday”: a Painting by Eugene Burnand

Eugene Burnand

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Holy Saturday by Eugene Burnand

Eugene Burnand, Holy Saturday, View larger

In The Gospel in Art, Albert Edward Bailey explains Eugene Burnand’s “Holy Saturday”:

Notwithstanding the fact that Jesus had at various times and on many occasions, during those busy days that preceded his atonement on Calvary, told His disciples that He must be perfected through suffering they did not, could not, comprehend that it was to mean death on the cross. To the bitter end those who were near and dear to Him, expected the Master, whom they had seen raise other men from the dead, to proclaim his royal kingdom and to use his miraculous power to protect himself from the scourge of death. This their beloved teacher and friend steadfastly refused to do; and to add to their bewilderment, even He, on the cross, had cried out: “My God! My God! Why has Thou forsaken Me?”

Eugene Burnand, Holy Saturday, detail of Peter

Peter

There is not a ray of hope on any face. Peter, at the end of the table, his agonizing brain resting heavily on his hands, can no longer think or talk; he can only weep and suffer in silence as he recalls his thricefold betrayal of his beloved Master in the courtyard of the High Priest’s palace.

It is evident that John the beloved, who sits next to him, has been trying to comfort this impulsive friend; but words, mere words, are of no avail at such a time as this; because for Peter there was, as yet, neither the vision nor the hope of that later lakeside breakfast on the shores of blue Galilee, where he reaffirmed his faith in and love for the Master he had so vehemently denied, and secured forgiveness.

Eugene Burnand, Holy Saturday, detail of John

John

John doesn’t understand any better than the others the tragic turn which recent events have taken; but he loves this impulsive fisherman friend, and cannot bear to see him suffer thus. The dull ache in his own heart has made him sensitive to the pain of others.

James sits at the other end of the table, his deep-set eyes peering into vacancy as he tries to recall the prophetic sayings of their dead Master, and to bring order out of the mental chaos in which he finds himself in this tragic hour.

Andrew, the quiet disciple, whose outstanding characteristic seems to have been his ability to bring others to Christ, stands with down-cast eyes and sorrowing face just behind Peter, his conscience-stricken friend.

Eugene Burnand, Holy Saturday, detail of Andrew

Andrew

The rest of the disciples are grouped about the three seated at the table, some watching with sympathetic faces the suffering Peter, their natural leader and spokesman, while others with downcast eyes stand idly by lost in thoughts too deep for words, or hushed in silent interceding prayer.

What that “Holy Saturday” meant to these bewildered disciples in anguish, deep-seated longing, and unspoken sorrow, only those who have loved much and lost can ever know.


Excerpt from The Gospel in Art, by Albert Edward Bailey. Published by the Pilgrim Press, Boston, Mass.

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