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    Jesus walking with two disciples on a path

    Holy Saturday and the Journey to Emmaus

    Josef Rheinberger’s motet “Abendlied” juxtaposes sorrow and joy.

    By Joel Clarkson

    March 26, 2024
    • Bill Los

      What a beautiful, heart-warming and encouraging meditation on the story of Emmaus! As I get older, my life feels like that slow, contemplative Saturday walk as I try to make sense of all things that have happened. My heart too, can burn within me. What a joy to know that Christ walks with us and soon it will be Resurrection Sunday! My parents came from Holland and when they were children the Saturday of Easter weekend was referred to as "Stille" Saturday and they were expected to play quietly. Thank you so much to Joel Clarkson, also for adding the beautiful music from Josef Rheinberger. Blessings, Bill Los

    • George Marsh

      Mr. Solecki has many points but I would suggest he not be hung up on literal interpretations. Three days and three nights are not literally so if Jesus rose on Easter Sunday, but in the great scheme of things, it is more important that followers of Christ accept his blessing of peace and his command to love God and one another. As Jesus said, the spirit kills, but the spirit gives life.

    • Edward Solecki

      After discovering in the Bible the heresies of Catholicism I left this church and became "New Born Christian". Being musician I joined the Christian band and was singing and performing around Europe singing songs in English. But being born in Poland during Russian annexation after WWII, I was only able to learn Russian as a second language. So, I was singing English songs without understanding the lyrics... Well. I had the general idea, and I know some of the songs in Polish too but, you know, it wasn't the same as if you can feel and understand each word to the roots. Fast forward to present, and I am in Australia and I am listening to the songs that I sang or I listened to in my youth and I can understand exactly how Cleophas felt, that one who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. And this is like adding another dimension, color and perspective to something we thought we knew. What does my story have to do with this article? I am amazed how much our Christianity is blinded by the TRADITION. We know Jesus' opinion about the tradition. (Mark.7) -It can make us to "set aside the commands of God" Mrk7;9 -Tradition "nullify the word of God" Mark7;13 But we still keep it... Despite of this, keeping traditions shows that we are on the wrong path. We need to go back to the "road to Emmaus" to be able to see "opened Scriptures" Luk.24;32 We think we know, we think we understand but we only see the surface if we keep tradition. We can still "perform" our Christianity, we can have great "audience" but we lack of "depth, color and perspective" if we allow our faith to be build on tradition, without verifying it with the Scripture. We read that "as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth".Matt.12;40 From Friday night to Sunday morning there is no 3 days and 3 nights. There were two Sabbaths on Passover week! One the Day of Unleavened Bread and one weekly Sabbath. But you have to study the Scripture to realise that. Keeping tradition is much easier. Journey to Emmaus didn't happened on holy Saturday neither, as the article suggests. The "First day of the week" Luk.24.1-13 was always Sunday in the Scripture. I hope you are able to understand that these are just small examples, (well, tradition) but the problem I am trying to show here is much, much deeper. Because we celebrate Tradition, we are missing the whole point of the Gospel that is "worshiping Father in the Spirit and in Truth".

    In the Triduum, the three final days of Holy Week beginning on the evening of Holy Thursday and ending on Easter Sunday, Christians around the world journey through Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. On Good Friday, Christ raises his arms to embrace the world in the new life born from his agony and death. And on Easter Sunday, Christ tramples down death as the first fruits of the restoration which all creation anticipates.

    And yet, between the Suffering Servant and the triumphant Lord is the ambiguity of Holy Saturday, when Christ is hidden behind the veil of death, resting in the solemn quiet of the tomb. The liminal space of Holy Saturday asks us to experience – for a day – a world without the presence of Christ in it.

    In the account of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, we encounter a vision of Holy Saturday. We may know that Christ has triumphed over the grave; and yet, the eyes of Jesus’ disciples have not yet been opened to see that their Lord walks among them. They implore the stranger who has shared their journey to “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” Their hospitable words hold a deeper meaning as well, expressing the seemingly impossible desire for the accompaniment of the Lord who remains hidden away.

    Jesus walking with two disciples on a path

    Fritz von Uhde, Road to Emmaus, pastel on paper, 1891

    In a sense, all life is lived in Holy Saturday. Christ has come, and the wheels of salvation are already turning in every corner of the universe. And yet the joy which Christ’s resurrection promises us, of the time when God will be “all in all,” as 1 Corinthians 15 tells us, has not yet come. For now, we remain on the road to Emmaus, walking in faith through daily struggles, personal regrets, and unforeseen tragedies.

    And yet, like those disciples, we too are met by a word which sets our hearts afire within us. Holy Saturday makes sacred our experiences of absence, affirming to us that such moments do not testify to abandonment, but to intimate accompaniment. And just as Christ revealed himself to his followers in the breaking of bread, he also abides with us eucharistically, offering himself to be broken, blessed, and given to us.

    We are invited to enter the Emmaus story and see its transfigured meaning: we who remain in the Holy Saturday of this world ask the Lord to come and make all things complete. For in the new life made possible through Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection, history has shifted toward its final hour, and he himself carries us toward our true home.

    Josef Rheinberger’s radiant motet “Abendlied,” written in 1855 when the composer was only fifteen, sets Luke 24:29 from the Luther Bible, and captures the text’s strange juxtaposition of sorrow and joy.


    Bleib bei uns,
    denn es will Abend werden,
    und der Tag hat sich geneiget.


    Stay with us,
    because evening is coming,
    and the day has come to an end.

    While the words themselves are elegiac, the music counterposes them with soaring melodies and shimmering harmonies.  In each phrase, two or three voices are layered with additional lines, gradually gathering into a rich outpouring of warmth and joy. It is as if the music wants us to know that even while we first experience these words as a plaintive cry for comfort, they are quickly transformed to unveil the eternal hope of Christ’s return, and the transfiguration we anticipate when the Holy Saturday of history gives way to the Easter of God’s final reign.

    Here, John Rutter directs the Cambridge Singers.



    Contributed By Joel Clarkson Joel Clarkson

    Joel Clarkson is a composer of film, concert, and sacred music, and he holds a PhD in theology from the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

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