Today is Great Sabbath in the Moravian tradition. Some churches call it holy Saturday. In the 18th century Moravians took the notion of the Jewish sabbath seriously as a day of rest. The fact that Jesus was buried shortly before sundown meant that he spent the sabbath in the tomb before being resurrected sometime before sunrise on Sunday. So the Moravians called the day between Good Friday and Easter the great sabbath because Jesus rested in the grave. It was part of the general observation of Holy Week and Easter. Each day of Holy Week Moravians read the account of Jesus’s final days and last teachings from the gospels, but there are no readings for Great Sabbath. The Good Friday reading ends with the sealing of the tomb and the placing of the guards.
Some Moravian churches have a special lovefeast for Great Sabbath, others have special musical services. Some have no special gatherings at all, but it is a time to remember all those who are asleep in the Lord. Typically Moravians take this day to visit God’s Acre and place flowers on the graves. Cemeteries are not places of dread in the Moravian tradition because we believe that the Lord himself sanctified the grave through his death and resurrection. Moravians also hold to the ancient Christian belief that Christ’s soul went to the place of departed spirits where his work of redemption continued. Great Sabbath is a time to reflect on God’s defeat of hell, sin, and the power of evil prior to the glorious resurrection.
On Easter, many Moravians gather in God’s Acre to proclaim their faith in the resurrected Lord and celebrate newness of life as the sun rises. The quiet vigil of Great Sabbath leads into the joyous hallelujahs of Easter morning.