Understanding the Three Days of Holy Week

The Entombment of Christ ~Caravaggio
Trying to reconcile the liturgical calendar can be downright confusing enough to warrant a PhD! If you’re like me, you sit there in the pew each Holy Week going over the math again and again in your head. But, how can Jesus die on Friday, rise on Sunday, and that be three days? How is that THREE days?
Each Holy Week, I find myself asking the same question again and again.
So, how is it that a Friday Crucifixion and Sunday Resurrection equal three days?
Perhaps after scratching your head over this for a while, you decide to put it to rest by concluding that the biblical authors weren’t mathematicians. Or maybe you cautiously glance around the church, hiding your inner thoughts from the disapproving “church lady,” wondering if you should even be having these thoughts in the first place. “You should!” I assure you, you should!

It is crucial in understanding your faith to ask these tough questions; the ones that seem to make the whole thing unravel. These little seemingly “inconsistent” bits, that just peak your interest and curiosity enough, are often the open doors to a deep richness of information.

 

Historical Significance


Scripture, the Church, Tradition; they are all historical accounts of a people and their relationship with God. In understanding this, we are beckoned to step back into their story, and to walk in time with them. Suddenly, the social landscape, foundations of culture, tradition, religion, science, philosophy, law, and government all become important. We are talking about the formation of our very ancestors; the Hebrew people, whose covenant with God we were grafted into.

That being said, it is important to recognize that the Hebrew history is not on our lips, their genealogy not like the back of our hand, and we cannot recite the Pentateuch by heart. Because of this, we have some catching up to do! If we are to understand the vastly rich Hebrew Scripture, we must also familiarize ourselves with customs and beliefs that are essential to our understanding of Scripture.  

 

Length of Days


First, the Hebrew people count the length of a day from sundown to sundown the following day. This is done according to the way it was recorded in Genesis. God separated the day from night, in order for man to distinguish length of time: “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days, and years” (Gen 1:14.)  

The first day of the week is Sunday, because God said “Let there be light” on this day. The seventh day therefore is Saturday, which is the Sabbath/Shabbat; the Jewish day of rest. This is so, because God rested on this day: “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating He had done” (Gen 2:3.) 

Time had one purpose, and that was to separate work from rest, and secular from holy days.

Because of this method of determining the length of a day, any event occurring from sundown to sundown, would have been considered to be part of that full day. Therefore, Jesus died before sundown on Friday, making it part of the previous day (Thursday sundown – Friday sundown). He was dead in the tomb on Saturday (Friday sundown – Saturday sundown). He rose from the dead on Sunday (Saturday sundown – Sunday sundown). 

Day 1: Jesus died at 3:00 PM (Mk 15:34) on Friday.  
Day 2: Jesus remained in the tomb on Sat (Sabbath).
Day 3: Jesus was beheld in His resurrected form on Sunday/Easter morning.  

Even though Jesus’ death occurred in the afternoon on Friday and He rose in the morning on Sunday, making it less than 48 hours later, this was counted and recorded as three days (and nights) according to the Jews. This was not a miscalculation, but rather truly intentional. In doing so, Jesus was fulfilling the Scripture, as he said, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt 12:40).

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Comments

  1. Bonnie Way says

    It does seem like a short time to us but yes, Fri-Sat-Sun makes three days. I love learning about the deeper history behind what we do in the Church. It’s so rich and interesting! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Anni says

    Thank you for sharing this… my husband was just asking me about this, and I didn’t have an adequate answer. Now, I do! Thank you!

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