What happened between the time Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea took Jesus down from the cross and that “Early, on the first day of the week, while it was yet still dark…”? For some, absolutely nothing except the usual. Life goes on. For others, it was a time deeply engaged in grief and loss, bewilderment as they try to figure out how life goes on. For some, the danger of being a follower of Jesus was real and threatening. They hid themselves away, not sure if life could go on. In short, grief happened.
Liturgically, some leave Jesus at the entrance into Jerusalem, waving palms with the crowds, and show up Easter morning at the empty tomb with a vague sense that something happened between the two. Others leave Jesus at the table with his disciples, or singing and praying in another garden, and show up Easter morning with a renewed sense of relief that whatever happened, it’s over now. A few leave Jesus at the cross, and show up Easter morning to wash the grief from their faces, confident that God has done something new but all that it is remains to be seen. In short, grief happens.
But what about Saturday? What does one do between life’s Fridays and Sundays?
Saturday feels like walking out of the room where death has come and into the world that goes on as though nothing has happened: ordering a sandwich in the drive thru, waiting for the left turn signal, finding the milk has gone sour in the days of pre-occupation and trying to find the stamina to go to the store.
We are Saturday people just now. We have known grief and loss. We connect to the news stories of families waiting in anxious grief for confirmation of their loss, whether it is on a ferry in South Korea or a jet plane somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Their loss finds the sticky parts of our own dealings with loss. Someone comes along and tells us, “It will be okay.” or “I know how you feel.” or “We don’t understand it now, but somehow it’s in God’s plan.” I am polite, but I don’t believe it. It’s still Saturday. I think we can find ourselves situated here, between the days of leave taking, betrayals, anger, and denial and the day we can’t quite see ourselves in yet, the day when life emerges newborn from the tomb.
What happened Saturday?
Surely there were many who rehearsed every detail of the past few days, reviewing , blaming, “What if-fing?” as if anything could change the outcome now. There were many who immersed themselves in the memory of all that had been, every cherished encounter with The Beloved. On the first Saturday after the cross, it was a day for Sabbath. The day God rested from the labors of creation. A day to remember and behold what God has done and give thanks. Wishing to build a protective fence around Sabbath, people observed detailed rules about what could or couldn’t be done and still call it a day of rest. Christians progressively ditched all those rules….but we have a very hard time determining for ourselves what can or can’t be done and still call it a day of rest. In the same way we hurry ourselves—and others—through grief on a one year (or less) time line, uneasy and anxious about what can or can’t be excused because of grief. Sabbath Saturday was Israel’s weekly testimony that all work could cease, that money-making and planning and cleaning and cooking could stop, and God’s power would continue to sustain creation. Even if God were to rest, creation would still sustain us. Jesus lay in the grave on the Sabbath, and even in death (which we are prone to call “heavenly rest!”) God’s power was at work in him.
Holy Saturday is the time being. It would be all to easy to spend this time rehashing, reviewing, analyzing, blaming, or just go on as though nothing happened, and that no one will notice if we move on. Some may keep graveside vigil, wishing beyond reasonable hope that things will go back to what they were before. Certainly the women who came to the tomb, clinging to the rules of decent burial, expected nothing new to emerge from the grave. Those are real dangers while living through Holy Saturday.
But what if we believed Jesus about rising from the dead? Then what happens to this day of waiting at the deathbed and the grave? What then would we do?
What Israel did while waiting for the Angel of Death to pass over and to be released from slavery, we do on Holy Saturday. What Israel did from generation to generation to remember God’s liberation, we do on Holy Saturday. We tell the stories of all the ways God has acted with a mighty arm to rescue and save us from generation to generation. We remind ourselves that we are but the most recent generation. We tell stories. We sing. We light fire against the darkness. We gather with others beloved by Christ. We turn away from distracted busy making, pray and rest. In our rest, we have confident assurance that God continues to liberate us, sustain us, and prepare a new life for us. This time in a “vacancy” of pastoral leadership is like this. We move through grief, and now we wait for what comes next. We make preparations, but resist busy making that merely assures us that life goes on. We gather with others beloved by Christ and comfort one another with the comfort we have received from God. We eat together. We reach out in compassion to those who couldn’t bear to watch, who couldn’t bear the vigil. We discover again the joy of Sabbath, that even God could rest and creation would still bend toward life. We know that the eighth day of creation is coming. It’s the day when Noah left the ark. It’s the day after Israel crossed the Jordan river. It’s the day after Ezekiel had the vision of dry bones come to life again in the valley. It’s the day after the remnant saw the ruins of Jerusalem when they returned from captivity in Babylon. It’s the day after Jesus lay in the grave, when early in the morning, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark….