Saturday, April 8, 2023

Holy Saturday | Trusting Jesus' Work While We Wait For ...

Emmaus City Church Holy Week Worcester MA Soma Acts 29 3DM Christian Reformed Church Multi-Ethnic Network of Missional Communities

Making room together for the sorrow and shadow as we exist in a "Holy Saturday" world waiting for resurrection

I often wonder why God would make us wait for what we seemingly need and want to change quickly. Reflecting on this consideration again has helped me during this Holy Week. I hope these words below help you, too. Also, Vaneetha Risner's "Waiting with No Answers in the Dark" is another powerful consideration for this day.

Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is Saturday, Holy Saturday, when the world was still, the tears fresh, the grave sealed—the darkest day past, a brighter morning thought of and hoped for—but until then … the waiting.

Life is about waiting. We are all waiting for things. 
Our schedules and calendars continue to be in flux. We wait in a world driven by the next headline, recommendation, etc.

In the midst of our waiting is this idea, this reality, of "Holy Saturday," a day set apart between our deepest fears and our deepest longings. Before Jesus resurrected on a Sunday morning, the Sabbath was Saturday, a day to stop and rest even in what seemed to be a crisis. The question of Sabbath is that we have such a hard time taking a break from our running the world, from managing good and evil on our own. 

It is no accident that Jesus died on the eve of the Sabbath and then rose again when time “started up” again. But in the midst of Jesus' absence from those who loved Him, He was away from them on the Sabbath day designed to feel Him closest. But maybe there is also an invitation here, too. Perhaps the struggle of that Sabbath after the cross—finding peace and rest amid abandonment (Jesus was gone) and uncertainty (God was silent)—is a metaphor for our existence at large right now. Literary critic George Steiner wrote in Real Presences: 

Ours is the long day’s journey of the Saturday, between suffering, aloneness, unutterable waste on the one hand and the dream of liberation, of rebirth on the other. 

Author, ethicist, and Reformed theologian Lewis Smedes also described waiting like this: 

Waiting is our destiny. As creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for, we wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light. We wait in fear for a happy ending that we cannot write. We wait for a ‘not yet’ that feels like a ‘not ever.’

This is what we often see in the anatomy of hope. An event takes place that sucks the life out of you: a relationship ends, a job dissipates, a dream dies ... a pandemic breaks out around the world. We're left standing, waiting. For those who believe, some of us start to wonder if God forgot His promises. If God knows what we’re going through or if He even cares if there's a God actually there.

Luke 23:48-49 sounds eerily familiar to some of our recent practices the past 2+ years: “When all the people who had gathered there to watch saw what happened, they returned home, beating their chests because they were so sad. But those who were close friends of Jesus, including the women who had followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance and watched” (NCV).

Even as some things return (and some things from before will have to be let go), we will wonder again about our purpose in life when our work, play, and escapes can't quite answer the question when we look at the mirror and ask, "Who am I?" It can be ... exhausting, and it feels like the emotional state of some of Jesus’ followers when they found themselves alone in their own strength after He died, and hope for a world full of healing bled away. On Saturday, nothing seemed to be happening and there was nothing they could do ... 

While we now know the end of the storyGod was doing His best work yetthere was still a waiting period. Jesus was crucified on Friday. But the paralyzing hopelessness the disciples experienced continued to intensify as they lived into Saturday. That Saturday seems like a day when nothing is happening, much like many of our days. It’s a day full of questioning, doubting, wondering and waiting, which often fill our hours. It’s a day when we wonder if God is asleep or simply powerless to do anything about our current problems, when so much of our life here on this earth right now is lived out in “Holy Saturday” mode. 

Yet, as late great Presbyterian pastor and author Eugene Peterson reminds us:

... The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it. So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it. ...

In God's great mysterious purposes, He is inviting us to experience both the sufferings of Christ and the resurrection of Christ (see Philippians 3:8-11) with Him so we can overcome with Him as we learn how to embrace this Saturday with Him. This is all part of the participation. But will we view the waiting and participating with hope as an essential part of what God is doing in our life and this world, trusting that being born again to a living hope is the key for today, while also still actively setting our hope on the coming final revelation of Jesus when He returns to reconcile heaven with earth (see 1 Peter 1:3-13)?

Here is the message of the Gospel again for us while we’re stuck in some version of Holy Saturday-life: God does His best work in hopeless situations to bring us a secure hope that no circumstance can take away.

The story of our salvation was born out of extraordinary uncertainty. But that’s the way hope works. In this long day’s journey that we all tread—this “Saturday” existence—we are stuck here in time. And life, and art that reflects life in the here and now, is at its best when it has tension. Why? Because existence is unresolved tension. Music requires minor chords and dissonant themes before it can resolve. Films spend most of their time in the second act, putting constant roadblocks in the protagonist’s path to redemption. Books do the same. Art is our way of reflecting upon the limbo status of living on earth and plowing the path from birth to death.

And this is the key to why embodying “Saturday” is the highest calling of art and life in our current state on earth. When we are reminded of our impermanence and that “this too shall pass,” we are reoriented toward that which is eternal. And we can lament in the meantime, because that reorientation
 doesn’t take away the grief of loved ones who have died because of this virus. It doesn’t erase the bankruptcy of the businesses that we have had to shut down. It doesn’t cover up the lack of true relationships that have been exposed through shelter in place. It doesn’t replace the shattered dreams of a future we had constructed by our own power that now may never come. But this Holy Saturday in 2022 can remind us that while our power is limited, God is limitless. While our hope is fragile, God Himself is hope.

Our world is chaotic, but no doubt about it, God is still in control. And one way or another, Sunday will dawn. In God’s perfect plan, He sent His Son to die at the hands of the world and then rise again to cleanse, heal, and redeem it. But He put a space in between those two momentous events—a Holy Saturday. A day of rest in the midst of the laborious waiting. The Sabbath. We spend plenty of time on Good Friday, the day redemption happened through the work of Christ on the cross. And nobody would argue that we shouldn’t celebrate the resurrection of Easter Sunday. Jesus conquered death so we can have life. But right now we live on in Holy Saturday, because even though we are redeemed and our hope is assured in Christ’s victory, we exist in this broken world with our broken lives waiting and groaning for redemption. We must press on and wait for the final Sunday foretold by the original Easter.  
"Why doesn’t God act? What am I supposed to do until He does?" If these are your questions, do what Jesus did. Lie still. Stay in the silence. Trust God. Jesus knew God would not leave Him alone in the grave. You need to know, God will not leave you alone with your struggles. His silence is not His absence, inactivity is never apathy. Saturdays have their purpose. They let us feel the full force of God’s strength. + Max Lucado 
Until Jesus returns to finish His work as the only One who can make all things new, we have the messy art of our lives, our stories in which we experience pain and hope, looking at the cross and looking to the clouds for the One who wears the crown. As one author so powerfully put it, "The tomb is empty, but the throne is not." 

So we wait, and as Paul says to the people in Philippi, we learn how "to know Christ—yes, to know the power of His resurrection and to participate in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead."

+ The post is a combination of excerpts and adapted reflections from Pete Wilson's essay, "Stuck in Saturday," and Brett McCracken's "Easter Saturday," integrated into my own thoughts in considering Holy Saturday. For some similar thoughts, check out A.J. Swoboda's "The Deeper Message of Holy Week," excerpted from one of my favorite books to read during Lent thru Easter, A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experienceas well as Rev. Dr. Esau McCaulley's "What Good Friday and Easter Mean for Black Americans."

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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