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Another Holy Saturday

April 15, 2017

This is not a day that I can explain – this is a day that I feel.

A decade ago, in my Church and Theater class at Wheaton, our group was assigned an “exploration” of Holy Saturday (what a wonderful and freeing word for a group project!). We thought about light and shadow, sitting and Sabbath, troubled hearts and stilled hands, snatches of hymns. What it was like for those women who had followed Jesus even through the dark hours on the cross, aching to prepare spices and anointing oils in their upper room and aching for their loss.

I didn’t know it then, but in the years since I have come to see the other Holy Saturdays that have punctuated my life again and again. Sitting in a window seat at three in the morning with a woman who hours before had lost her husband. Sitting at the kitchen table with a letter that broke apart everything I thought I was and wanted, my parents watching TV in the next room. Sudden news that flips everything in life upside-down.

Holy Saturday is shell-shock. Holy Saturday is the moment after a great tragedy, a searing loss, before you even believe it to be true, and yet you are already overwhelmed with the demands of a painful new reality. Urgent responsibilities clutch at you – funerals to arrange, backup plans to put in place, people to call – while your heart screams in pain still and your mind is still in denial. You are plunged into grief, and at the same time into a new world you never thought would come. The sensations are overwhelming, and after a short while, you sink into numbness.

They didn’t expect him to die – they thought him their Savior, their conquering hero. None of them knew that when he spoke of rebuilding the temple in 3 days, he was talking of himself: his own body, his own death, his own rebirth. In their fresh grief and fear, they could never put those pieces together or hear the meaning beneath the words. All they knew was that the man who had turned everything upside down, not least of which their own lives and vocations and families, was suddenly and achingly gone from them. The women – the only ones but John to stay with him, as far as they could go, on his descent into the grave – they watched the brutal death of the only Teacher who had ever given them a place at his feet. The only Messiah who would have room for them, for their whole selves, in his kingdom – now gone, his kingdom no more.

They had given him all of themselves – their allegiance, their well-being, their costliest perfume. And now everything that they thought they knew about Him, about themselves, about the future and his glorious kingdom, was in pieces at their feet.

And then came the Sabbath.

They could do nothing but sit with their grief. Any control that they thought they had – any power in themselves to do anything to calm the tempest and right the ship of their lives, was gone. The man and the mission they had thrown themselves into for the last three years now lay in a grave.

When redemption comes, it comes only after this knowledge – that I cannot save myself. I thought I could fix it; I thought I was in control; I thought I knew what was coming, but now I am storm-tossed and lost beyond hope.  Holy Saturday reminds us of this. It is a day we are meant to feel, deeply in our bones – we are meant to grieve, we are meant to know the depths of our helplessness.

There will be more Holy Saturdays. There will be days when we are overwhelmed with sudden grief and feel as though the Savior is lost to us. We will know these moments again and again in our lives on this broken earth. We will remember that we can do nothing to save ourselves; nothing to fix things; nothing to heal hurts. We will only feel them, and sit in our powerlessness and deep sorrow, and wait for Sunday.

And oh, what a Sunday.

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