Saturday, April 15, 2006

April 15, 2006 - The Day In Between

Holy Saturday, some call it. But that’s just because it’s a day in Holy Week, in which every day gets the “Holy” moniker. Really, it’s the day in between.

The biblical narrative contains nothing about the events of this day, which are distinctly anti-climactic. The day after Jesus’ crucifixion was the Sabbath. Observant Jews were not permitted to do much of anything on that day, other than worship. On Saturday, Jesus’ body rested in the tomb, and his disheartened disciples were struggling to come to terms with the soul-shaking events they had just witnessed.

While the Gospel-writers are silent about this day, they do provide a brief prelude to it. Mark tells us that, on Friday, in the hours between Jesus’ death at 3:00 and the commencement of the Sabbath at sunset, “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43). After assuring himself that Jesus was indeed dead, Pilate granted the request. Joseph “bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb” (v. 46). Countless religious paintings depict the scene, which is usually called either “Descent from the Cross,” or – more clinically – “The Deposition.”

Presumably, Joseph needed some help to carry the body. All four Gospel-writers tell this story, but only John provides the name of a companion: the Pharisee, Nicodemus, who came with “about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes” – far more than was necessary (John 19:39). Evidently, Nicodemus, who had been so standoffish in his earlier dialogue with Jesus – the one in which Jesus told him he must be “born again” or “born from above” (John 3:3) – is so eager, now, to honor him that he shows up with an enormous sack of burial spices.

These two distinguished citizens (and perhaps several, unnamed others) remove Jesus’ body from the tomb. There it rests, throughout Holy Saturday. It is the time of vigil, of watching, of waiting.

In the wake of someone’s death, the bereaved often have important things to do on the in-between days. There are papers to sign, relatives to phone, funeral arrangements to make. Often a suit of clothing must be selected and taken to the funeral director – this person who is the modern-day counterpart of Joseph and Nicodemus. These are difficult, often heart-wrenching duties, but they must be done. There is a certain awkwardness, an unsettledness, to these in-between times.

Alan Lewis, a Scottish theologian who taught at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas, was writing a book on the theology of Holy Saturday when he died, prematurely, of cancer. His widow completed the book and saw it published. Here’s a selection from it:

"And now on the day after, on the boundary, with 'the King of the Jews' stripped of his absurd crown and mock purple panoply, lying stiff in the impotence of death, who can deny to human power the smug satisfaction of such sweet success? The potentates of the world have conquered that 'other' kingdom and its king, have satisfied themselves that God is power and that power is God. Until the last moment he has had his chance to prove things otherwise, to verify that there really is some divine enigma by which the vulnerability of love can mightily conquer everything, provide miraculous escape from the tightest of tight corners. But the 'Son of God' has not come down from the cross; his brand of nonresistance has, after all, proved no match for military might or the politics of fear. He has failed against the politicians and soldiers as against the priests and moralists; and beside him in the grave has been laid to rest the naive dream that the meek shall inherit the earth." – Alan E. Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), p. 50.

What I like about Lewis’ book is how well he captures the stark reality of Holy Saturday, and how he holds it up as a metaphor for our lives. We have seen too much of death. We are waiting for resurrection.

My whole life, these days, is a Holy Saturday. Laid low by the weakness and malaise of chemotherapy, I am in a waiting mode – waiting to get better. Tomorrow morning, as I listen to the church bells from across the street and perhaps glimpse the comings and goings of worshipers through the curtains, I will seek to celebrate the resurrection vicariously, in my own way, apart from the worshiping community.

My hope is the same as anyone else’s: hope for new life. Today I wait. Today we all wait.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Carl,

Just as you miss your church family, so your church family misses you. What an honor you bestow on us by sharing your most personal feelings with us. Thank you and may you and your family have A Blessed Easter. Charlene/Harvey