Text: John 18 and 19 (the trials of Jesus and his crucifixion)
Good Friday and Easter Sunday reveal the shape of our lives. On Good Friday we experience death, and on Easter Sunday we experience rebirth. These two poles define the path of the Spirit — from death to resurrection; from disillusionment to enlightenment; and from loss to recovery.
But what about the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? On the afternoon of Good Friday, Jesus dies and is buried in a tomb. At dawn on Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene comes to his tomb and finds it empty. But what about Holy Saturday? What happens on that day?
The four gospels don’t tell us. They skip from the burial on Friday to the visit of Mary to the tomb on Sunday. In between is Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. On the Sabbath after the first Good Friday, the friends of Jesus have a day in which they can start to deal with the trauma of his arrest, trial, and execution. But exactly what they do, we are not told.
The entrance of Jesus’ friends into Jerusalem just six days earlier had been euphoric — huge crowds, shouts of ‘Hosanna,’ and hope that Jesus would be a new King David who would free Jerusalem from its Roman occupiers and restore it as the capital of a Jewish empire.
On Good Friday, these hopes are crushed when their friend and leader is crucified. Trauma doesn’t come much worse than this, so we can only imagine how grief-filled that first Holy Saturday must have been for Jesus’ friends.
This morning, we have experienced a bit of that trauma with readings and songs about the crucifixion. Soon, we will leave this sanctuary to enter our own time of resting and waiting. Soon it will be Holy Saturday. What should we do in this time of waiting?
I don’t think this as an unimportant question. While Good Friday and Easter Sunday define the poles of the spiritual path, much of life is spent between them. Much of life is like a long Holy Saturday. Moments of painful loss are dramatic. Moments of rebirth are joyous. But for much of the time, we are neither experiencing great loss nor joyous rebirth. Instead, for much of our lives we are grieving loss, searching for ways to cope, and waiting in hope for new life.
Think of the time between divorce and finding new love; between the death of a loved one and finding stable ground upon which to keep on living; between hitting rock bottom and completing the many steps of recovery from addiction.
It is similar with communities and nations. They also spend much of their existence between defeat in war or diplomacy and the establishment of a new regime; between waking up to huge social problems like climate change and finding new ways to live that don’t threaten our health; and so on.
Because much of life is neither Good Friday nor Easter Sunday, today I focus on Holy Saturday. In the long Holy Saturdays of our lives, I believe we find space in which to grieve, to recover, and to prepare.
The stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection assures us that new life follows death. But they also reveal that new life is not what we expect; and because of the unexpected nature of Easter, we may need many Holy Saturdays to prepare for its strangeness.
On the first Easter, Jesus’ friends find his tomb empty. This shows them that God’s Love overcomes death. But the mysterious new life his friends experience in the Risen Christ is not what they had hoped for on Palm Sunday. The Romans remain in charge. Innocent people continue to be arrested, tried and executed. The troubles of life remain.
Many of us can probably relate. When we suffer a loss, with grace we grieve the loss and eventually awake to new life. But this new life is different than our old one. In accepting new life, we may realize that our past attachment to things like nation, power, or security reflected the small self. After grief, sometimes we wake up to the joy of the Big Self of Love that unites all people. Sometimes, we wake up to God.
The latter is Easter, a reminder of the Love from which we have come to which we all return.
Palm Sunday is a day of illusions, I believe. Good Friday is day of the traumatic death of those illusions. Holy Saturday is a day in which we grieve our loss. Easter Sunday is a day in which we experience a joy that is radically different than Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday’s joy is built on a shaky foundation of nationalism and militarism. Easter Sunday’s joy is built on the sure foundation of universal love and unity . . .
On a Friday, many years ago, darkness came over the land, Jesus breathed his last, and he died.
And now we wait. We wait with our fallen brother and Saviour who lived and died in solidarity with us. We wait in sadness but also in the sure hope for new life.
Today as we leave this sanctuary to enter a Saturday of waiting, may we do so knowing that while the path of grief does not always lead to what we want, it always leads us to God’s eternal love.
In the silence and mystery of our Holy Saturday, may an ancient expression of hope form on our lips.
“Come, Lord Jesus, come.”