In the liturgical Christian calendar, today we commemorate ‘Holy Saturday.’ For many people, this just means ‘the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday’, i.e. after Jesus has died on the cross, but before He is resurrected. I’m sure this could seem like a bit of a non-event; at best, a day in preparation for the big celebration on Sunday (because – SPOILER ALERT – Jesus rises every time). But for me, it’s always been one of the most fascinating days of the theological year. Because for the disciples, the hours must have seemed like eons. The day after Jesus’ death was the day everything looked like it had gone horribly, horribly wrong. Holy Saturday is the day when the disciples are waiting, and God doesn’t show.
Now, obviously God shows eventually – the next day, in fact, in the resurrected body of Jesus, walking, talking and eating amongst his faithful friends. But prior to this, I think it’s safe to assume that at least some of the disciples must have thought they had made a dreadful mistake. Why would Mary Magdalene head to the tomb to anoint the body on Sunday morning, if she did not believe Jesus’ corpse would be there as it had been left? Jesus had told the disciples that in three days He would rise again. In fact, because of this, Pontius Pilate sends guards to man the tomb so that none of the disciples could pull the old ‘switcheroo’ and move Jesus’ body, to keep the dream alive. This bumping up of security (Matt 27:62-66) shows us that the disciples were seen as deluded fantasists adhering to a cult, which had to be thoroughly quashed by disproving their so-called ‘saviour’s prophecy. As such, the disciples knew the only way Jesus would make good on His word was if His Father got involved. And given that they’d seen their friend and believed-redeemer brutally impaled and left to asphyxiate on a disgraceful wooden beam, they probably were reconsidering whether Jesus and God were so tight after all.
In one of my favourite ever plays, Angels in America, one of the angels explains that God has become angry at the world, and has left. That must have been what Holy Saturday felt like.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like life is one long string of Holy Saturdays right now.
Atrocities in Syria, an inept orange man-child spouting off about declaring war with Korea and grabbing women by the p*ssy, gay torture camps in Russia… I find myself thinking, Where is God?
‘God is within,’ my evangelical upbringing assures me. ‘We are His body.’
‘Why have I been given a faulty body, then?’ I find myself replying sharply. ‘Does He not realise I can’t be the blessing I want to be if I am bed-bound several times a month? I can barely be a good employee, friend, sister and daughter most days. Some days I can’t even walk. Where is God when I’m crying out in pain, which doctors cannot eradicate or offer me any kind of relief? Where is God in those moments? I wail into the night and the only answer I receive is my own echo.
God is found, not in the present tense, but in the now-and-not-yet.
I look to the psalms for comfort, and find ancient writers crying into the same empty night sky. Where is God in those psalms? God is found, not in the present tense, but in the now-and-not-yet. He is often posited when there is a jump from present to past tense (presumably – we can infer from the context – set in the future, which may or may not have happened yet): ‘I am weary with groaning’ –> ‘the Lord heard my cry.’ For grammar nerds, we might call this usage the ‘future perfect tense’ (though we should take into account that Biblical Hebrew doesn’t have tenses, only ‘moods’ or ‘aspects’ – i.e. you have to translate by feel, not by chronological happenings per se). We do not know what exactly happens during this shift from present to future(?). Maybe nothing happens – maybe these are the words of faith, spoken in the hope that they will someday be true; perhaps even in the hope that the very speaking of these words may encourage their reality to manifest. Even still, in the moments between the statements where the shift takes place, there is silence. Silence so often feels like the absence of God.
Likewise, when Job questions the goodness of God – even wishing there were an additional heavenly adjudicator that would allow him to take God to task, whom he feels has wronged him – for chapters and chapters, God is silent. Job’s Holy Saturday lasts for pages and pages, before he is able to state that he has finally had true experience of God: ‘I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you’ (Job 42:5). To experience Holy Saturday is to feel every second of the time between the tense shifts. As such, to inhabit Holy Saturday is to be tense and shifty!
On Monday, my chronic pain got so bad, that for the first time in seven years, I had to go to A&E (or the Emergency Room, for our Transatlantic friends). I waited three hours, in limbo, unsure whether the doctor I was going to see would appreciate my suffering and give me some kind of relief, or whether they would dismiss me as many have done before, muttering things like ‘there’s nothing I can do for you’, and, ‘science is improving all the time,’ or the well-worn classic, ‘we all have pain.’ I waited to throw myself on the mercy of the one with authority and wisdom to prescribe something to heal me. And honestly, I think he would have sent me out the door empty-handed and as pathetic as before, if I hadn’t cried my eyes out in his office.
How many times have I cried out to God? How long have I waited? How long is this freaking Holy Saturday going to last?
Curled up on the floor of A&E praying for a miracle. Don't know how many tethers I can keep coming to the end of. #spoonie #visibility #chronicpain #invisibleillness #honestsocialmedia #pelvicpain #nhs #hospital Contrast this with my previous post and you may be confused. How can I have been active and smiling just 2 days ago and in dire pain today? You can appreciate how difficult it can be to get diagnosis and treatment. Some people will assume I am a hypochondriac, or that my pain is psychosomatic, disingenuous, attention-seeking. This is the reality of chronic pain. Sometimes we manage a day others would deem 'normal'. Sometimes we push through and pay for our energy expenditure. And sometimes pain rears its head with no warning, threatening to rip our world apart. We are not weak. We are more resilient than you know.
Still, I must believe that, at the right time, the Lord will show He has heard me, and come to my aid, as He promises in Scripture. Because if I don’t have my relationship with the Almighty Father, then what did Jesus die for? If He doesn’t care about me, why did He send His only begotten Son for me, to pay my ransom, to set me free? These beliefs jangle and jar in my head day-in, day-out. I am forced to wrestle with them like Israel with the angel (Genesis 32:26). I will not let you go until you bless me.
That is my war-cry for this seemingly endless Holy Saturday. I will not let you go until you bless me. I use all the spiritual sass I own to pound that from my chest. I refuse to give up faith while the tense is shifting. Because one of these days, it will be morning, and I will make my way to the tomb, and the stone will be rolled away. And until that day comes, I will prepare myself: I will teach myself this radio-silence is temporary. God does not have to speak constantly to be heard. In the meantime, we have His Word, and the care and knowledge of others to turn to, which should form community and foster deep bonds of love. We will listen for Him in the silence, so when He speaks, we will be ready.
Well, shall we go?