Please read Matthew 27:55-66
On Friday Jesus died. Many women had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Jesus was dead. Now what? A wealthy man from Arimathea asked for Jesus body and placed it in his own new tomb. The stone is rolled in front of the entrance and he goes away. I imagine him thinking: Jesus is dead. Now what? Three women close to Jesus are sitting opposite the tomb, just staring at a large, immovable stone. Jesus is dead. Now what?
Friday is a tough day. Friday is a day when hope and expectation dies. Friday is the day a dream dies. Friday is a day when the plan doesn’t work. Friday is a day when the soul gets crushed. Friday is a day when faith feels pointless. Friday is the valley of the shadow of death. Friday is a day of loss. Friday is a day of brokenness.
Now, it’s Saturday and Jesus is dead. Saturday is also hard. Maybe even harder than Friday.
We don’t know much about that Saturday as the Scriptures don’t record much at all. The only details we get are the ones you just read.
We are left to imagine what it was like for some of Jesus’ closest friends; his mum; his brothers. I picture them quietly gathering somewhere, talking and reflecting on all that had gone on. Diagnosing what went wrong; perhaps personal regrets; maybe some shame and guilt at how some had run and hidden when things got hot; wrong decisions and statements made under pressure; trying to understand why it went so wrong. Perhaps speculating how things might have been different if only…
One wonders if there was a nagging, even haunting thought in their minds that no-one dared articulate. Jesus failed. Now what?
Saturday is the day after a prayer gets prayed and there appears to be no answer on the way. Saturday is the day after a powerful prayer for healing or a potent prophetic word and you wake up nothing has changed. In fact, Saturday is the day nothing happens. Saturday is the day when it’s quiet, too quiet. Saturday is a lonely day. Saturday is the day we also have that nagging, even haunting thought in our minds that we dare not articulate. Jesus failed…me.
We all know Saturday. Think about yours for a moment.
Saturday is the day we realise that we have to go on. Life has to continue. But we aren’t sure how? Or perhaps worse, why?
What can be done on Saturday? What do you do on Saturday?
We have three options. Firstly, despair. The script goes like this: “things are probably never going to get better. Let’s get used to the new normal. It is going to be Saturday from now on. Groundhog day. Lower your expectations and get on with life.” That’s called disappointment management.
But you might be a follower of Jesus – at least in theory – so you might say the right things, do the right things. Talk the language of faith, but it is not living faith. It is a shell to keep the questions, or more likely the questioners, away. The walls go up. I am not going to feel disappointed like that again. It’s just too sore. It’s just too painful.
Is that you? Stop for a moment and think about it. Be honest with yourself.
Secondly, denial. It sounds like simplistic explanations, maxims and platitudes. It’s fridge magnet theology. It might be true. It just hasn’t moved from the side of the fridge into the foundation of your soul: “God works all things for the good of those who love him…”. It is true, but it’s not part of your operating system.
Denial is fast moving train. Denial fills the silence with noise. Denial is busy. Sometimes even busy for Jesus. Denial is a painted smile. Denial is an obligation to optimism. It is a false triumphalism. It is a superficial cliche.
How do you know you are living in denial? Stop. Stop filling every moment. Stop numbing the senses with the closest drug to hand. Whether it’s the entire tub of Ben & Jerrys; the bottle of Argentinean Malbec; that Netflix show that transports you to a better life; the next project. Just stop. You’ll see.
Despair and denial do a terrible violence to our souls. I believe they split us in two. On the one side is what we present to others and even ourselves. On the other, what is really going on. And into the yawning chasm that is opened up falls authenticity.
There is a third option, though: Wait. Rest. Complain. Wrestle. Listen. Watch. Vent. Trust. But wait.
There is a particular category of Psalm called a ‘lament’. It’s an expression of sorrow, grief, complaint. By some counts there are as many as 67 Psalms of lament/complaint. That’s nearly half the Psalms!
“God, where are you?…Why are you so silent?….How long O Lord?….Hear me, O Lord?…Why are you far off?….Why have you abandoned me?” Saturday Psalms.
CS Lewis, that renowned Christian writer and apologist, called the autobiographical account of his journey to faith in Christ: “Surprised by Joy”. Shortly thereafter he met and married a lady called Joy. He was a 57 year old bachelor at the time, so this was a big deal! Unfortunately, he knew this love only briefly as, soon after their marriage, Joy died a very painful death to cancer.
He wrote another book called: “A Grief Observed”. As John Ortberg says: “It’s a Saturday book”. Listen to Lewis’ words:
“When you are happy, so happy you have no sense of needing God, so happy you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms.
But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become…. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”
Wait. Rest. Complain. Wrestle. Work with God. Listen. Watch. Vent. Trust. But wait.
The trouble with Saturday is that you don’t know if it’s always going to be Saturday, endlessly repeated. When you are in Saturday, you don’t know if Sunday is coming. When Jesus’ friends gathered on Saturday, they did not know Sunday was coming. How could they. Jesus was dead.
How long do we wait? How long will Saturday last? I wish I could answer that question. “How long O Lord?”. Saints have been asking that question thousands of years.
After a 400 year wait, a group of people with an ancient hope were asking that question from an insignificant corner of a mighty empire. One day, a carpenter from Nazareth stood up and said: “The time has come” (Mark 1:23). The author entered the play. He entered your and my story at a point in our history. Pause for a moment and recall when that was. Call to mind when he entered your story and drew you into his.
But where is he on your Saturday while you wait? To answer that question, let me ask another one: where was Jesus on his Saturday.
He was in a grave. In prisoned in a tomb with every measure in place to keep him there. Mans best attempts to keep him down. Silenced. Dead.
He was in death. Submitting himself to the greatest of all our enemies. Tasting death and its sting.
He was in hell according to an ancient church Creed. The darkest of all places, the furthest anguish and separation from God. Of course the precise nature of that is a subject of debate and theological reflection, but please keep the picture in mind. Jesus descended…
I came across this picture whilst preparing for this message last year.
It’s a bronze statue of Jesus located in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of the Italian Riviera. It was placed on the sea floor at a depth of 17m in August 1954 as a memorial to a well known Italian diver who died near that spot seven years earlier. The statue itself and the story behind it is quite moving. But it was the name that caught my attention. It’s called: Christ of the Abyss.
You see, if you can find him in a grave,if you can find him in death, if you can find him in hell, if you can find him in the abyss, where will you not find him? Where will he not turn up for you?
Your Saturday may be the darkest night of your soul. But here is the thing: he knows his way into the darkest places because he has been there and back.
“If I say, surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you…” Psalm 139.
Wait. Rest. Complain. Wrestle. Work with God. Listen. Watch. Vent. Trust.
It’s Saturday. Jesus is in a grave, dead, decending into hell. But Sunday is coming….