Today is Saturday – Holy Saturday. Have you noticed how uncomfortable western evangelical Christians are with the Saturday of Easter? It seems that we don’t know what to do with this in-between space, the day in between Jesus dying and rising. It becomes a nothing day, when we go and stand in the supermarket queues and do the washing before getting back into the celebrations of Sunday when we can get into our more comfortable space of hope, resurrection and joy of salvation. Even on Good Friday when we talk about the death of Jesus we tend to quickly pair it with, but we know that Sunday is coming. We talk of the death, pain and suffering of Jesus in the light of our knowledge of how the story ends. We end up only engaging with the pain of the story by holding tight to the miraculous happy ending. Yet in real life there are not always Hollywood happy endings, even for those who pray, the miracles are few and far between and really come as tidy ‘fix it’ solutions. By skipping over the intense pain the suffering to the ‘fix it’ of the resurrection we are in danger of sharing something akin to toxic positivity.
This year we engage with Holy Saturday in lockdown, as the world reels from the Covid-19 Pandemic. It is crucial that we use this day well. Saturday is the day of the tomb, the day when Jesus has died and is not yet risen. During the original Easter, the day was a Sabbath, a day of pausing and resting. There was no work or pressures for the disciples to rush to do. There was only pain and fear – perhaps like many people who are experiencing this day this year. There is a lot for us to learn as we meditate on what this day was like for the disciples and early Christians. As we seek to take a different approach this year it is important to realise that we don’t have to rush to the resurrection to find meaning and comfort. We don’t have to fix this for it to be ok.
We do need to pause and rest in Saturday, we need to take the time and witness deeply the broken people, the dead, the grief, the anxiety, the fear, the pain that is all around us.
We can do this because we have a God that knows pain, that has suffered, and feels with and for us. Jesus is present in our pain – and that is enough.
There was a power in the suffering and death of Jesus, a power that speaks to and engages with human suffering at a deep and emotional level. A power to see and value those who suffer, that doesn’t gloss over the pain of knowing your loved one died alone, that doesn’t ignore the fear and anxiety of those who work in healthcare. Jesus shows the power of being present and suffering alongside, of having a God who knows what it is like to experience uncontainable pain.
Staying in Holy Saturday taking the time as a pause provides us with a different view. A view of a God who knows and sees the full extent of death, brokenness, suffering, bereavement and desolation. It makes space for the full heart cry of lament, it makes time for the expression of grief, it makes it ok to feel the pain of unanswered prayer. Staying in Holy Saturday allows us to connect with the fullness of our faith. A faith tradition that is not just about resurrection sunrises, a faith that contains verses such as
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. (NIV)
Taking hold of the fullness of our faith in this manner and becoming more comfortable with engaging with suffering allows us to more deeply connect with our suffering friends and neighbours. We can honour and acknowledge their pain by sharing a God who knows and sees pain, and who wept over a dead loved one. That is much more powerful than glib answers, that tend to negate the pain, and can appear as a lack of empathy.
So today, take a break, sit with the pain, allow Jesus fully into that space of human suffering.