Holy Saturday - Silence (part 1)
by Hayley Elder
Take a few minutes and read John 19:38-42, Is 55:8-9, Psalm 139.
Around 5 years ago, I had one of my 'winter seasons'. A period of feeling down that led to a depression which really shook me. For the first time in a while I felt a real silence from God that made me question everything. Village was a few years in and I found myself in meetings discussing the core beliefs and values of Village, whilst honestly questioning the existence of God. I stepped out of leadership, which was definitely for the best, but after a few months I stopped coming to Sunday gatherings and made excuses to avoid missional community. I started to feel angry with God, and in time, I became really bitter.
I can imagine that many of Jesus' friends and followers felt confused, angry, and possibly even abandoned after his death. For three years they had followed him. For three years they had listened to his words, seen him heal the sick, calm the sea, and cast out demons. And after three years, maybe, just maybe, they had started to believe in him. But, after Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had prepared, wrapped, and laid His body in that new tomb, they wouldn't have been in any doubt that he was gone. In a similar way, I had grown sure that if there was a God somewhere in the heavens, he certainly didn't like me very much. He had gone. He had abandoned me.
Thankfully, that wasn’t true at all. I had believed the lie and the lie had consumed me. Those verses in Isaiah (55:8-9) tell us what we ought to know already, that our thoughts and ways aren't like God's. His are higher; they are better, they are true. It seems obvious, but we humans are forgetful beings, and Jesus' friends and followers in their despair, forgot to look ahead to the fulfilment that was to come. In my moment of darkness I forgot to look back. I could have picked out one of many times in my life that God had been anything but silent.
Of course, for Joseph and Nicodemus, the tomb was not the end of the story. Three days later the tomb would be empty; nothing remaining but the cloths with which they had so carefully wrapped him, and the faint aroma of embalming spices hanging in the air. And because of that empty tomb, things did not end in silence for me either. Looking back, it's obvious that God's voice was evident in all of the stern encouragement, gentle rebuking, and un-wavering love I experienced from my brothers and sisters in Christ. No matter how I tried to deny Him, I was surrounded by people who reminded me of Him. He was all around me.
If only I had read Psalm 139 at the time. Verses 7 and 8 spell out the truth for us. There is no getting away from the presence of God. In the highest heavens, or the deepest darkness, He is there. This would be encouraging enough on its own, but the rest of the Psalm reveals how intimately God knows us and how carefully our lives are planned. "In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me" (Verse 16). Even the toughest, and darkest of our days have been part of our stories since we were being knitted together. Why? Because God knows better than we do. Because His ways are better than ours.
Jesus' death was not the easiest or happiest way to save humanity, but it was necessary, and it was God's will.
Holy Saturday - The day after God died (part 2)
by Thomas McConaghie
Take a few minutes and read 1 Corinthians 15:12-19.
Last night we held our now annual Tenebrae Service; a gathering in the shadows and darkness. We recalled the story of Jesus on the journey to the cross and sat in discomfort considering the cost paid for our sins before leaving in silence. We long for Sunday because we know the unbridled joy and relief it yields. But we – in the broadest sense – don’t do much with Holy Saturday. We often hear the phrase “Friday’s here, but Sunday’s coming.” And rightly so, it’s beautiful in its hopefulness and succinctly captures the joy that we find in this season. However, could we be missing a trick in not paying attention to Holy Saturday?
It might sound strange to admit but it’s only in recent years that I’ve even realised the presence of Holy Saturday. Let’s place the “Sunday’s coming” mantra to the back of our minds for a moment in a bid to empathise with the Disciples.
Yesterday Andrew painted a vivid picture of the death of Jesus; a picture that would have been burned into the minds of the Jesus followers who witnessed the crucifixion as they awoke the next morning; if they even managed to get any sleep. The rising sun creeps through the window. No sooner have your eyes opened that it all comes flooding back, except now there’s no adrenaline to take the edge off. Your stomach sinks like an anchor thrown over the edge of a ship and it all comes flooding back… the stench of death, the echoes of tortured cries, the sight of Jesus torn to shreds giving up his breath. It wasn’t a dream. It really happened. Jesus is dead. And we are to be most pitied.
For the last three years the disciples had enjoyed the company of God Incarnate. They watched him proclaim hope and change lives. The Kingdom promised in the texts of old was near! But now, silence. Disbelief. Shock. Denial. Numbness. Was there a longer, darker day in human history than that Saturday?
In jumping from Friday to Sunday, I think we miss a trick. Holy Saturday, it would seem, is so typical of our Christian life, as Hayley vulnerably shared above. Broken relationships, lost loved ones, shattered dreams, unmet expectations…the list is inexhaustible. Uncertainty is part and parcel of our experience and it’s important to not run away from this. Embracing Holy Saturday encourages us to consider for a moment what our lives might have looked like if the stone wasn’t rolled away; if there was no expectation of resurrection.
Christianity hinges on Good Friday and Easter Sunday; the cross and the resurrection. But let’s not fast forward through Holy Saturday. Take a moment to hold the full weight of 1 Corinthians 15:19. We are to be most pitied. Consider, just for a day, that your entire Christian experience was all in vain.
Then, as we awake on Sunday morning, and the rumours start to spread that the stone is rolled away, may the taste of resurrection be all the sweeter.