Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why is there a Holy Saturday?

Today, I woke up early—while my house still sighed with the rhythmic breathing of five sleeping kids, exhausted from late-night sleepover giggles. While I tiptoed in the kitchen to make my coffee, it was quiet, and it was still dark.
 And as the excitement of yesterday melted into a silent morning. . . I realized:
Today is Holy Saturday.

I didn’t grow up in a liturgical tradition, so I haven’t contemplated the significance of Holy Saturday. Honestly, to me, it was just a bonus day sandwiched between Good Friday and Easter Sunday—a day to grocery shop for Sunday lunch, to take the kids to local Easter egg hunts. And for the thirteen years I spent as a pastor's wife, Holy Saturday was a hectic day, the final push to invite people to our Easter service (i.e., the Super Bowl of the church)—passing out flyers, doing some kind of community blitz to get our name and service times out there.

Never before has Holy Saturday been a quiet day.

For some reason I’ve been feeling especially reflective this Holy Week. So as the sun peeked over the rooftops this morning, I wondered, Why do we have Holy Saturday?
Why did Jesus stay in the grave an extra day?

I mean, I know the seminary answers: Jesus was fulfilling prophecy of being in the heart of the earth for three days (Matthew 12:40). Jesus was staying in the grave long enough for people to know He was dead, but not long enough for His body to decay (John 11:39; cf. Psalm 16:10). And some Bible scholars believe that on Saturday, Jesus preached the gospel in hell (1 Peter 3:18-20).

But even if Jesus “descended into hell,” as the Apostles’ Creed says—why did He need a whole day to preach the gospel? Jesus’ longest recorded sermon is the Sermon on the Mount, which can be delivered in only eight minutes. So Jesus could have been taken off the cross by sundown, made a quick trip to hell to preach the gospel, and been back in an hour.
Why is there a whole extra day?

I thought about what the disciples must have been feeling on that first Holy Saturday. They didn’t know it was Holy Saturday. To them, it was just another day. The day after their Master died.
The day after everything they'd been living for was snatched away in a matter of hours.

The day after their entire world fell apart.

Now THAT I can relate to.

About a year and a half ago, my dreams died. The tragedy shocked my faith like nothing I’ve ever experienced. He not only broke his vows with his marriage and his ministry, but he told me he was “tired of pretending.” Then one chilly morning, he chose another life and simply walked out.
Everything I had lived for was snatched away in a matter of hours.
I was devastated.

My faith was shaken to the core.
I had put all my eggs in this Easter basket, so to speak.

My life had been centered on the church from children’s choir to youth group—and then college Bible studies and mission trips. After college I worked for a Christian publisher and went to seminary, where I met and married a preacher. Together we planted churches and led ministries—all while I edited hundreds of Christian books. It is not an exaggeration to say the church was my entire world.

Everything I had been living for was saturated in the faith.

And then one day . . . it was gone.            
So I can relate a bit to the disciples that Saturday.

Maybe you can relate, too. You have your own story. Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one. Or gotten a phone call with devastating news.
Perhaps your dreams died with the words “cancer” or “infertile” or “runaway” or "downsizing" or “There's been an accident" or "I just don’t love you anymore” or “Your child needs some tests” or “He’ll never walk again.”

Or maybe for you, it was a crisis of faith that came out of nowhere. You were sitting on a pew or serving in church, when suddenly you were seized with doubt and thought, "What am I doing? Is this even real?"
Have you ever faced your own "Holy Saturday"?

Has God ever disappointed you? Not met your expectations? Been silent when you desperately needed Him to speak?

The disciples didn’t know that all their doubts, aches, and disappointments would be answered on Sunday. To them, Saturday was a dark day. A day of grief and anguish. A day of God's echoing silence. A day of enduring pain in the raw, empty place where their dreams used to live.

Everything they had believed in was buried in a cold, dark tomb.

God could have reassured the disciples by giving them some handwriting on the wall or a burning bush or something as a sign to let them know that Jesus was coming back. That their emptiness would be filled in the morning. That their faith was NOT in vain.

But He didn’t.

He let them wrestle in the darkness of that wide borderland--between anguish and hope--for a full day. Aching. Waiting. Grieving. Fearing. Wondering. Too shocked to pray. Too shattered to trust.

Why did God let them wrestle?

Why does God let us wrestle?
Why is there a whole day when God is silent?

When you're in your "Holy Saturday," faced with pain and doubt amid the silence of God… what do you do?

Do you turn and walk away from your faith, trying to fill the emptiness with something else?

Or ...
When you’re suffering in the silence, wracked by the feeling that God has abandoned you, do you notice that tiny, flickering, almost imperceptible spark of hope? The hope that makes no sense? The hope you cannot prove, you cannot see, and you cannot even quite say for sure is actually there?
Did He really say that He would rise again? 

Is there a chance that maybe He hasn’t abandoned me? That there is a future I just can’t see? A hope beyond this barren borderland?
It is today, Holy Saturday—the in-between place where we cannot see or sense God—when our faith becomes REAL.
If you are wrestling with your faith today, let me encourage you that there are thousands of other strugglers like you and me. We are the ones who know what it's like to be shattered by pain, assaulted by doubt and fear, and yet still desperately clinging to the hope that just barely throbs beneath our heartache.

Don't give in to the grief of your Holy Saturday. Don't run away from the One who alone has the words of eternal life.

Wait in the emptiness.

And watch.

Embrace the sacredness of your Holy Saturday, whatever it may be. Allow yourself to wrestle and to ask and to grieve and to fear and to doubt and to ache. Cry and pray and struggle. And through it all, pay attention to that tiny flicker of hope that just won't go away.

Then, as your heart is made tender by pain and your eyes softened by tears, the stone of doubt and emptiness will begin to roll away and reveal the transforming faith and fullness and glory of a Resurrection Sunday like you’ve never known.

 Where reasons are given, we don't need faith.
Where only darkness surrounds us,
we have no means for seeing except by faith.

--Elisabeth Elliot