The Two Marys Watch the Tomb, James J. Tissot
There’s a brief moment between the crucifixion and the resurrection, between what we now call Good Friday and Resurrection Day, that is so completely unique in human history, and yet so common to our shared experience, that it demands that we pause for consideration. Masses and great liturgies have been written, whole requiems composed for the events of the Passion and to celebrate that most holy of Sunday mornings. But that Saturday was an in-between day, the day of waiting after the tragedy, but the not-yet day before the redemption. And make no mistake, they did not know redemption was coming. For them, Saturday was all despair. Today we call it Holy Saturday. I doubt the disciples had the energy nor the presence of mind to call it anything at all. They spent the day in weeping and confusion and dejection, unsure of what had just happened, what would happen next, or what any of it meant.
Caught in the in between.
They could not imagine what the next day would bring. Most of them were still struggling to understand that the Messiah to whom they’d devoted their lives was dead. And not just dead of the regular kind. Stunningly dead. Humiliatingly dead. He had entered the city to loud shouts of praise just days before, hailed as the Messiah of God. Dead. They had placed all their hope in him. Not just in his teachings, but in him. And now their hope was crucified, executed by the state as a criminal. What were they supposed to do? What would God do for them now?
Would he do anything?
Anything at all?
Surely those few hours just past crucifixion, but still not quite resurrection, were the worst of their lives. They were just hours away from the greatest event in human history, but still not understanding what the Christ had explained to them. Excruciating hours of waiting, of mourning, with no expectation that the dawn would bring hope and life eternal. They had heard all the words, but not understood any of the promises.
Stuck in the middle.
The day was unique, but the feeling is not. The disciples were not the first to experience shattering disappointment when hopes are dashed. Each of us may find ourselves caught in the in-between of failure and dejection. Waiting. Uncertain, even afraid. Asking God for help, but not sure if he’ll answer. Maybe the day is more like a month. Or a year. Longer. An interminable period of longing and waiting that seems to have no end, and no hope.
Does God hear me?
Is He doing anything?
Many messiahs had come into the world before Jesus. Many more would come after him. They are legion, even today. Some are celebrated. Most of them, if they are any kind of half-way decent radical at all, are maligned, even killed. And each of them, in his or her own way, leaves behind a group of disappointed disciples.
What makes the experience of Jesus’ disciples unique is what would come with the dawn on the following day, the Great Event that they could not anticipate. Their Messiah refused to stay dead. For most of us who lose faith when our personal messiahs fail, the Saturday after stretches out into an endless parade of Saturdays after, until the pain finally begins to fade away and we make some fragile peace with our misplaced hope. But for the disciples it was different, because the next day came with the realization that everything Jesus had ever told them was true, all of his stories and parables and promises were now affirmed, not by his death, but by his life, by his living presence among them there in the garden by the tomb where they’d laid his body just days before. All previous and future messiahs could only disappoint, but this one time in history, dejection gave way to incredulous rejoicing when they realized that everything he had said about himself was all true.
With that, despair is banished. We may have misplaced our hope in the past. We may be dejected, or sad, or afraid. But we do not live in the Saturday in between, but instead on this side of the resurrection of the Christ, and all of his promises are shown to be true. He is risen, indeed, and he has said of all those who follow him:
Your sins are forgiven. Completely.
You will find life, and peace, in God.
He himself will call you brother, sister, friend.
There is a place at God’s table that is already set for you.
God will never leave you, forsake you, or send you away from his presence.
He is with you, forever.
The disciples had heard the promises, but had not yet seen the proof – the resurrected Jesus, standing before them, his hands stretched wide to prove his life, his death, his passion. Without the seal of his resurrection, the promise of reconciliation and relationship with God seems impossible. We have seen the reality of the risen Christ – if we know him and place our faith him, then we can shake off despair, put aside whatever fear, and live this Holy Saturday in the joy of the resurrection. Don’t wait until tomorrow to experience the forgiveness, the peace, the friendship, the companionship, and the presence of God. He is present, he is willing, and he is able, even on the most in-between of days.