Saturday, April 23, 2011


What did they do on the day before the first Easter? The Bible tells us they rested on the Sabbath. Imagine what that "rest" was like.

I have often sat with people in that shocked day after a loved one died. There's no rest involved. There are lots of half-gestures. He gets up to start making a pot of coffee and halfway through, forgets what he's doing and goes to sit in the living room. Ten minutes later he says, "Oh, yeah, I was going to make a pot of coffee." Or she lingers over photos, weeping over each one, stacking them into piles that will go on a memory board for the funeral. It's hard and heart-wrenching, this awful second day of grief. His hand begins to rise to scratch his ear, but halfway there it drops to his lap again. She starts to hug her sister, but just at the point of the embrace she turns away to pick up a discarded tissue from the floor.

The first day was horror. They prayed for justice in Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin, then again before Pilate. But God's "definite plan and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23) required the suspension of justice. So they watched Jesus flogged, watched him carry his cross, watched him crucified, heard the few words he spoke after that, saw him die in what must have seemed an unending agony for him and for them. The sky grew dark and an earthquake shook the city. They took him down from the cross.

Last night during our Good Friday worship service I thought of a detail I've never thought of before. How did they get Jesus off the nails? Did they have a giant crowbar to pull those iron spikes out of his wrists and heels? Or did they pull his limbs over the swollen heads of the nails, tearing muscle and sinew as they did so? Did the Roman soldiers do this task, or did Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus and the women struggle with the nails? I don't know, but it's one tiny image in a series of horrific details that made up Good Friday.

Finally they did some hasty preparation to his body and carried him, step by terrible step, to Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. The unbelievable horror they had witnessed that day must have exhausted them.

So Saturday would have been a day of trying to grapple with reality. I'm quite sure they had not slept much for the second night in a row. Jesus is dead. How did this happen? Jesus is dead. What do we do now? Jesus is dead. Are we next? Jesus is dead. Do I go back to fishing? Jesus is dead. If only I could turn time back to Thursday night. Jesus is dead. Jesus is dead. Jesus is dead.

It was, in the end, a day that demonstrates our utter helplessness and hopelessness in the face of death. It was a day we face our own sin, our own mortality, our own powerlessness. It was a day of half-gestures, of unfinished thoughts, of stifled sobs and interrupted breathing and impotent embraces that do not comfort us. The second day of grief. The day we bargain with God to no avail. The day we wish things had been different, but they are not. The day reality starts to set in.

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