The Intermission of Failure: Holy Saturday 2013

The way the story's told in many of our churches, one could think that the execution and resurrection of Jesus happened as one fluid motion, a seamless progression. On my Twitter Feed last night, lots of people were talking about Good Friday and the death of Jesus... but few left it at that. That's to be expected, of course, because we all remember how the story ends. We remember that death isn't the end for Jesus. One church Tweeted, "it's Good Friday, but Sunday's coming..."

But what about Saturday?

Did we forget that there's an intermission in the story?

Sometimes I think we forget that Jesus was actually dead. Jesus didn't just step off the cross and say, "Ta-da!" ...there's a verse in that famous hymn--"Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?" There was an entire day on which the failure of the situation was assumed in the hearts of the disciples, assumed in Jesus, and assumed by God.

Kevin Casto, Lowering Jesus from the Cross, 1995
The work of obedience had been done... Jesus prayed "take this cup... not my will, but yours be done..." Trust was placed in God to accomplish God's ends through Christ's obedience. But God had failed to hold up God's end of the bargain. When we act obediently--loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, setting aside what seems effective in order to be faithful--when we place our trust in God to take care of the ends, there is almost inevitably a Holy Saturday on which we have to face the fact that the ends for which we'd hoped were not accomplished. There will be a time when all our work will look like failure and the cross will be foolishness to us as we are perishing. The executioner will smile and the darkness will set in.

At the end of our Tenebrae Good Friday service last night, after our Pastor had extinguished the final flame and the room had gone dim... in a moment when we might have expected words of comfort or at least one more hymn to close the night with some closure... our Pastor abruptly grabbed the cross on the alter, slammed it on its side, and abruptly walked out. It took us a moment to realize that the service had ended... that was it... it was over. There was no closure, no resolution... just death and darkness.

Holy Saturday is the abrupt and unwelcome interrupter of resolution... It is the moment in which we realize that death takes us all - even our savior. We're not saved from the monster as we'd hoped to be. But with Jesus we are offered up to the monster.

But in a room of darkness, our eyes are rested...

Holy Saturday is a space in which we are released from the constant struggle of running from death, we are liberated from the pressure of survival. Our mask is ripped away from our face and we are not-so-gently invited to expose ourselves to the realities of our frailty and our failure. We don't get to hide behind our work, our accomplishments, our stuff, the show we put on for others to trick them into thinking we've escaped death's humiliation... Holy Saturday is a dark Sabbath.

But we are exposed in this way because God is exposed in this way in Jesus. We are given the space of a tomb to open our fists and to share our failures with God, to let them be caught up in God's own story of failure. God assumes the same frailty, the same failure, the same humiliation at the hands of death which we ourselves are forced to face in our finitude. The failure of humanity is assumed and taken up in God's divinity. "...The God of life...has made death and despair the very location of God's being" (Andrew Root, Promise of Despair, 74).

But hope meets us as we share our frailty... hope meets us in hopelessness as we share our failure, for “... it is what is united to God's divinity that is saved" (Gregory of Naziansus).
On the seventh day God rested
In the silence of the tomb;
Having finished on the sixth day
All his work of joy and doom.
Now the world had fallen silent,
And the water had run dry,
The bread had all been scattered,
And the light had left the sky.
The flock had lost its shepherd,
And the seed was sadly sown,
The courtiers had betrayed their king,
And nailed Him to His throne.
O Sabbath rest by Calvary,
O calm of tomb below,
Where the grave clothes and the spices
Cradle Him we did not know!
Rest you well, beloved Jesus,
Caesar’s Lord and Israel’s King,
In the brooding of the Spirit,
In the darkness of the spring.
_N.T. Wright


Alison V said…
Wes, thank you for this.