Holy Saturday - Where is God when heaven is silent?
They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him. John 20:13
Holy Saturday fascinates me. The Bible tells us almost nothing about this mysterious day sandwiched between crucifixion and resurrection when God allowed the whole of creation to live without answers. It’s a day of confusion and silence. Roman Catholics and many Anglicans strip their altars bare – back to the bones – on Holy Saturday. I guess it’s the one day in the entire year when the Church has nothing to say. And yet, although we know so little about it, Holy Saturday seems to me to describe the place in which many of us live our lives: waiting for God to speak. We know that Jesus died for us yesterday. We trust that there may be miracles tomorrow. But what of today – this eternal Sabbath when heaven is silent? Where, we wonder, is God now?
…Although seasons in our lives when God is silent may be important in our spiritual growth, they can also be deeply disturbing. As a result we often attempt to solve the problem of God’s silence with simplistic explanations of complex situations, lopsided applications of Scripture and platitudes of premature comfort. We are afraid to simply wait with the mess of problems unresolved until God Himself unmistakably intervenes, as He did on Easter Sunday. We are unwilling to admit, “I don’t have a clue what God is doing or why this is happening.” We may even suspect that it would be un-Chrislike to cry out publicly, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” Why can’t we wait in the mess and pain of Holy Saturday?
I went to the funeral of a friend named Simon who had died very suddenly of a heart attack, leaving behind a wife and four young children. It was unspeakably sad, especially as I watched his kids at the front of the church, pale as milk in their smartest clothes, trying to be so very brave and grown-up and appropriate for us all – trying to make their daddy proud. One of the daughters played a piece on the recorder. Another did a reading, and her voice hardly faltered. Then the pastor stood up and invited a band to lead us in a time of worship. We all sang songs and, to my surprise, some of the people in the front row started dancing. I know why they were doing it – they wanted to celebrate the fact that Simon was in heaven and God was in charge.
In a way I loved them for the sheer defiant absurdity of it all. But then I saw something that almost broke my heart. We were singing “Show Us Your Power O Lord” which – according to the service sheet – been one of Simons favourites, when his seven year old daughter turned her head and stared at the coffin. “Show us your power O Lord,” we continued as she just kept staring at the coffin. It was a simple thing but, as I say, it almost broke my heart.
A number of eulogies followed, and everyone said lovely things about Simon. One of the speakers explained how intricately God’s hand could be seen in the timing of Simon’s death. We believed him – we needed to believe him – but it seemed to me that for the four little faces on the front row, the timing could not have been more wrong. Their father had been this inevitable presence in their lives. He had been forever. Theories of death and providence no longer applied. Streets should be empty. The Disney Channel should come off the air.
In spite of all the singing, dancing and detailed assurances (or perhaps because of them), I drove away later thinking how very fragile our faith must be if we can’t just remain sad, scared, confused and doubting for a while. In our fear of unknowing, we leapfrog Holy Saturday and rush the resurrection. We race disconcerted to make meaning and find beauty where there simply is none. Yet.
From dusk on Good Friday to dawn on Easter Sunday, God allowed the whole of creation to remain in a state of chaos and despair. Martin Luther dared to suggest, “After Good Friday” – and I imagine him whispering the words – “God’s very self lay dead in a grave."
Hear our prayer for a world still living an Easter Saturday existence, oppressed and lonely, guilty of godlessness and convinced of godforsakeness. Be still tomorrow the God you are today, and yesterday already were: God with us in the grave, but pulling thus the sting of death and promising in your final kingdom and even greater victory of abundant grace and life over the magnitude of sin and death. And for your blessed burial, into which we were baptised, may you be glorified for evermore.
Alan E Lewis (1944 – 1994)