Holy Saturday: Gutted with Loss and Completely Hopeless

This will sound incredibly strange, to pretty much everyone, but tomorrow is my favorite day of the entire year.

Holy Saturday.

Yeah, I know. By all accounts, this should be the worst possible day. Holy Saturday is the day after Jesus was killed. If you were one of his followers, you probably feel numb. By now, the initial shock and trauma of yesterday’s whirlwind execution has worn off. Today, you’re left with nothing but the cold reality.

Jesus is gone, and he’s not coming back.

That strange-but-amazing teacher, prophet, healer and miracle worker you’ve been following with curiosity is dead in the ground. By the end, you were almost certain he might actually be the promised King — the ruler long foretold to lead an uprising against your Roman oppressors and restore Jews from this life of oppression.

But now he’s dead. Clearly, you were wrong.

It hasn’t even been 24 hours, and your entire world is upside down. Everyone else seems to have moved on. The Romans are back to life as usual. The Jews are busy fulfilling their Passover traditions and obligations.

Last night, you and your family shared in the Passover meal. It should have been so hopeful — so meaningful. Last night should have been a reminder of when God rescued your people from slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh had done everything in his power to keep your ancestors there. But God had taken control of the wind, the water, animals, diseases … nothing was out of God’s control. God rained destruction on your enemies, but mercifully saved your people.

You’re not even sure that God exists anymore.

That God has been silent for hundreds of years. That God may have loved your ancestors, but has clearly moved on. Maybe God just got tired of Israel always rebelling, disobeying, and refusing to listen. Maybe God decided you’re all just not worth saving. Because the stories are full of God’s power. But there have been centuries of silence.

Face it: God’s abandoned you, and isn’t coming back.

Last night, you looked at the lamb’s blood and smeared on your doorposts. Usually, as the blood gleams on the wood, you think of how God protected the firstborn sons of Israel from death. You look at your eldest son, and praise God for his life. God is good, even if life exiled in Rome is painful now.

But last night, the blood only reminded you of the blood that trickled down Jesus’ dirty, battered skin. There have been a couple of false Messiahs over the years, but you really thought Jesus might actually be the One. The true savior sent by God. But you watched him die less than 24 hours ago. You watched his lungs heave as he gasped for oxygen. You heard him say, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” You heard him breathe his last breath.

When Jesus died, any hope of freedom died with him.

You’d finally allowed yourself to believe that maybe — just maybe — God might actually be breaking God’s centuries of silence to liberate you from the oppression of Rome. And today,  you’re supposed to be celebrating Israel’s liberation. It’s not even ironic; it just feels cruel. Targeted, cold, and cruel. You go through all he motions of Passover, but your heart fluctuates between anger and hopelessness.

You look at your brother. He’s actually glad that Jesus is dead. Your brother is one of the most devout spiritual people you know, and he’s happy this whole Jesus mess is over.

As a child, you admired your brother so deeply. You studied the Scriptures together. You memorized the word of God. You’ve always admired his sense of responsibility, and the way he prioritizes his faith above everything.

Your brother was deeply distrustful of Jesus. He knows the prophesies and the Scriptures, and he can explain exactly what it is about Jesus that makes him so different — and dangerous. (… was. What is was about Jesus that made him so different. That’s going to take some getting used to.)

Jesus wasn’t just a celebrity, he was dangerous.

He knew the Scriptures by heart. He was a compelling speaker. But he also knew exactly how to twist the text –– your brother would warn — to bring entirely new meanings to familiar passages. You have to watch out for false prophets. Jesus doesn’t just go around healing people and handing out free food, your brother loved to say. When he teaches, he interprets our Scriptures in new and radical ways. Be careful what you listen to, so you don’t fall astray. Don’t let free food, or the thrill of watching a grassroots celebrity rise to power, blind you to how truly radical he is.

Don’t delude yourself into thinking he’s harmless. He’s not just a prophet. There’s no proof he’s Elijah reincarnated. Don’t you get it? This itinerant preacher is literally claiming to be the Son of God. He’s basically saying he is God. Do you know what that’s called? It’s called blasphemy. And the penalty is death.

Listen to what he says. He undermines the religious leaders. He shows no respect. He talks about our great temple being destroyed, and claims he can rebuild it.

You’re caught up in the excitement. You’re blinded by his celebrity. Take a second to think critically: look at what he’s teaching. Half of the time, it doesn’t even make sense. But when it does — it’s dangerous. Don’t be led astray.

You love your brother. You watched him breathe a sigh of relief when Jesus was killed. Finally, your brother said. Praise God that the snake is finally gone from our midst. And just in time to celebrate the miracle of Passover!

It’s time to set aside all this nonsense with false prophets and rebellion, and quiet our hearts before God. Reverent submission to God — that is what matters. Follow God with your whole heart and soul. Don’t let the fleeting things of this world push you off course.

Maybe he’s right.

Maybe Jesus was dangerous. Maybe he was a false prophet.

How do you know, anyway? You don’t have any solid proof or foolproof evidence. You only know what you’ve experienced. Yeah, it’s amazing to see people healed — to see blind men receive sight, and dead children brought back to life.

But being around Jesus, it feels like your eyes have been opened to a new way of seeing the world. This man cares for every person: particularly the people everyone else doesn’t. Doctors and fisherman — he sees them exactly the same. He eats with beggars, with the greedy/sellout tax collectors no one else wants to associate with, he spends time with prostitutes, with people of other ethnicities, and he treats them with just as much respect as you’d give a leader at the temple. He cares about silly little children. He treats women as if they’re just as important as educated men.

He’s radical — but there’s something strangely intoxicating about his world. Its world where you matter, even if you have no money or social standing — or if you cheated your way into too high of a social standing. No matter who Jesus sees, he just seems to want to heal, and teach, and feed, and care for people. Literally everyone.

And whenever God finally sends the Messiah to defeat Rome and restore Jerusalem — isn’t that the kind of King you’d want ruling your nation? There’s something about him that is unlike anything you’ve seen before.

He really could have been the Promised Savior.

Maybe it’s naive, but you believe he’s good. Your brother doesn’t see it, but you do. He really could have been the Messiah. Your head is spinning. This is Passover. If you really cared about God, you’d be paying more attention. You’d be remembering God’s great power and mercy. You’d be thanking God for his blessings.

Your heart is not in the right place today.

Your heart is so far from God. Everyone around you is focused on God, and your head is swimming. The anger is creeping back again. Why would God give you so many signs that Jesus might be the Messiah, only to let him be murdered on the most insulting and poignant day?

Nothing makes sense.

Holy Saturday.

This beautiful, blessed, holy, miserable, hopeless, Godforsaken day speaks to my soul more than any other. My spirit longs for this moment. I need this day.

This is the story of my faith journey. The hope, the confusion, the doubt, the fear. Feeling totally abandoned, rejected, and left alone in the wilderness. Plagued by voices of doubt and uncertainty  — unsure of what’s true and uncertain where to go. Feeling almost certain that everything is ruined beyond repair.

Sitting in darkness. Quiet darkness. Alone. Trying to hear God. Trying to see God. Trying to figure out where God might possibly be in the midst of all this pain.

Sunday is coming.

But we don’t know that yet.

All we know if the pain and hopelessness of the moment. For all we know, tomorrow will be just as hopeless. Nothing will ever be right again.

Holy Saturday.

I don’t want to jump to the happy ending.

Growing up, I knew the way this story ends before I even processed the harsh parts. Yeah, Jesus died. On a cross. Look, I colored a picture of a cross with pink crayons and put this sparkly sticker on it!

Jesus died on a cross so we didn’t have to die. He died to save us, so we can live forever with him. And then he was alive again. He wasn’t even dead long. Because Jesus is stronger than death!

I love Easter. But I’ve been reading about it, dressing up in pretty floral dresses, curling my hair, hearing the stories, searching for colorful plastic eggs, and stuffing my face with chocolate bunnies every year of my life.

Easter isn’t new for me. It’s a story so familiar, I don’t know if I even grasp how powerful and revolutionary it is. When I hear “Easter,” I think green jelly beans, a glazed ham at Grandma’s, hearing the same verses, same stories, make sure you don’t wear jeans to church today, He is Risen!, can a bring my latte into the sanctuary?, I really hope we sing the Hallelujah chorus again this year.

Easter is familiar. Holy Saturday is new. It’s unexplored. A very real, very painful reality that I spend most of my faith upbringing totally ignorant of.

The seasons of Holy Saturday have been the most powerful and foundational of my life. I’ve needed to go through the pain, the hopelessness, the frightening uncertainty, before I’ve been able to feel the Holy Spirit.

The Resurrection didn’t become real for me — I didn’t truly grasp it — until I journeyed through Holy Saturday. And when life feels uncertain, painful, and unfair,  I’d much rather spend time here in the midst of Saturday. I’m all for Resurrection. I’m all for new life. And I know all off that is still coming.

But I don’t really feel it — don’t truly believe in the core of my being — unless I first walk through the valley that is Saturday. There’s something so strangely and beautifully comforting about this day of despair, and knowing that the world’s most powerful gift of freedom, though completely missing, is only a couple more hours away.

I believe in the freedom. I am so grateful for it. But if you need me — right now — I’d rather spend a bit more time in Holy Saturday.

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