Lectionary Scripture Text: Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16
1In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. 2Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. 3You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, 4take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
5Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. 15My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. 16Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
What do we do with this day, this Holy Saturday? We are still grieving. The reality of it all is beginning to sink in, beginning to be real. Jesus is gone, dying alone on some hill that we don’t even know. So, what do we do today? How do we pick up the pieces in the midst of our pain and despair and just go on with our lives? Oh, we 21st century believers know how the story ends. We’ve already jumped ahead and read the next chapter many, many times. (Don’t tell those that don’t read ahead, but it all works out in the end.)
And yet, we do ourselves no favors if we jump ahead to tomorrow. After all, the Scriptures tell us that Jesus rose on the third day, the THIRD day, as in one-two-three. The third day doesn’t happen without today. It must be important, right? But, oh, it’s just so painfully quiet. The sanctuary is dark, awaiting to be redressed for its coronation. The bells are quiet, hanging expectantly for tomorrow. And we still sit here draped in black with our Easter brights hanging there ready for us to don. What are we supposed to do today?
Tradition (and the older version of the Apostles’ Creed) holds that Jesus died, was buried, and descended into hell. So is that what this day is? Descent? Good grief, wasn’t the Cross low enough? The well-disputed claim is that Jesus descended into death, descended into hell, perhaps descended into Gehenna (Greek) (Hebrew–Gehinnom, Rabbinical Hebrew–גהנום/גהנם), the State of ungodly souls. Why? Why after suffering the worst imaginable earthly death would Jesus descend into hell? Well, the disputed part is that Jesus, before being raised himself, descended to the depths of suffering and despair and redeemed it, recreated it. The sixth century hymnwriter, Venantius Fortunatus claimed that “hell today is vanquished, Heaven is won today.” Why is that so out of bounds of what God can do? Don’t we believe that God is God of all? Or does it give us some sense of comfort to know that we are not the worst of the bunch, that there are always Judas’ and Brutus’ that have messed up a whole lot worse than any of us and so are destined to spend eternity on the lowest rungs of hell? But, oh, think about the power and grace and amazing love of a God who before the Divine Ascent into glory, descended into the depths of humanity and redeemed us all, every single one of us, perhaps wiped out the hell of each of our lives rung, by rung?
Welcome, happy morning! age to age shall say:
Hell today is vanquished, Heav’n is won today!”
Lo! the dead is living, God forevermore!
Him, their true Creator, all His works adore!
And, yet, again, we cannot leave it all to Christ to do. Just as we were called to pick up our cross yesterday, we are called to descend down into the depths, plunging into the unknown darkness, so that God can pick us up again, set us right, and show us a new Way. And so, this day, we stand between, between death and life, between hell and heaven, between a world that does not understand and a God who even in the silence of this day has begun the redeeming work. In some ways, this is the holiest day of the week. How often do we stand with a full and honest view of the world and a glimpse of the holy and the sacred that is always and forever part of our lives? How often do we stand together and see ourselves as both betrayers and beloved children of God? How often do we stand in the depths of our human state and yet know that God will raise us up. This is a pure state of liminality, a state, as the Old English would say, “betwixt and between.” It is where we are called to be. It is the place of the fullness of humanity as it claims both human and divine. In the silence of this day, we stand with God. And we wait, we wait expectantly for resurrection.
Do you remember how we started this whole thing? Do you remember the Creation account from Genesis, how how God spoke Creation into being, how God spoke US into being. So today we wait for God to say us into being again. It is where we should always be. We won’t though. We won’t be there. (Remember, we’ve had this problem before.) And maybe on some level, it’s too much for us to always be there, always be waiting expectantly for God. Because, granted, today IS very wilderness-like. In fact, you could say that it is the ultimate wilderness—lonely, forsaken, no clear path ahead. I know. You thought we were going to “wrap” this whole wilderness thing up, right? But, see, wilderness is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for God to say us into being again. But at least we can remember what this day feels like as we stand between who we were and what we will be.
So, for today, keep expectant vigil. Do not jump ahead. We can only understand the glory of God when we see it behind the shadow of death. But, remember, shadows only exist because the Light is so very, very bright.
The shadows shift and fly.
The whole long day the air trembles,
Thick with silence, until, finally, the footsteps are heard,
And the noise of the voice of God is upon us.
The Holy One is not afraid to walk on unholy ground.
The Holy Work is done, and the world awaits the dawn of Life.
(“Saturday Silence”, Ann Weems, in Kneeling in Jerusalem)
You must give birth to your images. They are the future waiting to be born. Fear not the strangeness you feel. The future must enter you long before it happens. Just wait for the birth, for the hour of new clarity. (Rainer Maria Rilke)
Grace and Peace,