Today is Saturday, the seventh day of Holy Week and of my daily reflections on the events of that week. That Saturday was the only full day that the incarnate God of the universe spent in the tomb. There was still no breath in His body, and all of creation was holding its, waiting to see what would happen. Even those who hated Him felt unsettled in their supposed victory. Something was brewing; they felt it but didn’t know what it was. In the meantime, they simply waited.
On this day, almost two thousand years ago, many people were in Jerusalem mourning the death of their Lord, Jesus. They continued to grieve and wrestle with the unanswered questions set in motion in their hearts the day before: Why had this happened? How had this happened? What they didn’t know yet was that it was the last day that sin and death would ever stand before God with any confident claim and the last day they would ever grieve like those who have no hope. What they didn’t know yet was that their weeping and sorrow really would last only one more night before joy descended upon them in its fullness the next morning. What they didn’t know was that they were not wrong about who Jesus was; they just didn’t understand any of it yet; after all, how was He supposed to fulfill the prophesies and save them if He was dead and buried? It didn’t make sense, and it broke their hearts.
The passages I meditated on today as part of the She Reads Truth Lent study included Matthew 27:62-66. Those verses recount how the chief priests went to Pilate the day after Jesus was killed to request that the tomb be sealed. They had heard Jesus promise to rise on the third day, and they were afraid His disciples would steal His body and claim He’d done that very thing. They were afraid of a risen Jesus, and to be honest, their fear was founded.
“‘You have a guard of soldiers,’ Pilate told them. ‘Go and make it as secure as you know how.'”
In their conversation with Pilate, they called Jesus “this deceiver.” Oh how ironic that they would call Him a deceiver, since they were the ones who made a deal with the devil—literally! We are told in Luke 22:3 that Satan entered Judas and prompted him to go find the religious leaders and make the deal with them to betray Jesus, and John 13:27 tells us that Judas left the Passover meal to go find the chief priests and lead them to Jesus that night because Satan had entered him. The chief priests thought they were working with a man, but they had paid those thirty pieces of silver to the devil himself—the very father of lies—in exchange for the life of Jesus.
And now those same men thought they could secure themselves against the power of God to raise Jesus from the dead. The only deceiver at play in this story was Satan, and those men had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.
The other passage included for meditation today was from Isaiah 53. In verses 8-12, God foretells (through the prophet Isaiah) how Jesus would be killed because of His people’s rebellion and that Jesus would submit Himself to the death of a rebel, being counted a rebel Himself. That description is not a difficult one to imagine, since the people were riotous the day before because of how badly they wanted Jesus—an innocent man who had walked among them serving, feeding, teaching, healing, and loving them—dead on a cross. The scene the day before as Jesus was tortured and killed was an outward manifestation of the inward reality of their hearts at its most honest and its most gruesome: utter rebellion.
But as Pastor Russ Ramsey points out in the “Holy Week in Real Time: Saturday” devotional reading,
“The entire week leading up to the crucifixion was filled with moments in which Jesus’ power, strength, wisdom, and authority challenged many to reconsider what they presumed about Him. He was not easily forgotten. He forced many, including the religious leaders, Pontius Pilate, and His own twelve disciples, to take a close look at what they really believed about who He was.
“That Saturday, as His body lay wrapped in linen in a grave, there were many around Jerusalem who sat with uneasy questions about whether or not there would be another chapter in Jesus’ story. His uncommon strength, coupled with the supernatural darkness that settled over the land during His crucifixion (Matthew 27:45), set on edge those who wanted Him dead, even after they’d succeeded.”
He was not easily forgotten, and He did not leave them in peace. In fact, there was no real peace yet because He hadn’t yet risen from the dead to conquer that which keeps us from knowing peace at all. No, they were still sitting smack dab in the middle of that uneasiness and inner turmoil, and this time they couldn’t ignore it as easily as they had been able to to before Jesus had showed up three years earlier. A dreadful thing had happened the day before, and creation had made sure they couldn’t ignore it. And the dread wasn’t going away; they had to sit in the truth of it, whether they recognized it or not, and respond to it somehow. The choice of the religious leaders? More rebellion: they tried to make sure the incarnate God of the universe would remain far away from them, sealed in His tomb and guarded by a couple of men outside. The lunacy of that plan is obvious, but their blindness is truly tragic.
While all of this was happening, those who had loved and followed Jesus had chosen to lay low in a place they could be together. They probably grieved and prayed and cried out together, and they probably sought expression together for their grief and confusion, trying to comfort one another with reminders of what Jesus had said would happen, perhaps even venturing guesses about what that might look like or mean for them in the days to come. That Saturday, wherever they were in the city, they didn’t get any answers. They had to sit in the questions too, just like the chief priests, and be haunted by the uncertainty and silence in their hearts and minds.
Sometimes we need to confront the reality before us without the option to gloss over it to the comfort on the other side, not to cause despair but to keep us from remaining blind and deceived like the religious leaders who truly believed their human efforts were strong enough to thwart divine purposes. This day in between the crucifixion and the resurrection is the day we face who we really are without Him, and unless we do, we will never truly understand or appreciate what He did for us or what that means for us. We will never understand how amazing the light really is until we begin to grasp how dark our darkness really is.
May we never shy away from those moments in which God reminds us how horrible our darkness and depravity really are. That He does this is a gift to us. It is His intervention, designed to remove our blindness and save us from our rebellion and its consequences. Even if it does hurt for a time, it will not hurt forever, because Sunday is coming!
But in the meantime . . .
Pops, grant us the grace to receive the gift of Saturday, the grace to confront the occupied tomb and to trust you in the burn of the darkness so that we may truly rejoice when Sunday dawns and the light finally shines upon us again.