I don’t know how it was for you, but it certainly felt like a strange Easter weekend for me. We are used to celebrating Easter with our family, where lots of fun and laughter accompanies a great deal of excitement about chocolate. As a Church family, we normally enjoy taking communion on Good Friday as a thankful remembrance of Jesus’ loving sacrifice, and then on Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus in joyous praise together.
Indeed, we managed to do this again this year – online together, and in a very meaningful way – but, technology aside, it felt markedly different to me. Maybe that is because of some enormous challenges that we are facing as a family at the moment, but I suspect there is more to it than that. The world is certainly facing a degree of turmoil that has not been witnessed in my lifetime, and uncertainty abounds. The future seems so very unpredictable.
All this led me on a personal journey to try to discern whether God is saying anything specific at this time about the Coronavirus issue that we’re all facing. In pursuit of answers, I delved into the Bible, the internet and social media, I had conversations with trusted friends, and I asked God directly, and all this led me to the conclusion that there is no new revelation from God that I can find. There are plenty of good thoughts and sound Christian advice to be found and, inevitably some much less helpful content (particularly on the internet and social media). There are also many great acts of kindness, encouragement and support being demonstrated in the world, and I take strength and courage from these.
Then last weekend, I was reading an article on Facebook, written by my good friend Julian Adams, who was also quite clear that he did not know what God was saying or doing at this moment in time. However, he referenced a link to an extract from Pete Greig’s book, “God on Mute”. It was a short passage about Easter Saturday, and as I read it, I found some kind of understanding forming in my brain.
When it comes to celebrating Easter, I have never taken much notice of the Saturday; regarding it simply as the day between death and resurrection, the day sandwiched between hot cross buns and chocolate! However, what would the original Easter Saturday have been like for Jesus’ disciples? I doubt that they would in any way have regarded the Friday as “Good Friday” since the history defining Sunday had not yet arrived.
For the disciples, that Friday was undoubtedly a mixture of terror, sorrow, guilt, shame, fear and disappointment. So many hopes and dreams were crushed as Jesus’ life came to an end in the most gruesome and terrible manner. His death, once confirmed by the Romans, meant that as night fell on the Friday evening, his body could be placed hastily in a tomb just before the Sabbath began. I suspect there was little joy and laughter amongst the disciples that evening. Moreover, what would the disciples have made of the world they awoke to the following day? Their hopes of Jesus were destroyed on that cruel cross, these images playing repeatedly across their minds. Despair and frustration close at hand, sadness and bewilderment mingling together. A very difficult day indeed, and one certainly endured rather than enjoyed.
So, in the midst of this, what was God saying on that day? Nothing. As far as we can tell, there was no voice of the Father, no whispering of the Holy Spirit, no teaching from Jesus. God was seemingly absent from planet earth.
The Bible actually says extremely little about Easter Saturday, so we have to use our imaginations when considering it. Over the years, I have sometimes wondered why Jesus didn’t rise from the dead any earlier than he did. Was the delay necessary? What was the purpose? Why the gap between sacrifice and victory?
This is what Pete Greig has to say on the subject:
“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. 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 much of our lives: waiting for God to say something, or do something or make sense of the things we are experiencing. 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?
Like Job’s comforters, 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-Christlike 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 children 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.
What happened today on earth? There is a great silence. A great silence, and stillness, A great silence because the King sleeps.
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 will rise again with Christ; that 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 – had been one of Simon’s favourites, when his seven year old daughter turned her head and stared at the coffin. “Show us your power O Lord,” we continued and 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.”
As I was reading these words, I thought to myself, “I am currently living in Easter Saturday.” Then I realised that this probably isn’t only true for me, but for many other people as well. Let me hastily add that God is not absent from us, but I am finding it difficult to understand what is happening and what He is doing or not doing. I am waiting for “Easter Sunday” to arrive as it surely will, with a new hope and a new reality for us to enter into. But I also have to face the facts of this current reality with all its uncertainties and live in the now that I’m presented with.
Why is this all necessary? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that Coronavirus wasn’t given to the world by God, and it is an aspect of the kingdom of darkness that is afflicting the whole world at the moment to varying degrees. I am awaiting an answer, confident that light will always overcome darkness in the end. However, the wait for that answer is longer than I anticipated.
So, what can I do whilst I am waiting? These verses from Proverbs 3:5-6 are helping me a lot at the moment:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight”
In this time of great uncertainty, we can be certain in our hearts that although God may seem silent, He could not be more with us, and He is, as always, absolutely in control. Whilst we might not understand what we see happening around us, whilst we have no human grid for the circumstances we’re living in, He has not been thrown off course, His nature is unchanged, and His plans are perfect.
May we all know the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, and may it guard all our hearts and minds as we wait and as we wonder.