By Rupen Das
In the midst of Holy Week of the Protestant and Catholic Church calendars, we focus on the events of that week. Drawing from his own dark times of doubt and despair, David, the poet and king, prophetically described the anguish of Christ in detail a few centuries earlier in Ps. 22:1-2.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
As the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis continues to devastate lives, livelihoods, and whole economies, these verses resonate with so many who have lost loved ones and with others who have been pushed to the brink of poverty. They find themselves consumed by despair and a sense of abandonment. Where is God? Why does He not speak and at least say that He has heard my cries for help and that I am not all alone? Is He not the God who provided for the Hebrew people in the wilderness? So, why would He not provide for me now? It is as if they have been rejected by God Himself.
As we journey through Holy Week, we encounter a full gamut of human emotions. It starts with the euphoria of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. As the week progresses, there is a growing sense of dread. Deep sadness and confusion permeate the Last Supper, followed by the horrors of the betrayal, scourging, and crucifixion on Good Friday. Then there is silence, as everyone is shocked by the violence of what just happened. The grief is beyond anything words can express. Suddenly, two days later there is the shocking, unexpected, exuberance of the resurrection.
Tucked in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is Saturday – a day often ignored as we try to fast forward to Easter. Many church traditions call it “Holy Saturday” – a time of waiting. But it is more than just waiting for Easter Sunday. It is a day we have overlooked, not realizing that most of us live in the Saturdays of life. Our theology has missed the importance of the darkness and disillusionment that the disciples experienced in the “in-between time,” the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
On that first Good Friday the disciples had no idea that there was going to be an Easter Sunday – even though Jesus had specifically told them about His resurrection. Their teacher, whom they had come to recognize as God Himself, was slain on the cross. With His death, the promises of a better world and of the Kingdom coming were shattered by the events at the Garden of Gethsemane and all that followed, culminating with the horrors and despair of the crucifixion. Jesus, whom they had expected to be the Messiah and King, was dead. The darkness, the confusion, and the death of their dreams as they woke up on Saturday morning are hard to imagine and can only be understood by those who have faced a sudden, horrifying, and tragic death of a loved one. It was only later that they understood the meaning of the Cross as being the means of forgiveness and reconciliation with God our Creator.
What unfolded on that Easter Sunday morning, would forever transform the disciples. The resurrection was completely unexpected, stunning, and unbelievable. Though at the time they didn’t understand the meaning of all of this, but in their spirits, they sensed something astounding had happened. Their excitement and thrill could not be contained. Though some still doubted, and most were confused, perplexed and afraid, it was a matter of time before they realized that death had been conquered, that the dreams of a new world are not dead, that we are not trapped by our diseased and broken bodies, and that evil does not have to enslave people. The sense of desolation that the Saturday of the salvation narrative speaks so eloquently about through its silence, is not the end of the story. There is a resurrection, with God reappearing.
Unlike the disciples on that first Saturday who felt abandoned, God speaks to us today and identifies Himself in Christ as being with us (Immanuel) and says that He will never leave us or forsake us. Unlike the disciples who did not know that there would be an Easter Sunday, we know that there is a future because of the resurrection of Christ. It is only at this point that the promises of Easter Sunday for new life and a new beginning come into focus, that one day in the social, economic and political order of society there will be justice and peace – the promise of the Kingdom of God. We look forward to the day when, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)
David, after his cry of anguish and feelings of abandonment, affirms (Ps. 22:4-5)
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
This is not a theology of triumphalism but one of brokenness and deep humility, where out of the smoldering ashes of life God brings a new beginning. God comes into the desolate and barren places of people’s lives and brings life, fruitfulness, and abundance. Because of Christ, we are not condemned to live in the Saturdays of our lives, but that we too can experience a resurrection in the midst of our circumstances. God is not silent. He is the God who responded to the cry for mercy from a blind Bartimaeus condemned to poverty with, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41)
However, the resurrection narrative does not end there. Eugene Peterson puts the power and reality of the resurrection in the context of where people live. He quotes Ps. 116:9, “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” As we look at Ps.116, we see that the land of the living is imbedded in a country of death, as the Psalmist speaks about “the snares of death”, “the cords of death”, the anguish of the grave, and of distress and sorrow.
The hope of Easter is that desolation and despair are not what define our lives. The experience of the reality of the resurrection of Christ by an individual that then overflows into a community of Christ followers is what we witness to in any ministry that we do. Peterson summarizes all this well.
Resurrection takes place in the country of death. The land of the living is obviously not a vacation paradise. It’s more like a war zone. And that’s where we as Christians are stationed…to affirm the primacy of life over death, to give a witness to the connectedness and preciousness of all of life, to engage in the practice of resurrection.