Holy Saturday // God at the Limit

After the clamor of Good Friday, there is the quiet of Holy Saturday.

But what even is Holy Saturday?

Frankly, I think it is one of the most beautiful and underappreciated pieces of the Christian calendar. The moment in between “the moments.” As I’ve called it elsewhere, The Divine Interlude.

The Psalmist helps us find our way into the meaning of Holy Saturday:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;

Lord, hear my voice.

Let your ears be attentive

   to my cry for mercy.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,

   and in his word I put my hope.

I wait for the Lord

   more than watchmen wait for the morning,

   more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,

   for with the Lord is unfailing love

   and with him is full redemption.

He himself will redeem Israel

   from all their sins. (Psalm 130:1-2, 5-8)

The Psalmist was in trouble. We’re not sure of what sort – but trouble it certainly was. Enough to cause cries of distress to arise “out of the depths.” Ever prayed from that place? Where your whole being stands at the very edge of readiness – waiting for God to arise, for God to act, for God to do something – anything.

That’s where the Psalmist was. And so… he waits. The image is a poignant one – “more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

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I was up pretty early this morning. So I started the routine – brewed some coffee, found a baseball hat and a jacket, grabbed my Bible and a prayer book, and headed to the porch. Psalm 130 hit me – “more than watchmen wait for the morning…”

I put down my Bible and looked out over the eastern horizon. The sun was just beginning to illuminate the darkness – but not yet. Cued by the words of the Psalmist, I waited… and waited… and waited…

And eventually the thought dawned on me (it takes a while for me to get cogent thoughts going in the mornings) – this is what Holy Saturday is.

I am not in control of the timing of the rising of the sun. Not at all. Not even a little. But God is faithful. Always has been. Always will be. He’ll wake up old Brother Sun again to light our landscape and warm our bones and fill our hearts with gladness… just… wait… it’s a gift of grace over which I have no power.

We American Christians maybe struggle with this more than others. So much of our national self-identity is built on our appreciation for good ol’ fashioned gumption. Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps… get ‘er done… make it happen…

There’s a place for that. Surely there is. But Holy Saturday reminds us that there are limits. Absolute limits. Limits that gumption just ain’t enough to overcome.

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One of the traditional readings for Holy Saturday comes from the book of Job. Job – that righteous man sorely tried – wrote:

Mortals, born of woman,

   are of few days and full of trouble.

They spring up like flowers and wither away;

   like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.

A person’s days are determined;

   you have decreed the number of his months

   and have set limits he cannot exceed. (Job 14:1-2, 5)

We can forgive that man – so recently bereft of everything – for being a bit morose: of few days and full of trouble and all of that. But he does have a point. Life has limits that we cannot “exceed.” Job, in the midst of his ordeal, grasped that. And so he compares the human experience to the life of a tree. It’s worth paying attention to:

At least there is hope for a tree:

   If it is cut down, it will sprout again,

   and its new shoots will not fail.

Its roots may grow old in the ground

   and its stump die in the soil,

yet at the scent of water it will bud

   and put forth shoots like a plant.

But a man dies and is laid low;

   he breathes his last and is no more.

As the water of a lake dries up

   or a riverbed becomes parched and dry,

so he lies down and does not rise;

   till the heavens are no more, people will not awake

   or be roused from their sleep.

If only you would hide me in the grave

   and conceal me till your anger has passed!

If only you would set me a time

   and then remember me!

If someone dies, will they live again?

   All the days of my hard service

   I will wait for my renewal to come. (14:7-14)

“If someone dies, will they live again?” Job asks. He’s unsure. The tree when severed may sprout again. Though the severing is a crisis for the tree, all is not lost. The stump is still planted in the soil, still drawing up water, still capable of gathering up its strength in a new surge of life. Gumption.

But real death is different. It is the absolute limit. The boundary gumption cannot cross. If there is hope for a life beyond death – a hope for life where and after human agency has totally run its course, and the evil of our world seems to have conquered – it rests in God and God alone.

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Welcome to resurrection faith, friends. “I wait for the Lord…my whole being waits…and in his word I put my hope…” Our faith IS resurrection faith from beginning to end. One of Jesus’ good friends, a man who stood at the Holy Saturday boundary, wondering what God would do, if anything at all, later in his life wrote: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Pe 1:3)

When everything seemed lost for Peter – when he had failed his friend Jesus at the hour of his trial, the very thing he said he wouldn’t do, humiliating himself – when the rest of the friends had scattered leaving Jesus to suffer his fate alone – when the messianic movement was by all accounts crushed by the might of Rome in an outrageous and senseless act of murderous brutality…

Then, there – beyond the limit – God raised Jesus from the dead… He just had to wait for it.

That is a great encouragement to me. It gives me hope. Like you, I pray fervent prayers. For relationship to be healed. For justice to be done for the poor and oppressed. For the many sicknesses of the global church to be healed. It pains me. I pray at the “limit” often, hoping beyond the reasonable limits of hope. That is, I think, where most of my prayers lie – at the place where it seems human agency has run its course and now it is in the hands of God to act.

These three days – Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday – remind me that God has acted, is acting, and will act again, blasting through the limits, overcoming the boundaries, swallowing up every deathly chasm with his own uncreated light and life.

It may be long in coming… but baby it’s coming…

Just wait.

Peace be with you.

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