NRSV JOHN 19:38-42, THE BURIAL
After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stage. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
Yet it is the law of all progress that is is made by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow. Let them shape themselves without undue haste. Do not try to force them on as though you could be today what time - that is to say, grace - and circumstances acting on your own good will, will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our Loving vinedresser.”
[Pierre Teilhard De Chardin]
Have you ever reflected on the mystery of Holy Saturday? Maybe it is because I have grown up in a world focused on instant gratification, but the delay between Jesus’ death and resurrection has long been a source of curiosity for me. Why wait? Why not instantly reveal the risen Lord in glory?
Some years ago I had a mentor tell me that the Christian church in America was, “hopelessly triumphalistic.” I was taken aback by that comment. The words, “hopeless” and “triumphal” don’t often appear together, do they? But then my mentor explained what he meant. He told me about attending endless numbers of Sunday services where there was no room for ignominious defeat. Everything was focussed on triumph. Every Sunday was “Easter.” Every service was dedicated to the proposition that faith leads to victory. My mentor challenged me, “what does someone who is struggling hear when the only story they ever encounter in worship is one that tells them that faithful people are victorious?” “Even Jesus, on his way to victory, did a little ‘tomb-time,’” my mentor said.
Some years later I descended into a deep and lasting depression. I could not worship my way out. I could not pray my way out. I could not reason my way out. Like it or not, I was in a very dark place and as far as I could tell, I was there to stay. I didn’t like it. I restlessly looked for a ay free, but to no avail. And then, another friend sent me the Teilhard De Chardin quote and if occurred to me that maybe my task was to quit struggling to free myself and begin asking questions like, “What is the lesson God will teach me here?” “In what way can the darkness shape me as a disciple of Jesus?” And, “How is my current circumstance inviting me to trust more deeply in God’s love, and trust less in all of my triumphal self-sufficiency.
Historically the church has leaned forward in its theological understanding of Holy Saturday. In the Great Easter Vigil (often celebrated the night of Easter-eve) we begin to joyfully anticipate the resurrection miracle we will declare with the coming of dawn. We have often baptized those new to the faith On Easter-eve in anticipation of their full participation of worship and Holy Communion Easter morning. When I think of that, I am awed by the implications. We baptize people into his death (Holy Saturday) that they might rise with the new life of Christ (Easter sunrise). If Baptism is so carefully oriented not only to the new life, but by the tomb from which the new life is birthed, perhaps I am called in all of my life to live in the divine mystery of death and rebirth, tomb-time and Easter.
Prayer — Waiting Lord, who laid in the silence and the darkness of an entombed Saturday. Your poured yourself out in self-sacrifice to redeem a world which neither understood you nor was grateful for your love. Help us who follow in your way, to know the power and peace of trustful waiting. Give us patience and courage that we too may witness the inscrutable power of God’s love which is at work making resurrection where we see only death. Amen.