Burying Our Expectations For Jesus | 04.03.2021 | Holy Saturday
Chris Tweitmann   -  

Luke 23:50-56
Chris Tweitmann

God is dead.

Eons before

Nietzche declared

it to be so, God died.

But Nietzche got it wrong when he claimed

we killed God.

For yesterday,

on the Friday we call Good,

Jesus offered

his life for ours.

We did not execute him

as much as Jesus

lovingly gave up

his life for us.

Willingly, he took the blame for a crime he didn’t commit

and embraced a death

he didn’t deserve.

Hanging up there

on the cross,

Jesus bore the total weight of the world’s sin

—all the ugliness, the hatred, and cancer that results

from our

narcissistic indifference

and willful rebellion

– Jesus bore it all

until it killed him.

The Son of God,

the One through whom

all things were made

and without whom

nothing was made,

surrendered to death.

His breathing ceasing.

His heart stopped beating.

His side was pierced

by the centurion’s spear, and blood and water poured out.

Jesus, the Word made flesh, became a corpse.

His lifeless body,

caked with

blood, sweat, and tears,

was taken down,

cradled in his mother’s arms,

and then, hastily,

wrapped up and

placed in the tomb.

On Good Friday,

we still had the crucified man to look at.

But today is Holy Saturday, the day God was buried.

It’s all over.

Holy Saturday is empty;

the heavy stone of

the new tomb is

covering a dead man;

it’s all over.

And that brings us here—

before an even greater

and weightier obstacle

of a world without God.

Holy Saturday is

the hollow space

between Good Friday

and Easter Sunday.

Good Friday is Christ dying.

Easter is Christ risen.

But Holy Saturday is just Christ dead and entombed.

Sitting here

awkwardly between

the unbearable pain

and suffering of the Cross

and the exuberant joy

and celebration of

the Resurrection,

today can feel like

nothing more than

a placeholder.

Because of this,

we might be tempted

to regard Holy Saturday

as not very important.

After more than

two thousand years of

telling and remembering

this story,

there’s not much suspense between Friday

and Sunday anymore.

We all know how

the story ends

and so we view the middle as boring and unimportant.

The day after

the death of a dream,

as the spectacle of crucifixion is over,

as the tattered and torn body comes back down to earth

after a corpse is

treated more gently,

more respectfully than

the soul of the person

who once inhabited

that flesh

—when it is

all said and done

—the vast majority of us

go on with business as usual in our lives on Holy Saturday.

Truth to be told,

most of us will just

skip directly to

the end of the story

because that’s

the “happily ever after”

—that’s the part

we like the most.

But we should remember there was none of this

over-familiarity,

no such overconfidence

for Jesus’ first followers.

For these men and women,

Saturday dawned

eerily quiet and still.

On that first Holy Saturday,

it appeared that

evil had triumphed.

The disciples are

huddled together in grief

– not resting

but lamenting

on the Sabbath.

It’s not hard to imagine

the disciples were

descending into

their own kind of hell.

All the hopes they had

for the Messiah to come

and liberate them

have failed.

Jesus is gone.

What they witnessed in

the darkness of Friday night was terrible,

but the morning after, Saturday,

probably seemed

even worse.

Jesus has left them alone

to face their future.

Their collective mourning

for their fallen friend,

their Master,

was certainly laced

with fearing for

their own lives.

What do you live for

when the One

you believed was the Way, the Truth and the Life

is dead?

What kind of future is there for any of us

when the One

who is the Light and Life

of all humanity,

breathes no more?

When the Creator has fallen,

from whence can inspiration,

does creativity, arise?

And how do you go back when you’ve come so far?

When you’ve

tasted and seen

the goodness of God

– the inklings of his Kingdom,

how can you now

be satisfied with

anything less than

a glimpse of

the glory of Heaven?

But now

the stillness and quiet

of the earth are matched

by an eerie silence

from heaven.

How do we pray

when God is dead?

What is there to say

when the Word

– the Word of Life,

the Word made flesh

– is now muted?

There is a void, a hole

—a huge vacancy

without Jesus’ presence

—an emptiness that

cannot be filled.

Days like today

seem endless.

They wear on slowly mired by sorrow and uncertainty.

On days like this,

we do anything

to occupy the space,

to fill the silence.

Perhaps some

among the disciples

reminded the others

that Jesus said

he would rise from the dead.

He had promised them

he would come back and take them to be where he is,

didn’t he?

Maybe, all is not lost.

Maybe, this isn’t the end.

But then again,

dead is dead.

Death is final.

Sure Jesus brought

others back from the grave.

But who is going to raise him from the dead?

Jesus saved others

but if he could not save himself from the Cross…

We can imagine

the disciples

wrestling together

in this sacred space

between faith and doubt.

And from what

the gospels all share

about how things

initially went down,

doubt quickly gained

the upper hand.

Doubt tends to

overshadow belief

when the shadow of death hangs over us.

It’s hard to see anything

past a dead-end.

The deeper

we find ourselves

in the darkness,

the more challenging

it becomes to perceive

any light at all.

As doubt began to increase,

the disciples locked

their doors from the inside.

Hiding from the authorities

whom they expected

would be knocking

anytime soon,

did any of them

suggest leaving town?

Getting out of the city

as quickly as possible.

We often convince ourselves

that distancing ourselves from our pain,

our suffering

is a good solution.

We bury our grief

along with our dead.

Should we expect

the disciples to

have been any different?

But rather than cut and run,

the disciples stand pat.

There is unfinished work

to be done.

If nothing else,

they owe their former Master a decent send-off.

And so,

a decision is made

to go to the tomb

tomorrow morning,

after the Sabbath,

to anoint

Jesus’ body properly.

When we don’t know

what comes next,

sometimes the next step

we can take

is all that we have.

Resolved together,

at least in this next move,

the disciples pile into

various corners of the room and eventually fall asleep.

It was likely

a restless

rather than peaceful slumber

– a sleep disturbed

by the lingering uncertainty of their safety

as well as their future.

Perhaps

we might be thinking.

That was then,

but this is now.

They didn’t know

what we know.

They didn’t have

what we have.

An empty tomb.

A resurrection.

So why bother

hanging around here

when we know

Sunday is coming?

The answer is simple

but not what

we want to hear.

And it’s because

we don’t want to hear it

that most Christians

don’t observe

or pay much attention

to Holy Saturday.

This is ironic

because the simple answer we don’t want to hear is

Holy Saturday is

the space we occupy

for most of our lives

– the space in-between.

Call it liminal space.

Transitional time.

The pregnant pause.

Holy Saturday is

that interval,

that season,

that long agonizing gap between what has been

– all we have known

— and the resolution

to the question of

“What happens next?

It’s a stretch of time

when our faith is tested

far more than

at any other moment

exactly because

the way forward is

unclear and uncertain.

Facing the future

is decidedly easier

when we know

what happens tomorrow.

But when we can’t

see around the corner,

when we don’t know

how things are going to go

— if they are going

to go at all

— we are living in

Holy Saturday space.

The last twelve months

have been a prolonged

Holy Saturday space for us

individually

as well as collectively.

So much has been lost.

So much is still changing.

And yet,

with vaccinations

being rolled out

we’re all willing ourselves

to believe a global pandemic is now behind us.

With a contested election finally over,

we’re all convincing

each other

that partisan politics

will become

a thing of the past.

Despite continued acts

of injustice and violence,

we keep insisting

attitudes and structures borne of racial discrimination

are past history

rather than

our very present reality.

We all want everything

to go back to normal

even though no one

knows what normal is

any more.

We all long for

the way things were,

despite the fact

that has become

painfully obvious

after being tried and tested over the last twelve months,

things weren’t always

the way they were

cracked up to be.

Rather than face the loss and the failure of

this past year,

rather than

uncomfortably sitting

in the grief,

we are clamoring

to move on, to move forward

– even though

we have no idea

where we are going.

For so, so many,

the perceived absence

or silence of God

has been deafening

in this prolonged season

of sickness and death.

Many within the Church,

in their fear of

the death of Jesus,

through the temporary loss

of being able to

physically gather together

for worship,

have sought to force

the resurrection of

Christ’s Body

by taking matters

into their own hands.

But all that has emerged

in our inability

to wait on the Lord’s timing

— for a resurrection

only God can deliver

– is the dark

and disturbing attempt

to animate something

that looks and sounds nothing like Jesus.

In our refusal to sit

in the difficulty

and awkwardness

of Holy Saturday,

we avoid the revelation

that comes from

this seemingly

insignificant space.

That God had to die for us

so that He could

truly live in us.

The disciples thought

they knew who Jesus was.

They had their expectations,

their vision for Jesus

as their Messiah.

Before and certainly

during the Cross,

the disciples

struggled to believe

and to follow Jesus

because they kept trying

to get Jesus to fit into

their box

— the expectations

and vision they had for him.

They had to come to grips with the death of

their expectations,

of their vision,

of their dreams of Jesus

in order to finally begin

to perceive who Christ is

– in order to become reoriented to

Christ’s expectations,

Christ’s vision,

Jesus’ dreams for them.

Likewise,

for we who follow Jesus,

God has to die for us

so that God can truly live

in and through us in Christ.

Holy Saturday is that space

when our initial fire for Jesus

borne of our expectations,

our vision, our dreams

for Christ

— when that fire goes out.

Holy Saturday is the moment

when the image

we’ve formed of Jesus

— that ends up looking

more like us than

God’s character

and purposes

— when that false image

is irrevocably shattered.

Holy Saturday is

when the voice

we try to impose on Christ,

what we want to hear

rather than what Jesus

is actually saying

— can no longer speak.

On Holy Saturday,

we aren’t merely dwelling upon the death of Jesus.

In contemplating

Jesus’ body,

there in that tomb,

we are staring

our own death in the face.

Holy Saturday reminds us,

everything else we fear,

every struggle we have,

is an awareness of,

some adverse reaction to

the threat of losing our life.

For it is our fear of dying

that is responsible

for so much of

our lust and greed,

so much of

our denial and arrogance,

so much of all

our grasping for

and clinging to power,

so much of our frantic, anxiety-driven activity.

We unceasingly strive

to do and to be.

But Holy Saturday forces us to realize

that despite

all our doing and being,

on our own,

left to our own devices,

we still end up

at the same place – DOA.

Dead on arrival.

Today soberly reminds us

that death cannot be circumvented or avoided.

But on Holy Saturday,

while we, of course,

confront the inevitability

of our physical death,

we also come to terms with our need to die to self.

After all,

Jesus doesn’t just die for us;

Jesus, in dying for us,

calls us to follow Him

in dying to ourselves.

And the starting point of that

— arguably harder

and more painful death

— is facing the reality

that Jesus doesn’t live for us

– to meet our expectations,

to line up with our vision,

to fulfill our dreams.

Jesus doesn’t live for us;

Christ dies for us

so that we can live for Him.

Christ dies for us

— to transform

our expectations,

to align our vision with His,

to fulfill His dreams

for all creation.

Holy Saturday,

on the other side

of the Resurrection,

is not about grieving

the loss of Jesus;

it is grieving the loss

of the Jesus of

our own making.

Unless we put to rest

that Jesus,

we will end up

worshipping and becoming

a decomposing

and lifeless corpse

rather than

the living Body of Christ.

We need Holy Saturday

because it is only through

the rubble of the house

we try to build on the sand

that we finally see the sky,

the Son who remains greater,

whose purpose and plans

for us are always

infinitely greater

than we can ever imagine

or hope for ourselves.

Let us then

not move too quickly

from this dead space.

Here and now,

as the dust

continues to settle,

let us grieve

all the ways

we’ve attempted

to make Jesus

into something He is not.

Let us recognize

Christ has died

to negate

all our false presumptions about Him

and mistaken attempts

to control Him.

In this moment of clarity,

let us then humbly confess

all those parts of ourselves

– our pride

and sense of entitlement,

our desire for reckoning

and vengeance,

our apathy and

our indifference,

our guilt and shame

– let us humbly confess

all those parts of ourselves

that need to be buried

with Jesus

rather than being allowed

to continue to breathe.

As we die with Christ,

let us remember

what he taught us

as we let go

and yield our fears,

our failures,

our shattered hopes,

and long-forgotten dreams.

It is only as we humble

and empty ourselves

that we can be exalted.

Giving up

the last breath of the life

we once knew,

let us cling to

the promise that

death will never have

the last word in our lives

— physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.

In our families,

in our friendships,

in our neighborhoods,

in this world,

there is nothing so dead

in our lives

that it is beyond

the power of

what Jesus will do next.

The dryness of bones

can have flesh

put back on them.

The emptiest of hearts

is never so deep

that it is impossible

to pump them

full of fresh blood and life.

There is no pain too intense,

no depression too dark,

no weakness too complete

that cannot be healed.

But until

we’ve walked through

the depth of

the darkness night,

we can’t understand

how glorious it is

to be bathed in

the dawning light

of a new day.

There has to be death

before there

can be resurrection.

Today is a good day to die

— to die to ourselves

in Christ

— because tomorrow,

Jesus rises.

And

“this is a trustworthy saying, if we die with him,

we will also live with him.”

(2 Timothy 2:11)

Amen.