Jesus is Dead – a reflection on Holy Saturday

“If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of Darkness.” – Theresa of Calcutta

For the disciples, Friday had to have been a long night. The second long night in a row.

Night before last, after Jesus and the disciples had celebrated together, the Romans had come and arrested Jesus. Judas had turned him in, and some of the rest of them were convinced that they too were wanted men.

They had spent several years with Jesus. Some of them had abandoned careers, others had walked away for the family business. They risked ritual impurity, public censure and ridicule as they followed this itinerant Rabbi who claimed to have knowledge of God, who claimed that God desired it be on earth as it was in heaven, who claimed that this God was made most visible in the bodies of the hungry, the poor, and the disposed.

They had seen amazing things. The blind could see, the lame could walk, the dead could rise again and those who were estranged could be reconciled. They had seen demons flee at the sound of Jesus’ voice, they had seen the religious leaders give Jesus grudging respect and earlier that week had followed the donkey into Jerusalem when Jesus mocked Rome and the crowd shouted “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”.  Later that week they had been part of the direct action in the temple, when Jesus was flipping tables and driving out those who would exploit peoples spirituality for money.

They had seen amazing things over the last few years.

They had to have known it was risky – they were constantly courting treason and Rome did not take such things lightly. Just ask the residents of Sephoris, who some 30 years earlier had dared to confront Rome and as a result, 30,000 people were killed or sold into slavery, and 2000 men were taken to Jerusalem and crucified in a single day. No, Rome did not play.

So the night before last night, the horrible happened – Rome finally arrested Jesus.  Judas sold him out – Judas, one of their own. Judas, who had been sitting at the table last night. Judas, who Jesus, with sadness in his eyes, handed a piece of bread.

And then they watched him die. They watched him, beaten and bloody, drag his cross up the road. They saw, from the safety of the crowd, the guards spit on him, they saw him fall three times under the weight, they saw a stranger help him – something none of them felt safe enough to do.

And then they watched him bleed out after the guards stuck him with a spear while he could barely breath, nailed and lashed to that cross.

Jesus was dead. It was over. It turns out, Rome won and love had lost. Power and might had the final say, and for all his talk of loving one another and seeing God in each other, at the end of the day Jesus had just been another guy with lofty ideas that threatened the power structure, so the power structure fought back, and won. They always won.

Last night was so long. The disciples had to wonder, “Are we in danger? Are they coming after us, too? What should we do? How are we going to live?”

But worse than that, it means all of their hopes for the new world that Jesus had spoken of – The Kingdom of God, he called it – were gone, too. Jesus had boldly confronted Rome and here they were cowed in their rooms, alone, scattered and afraid. Uncertain about the future. Scared for their safety and that of their families.

They had seen love confront power, and seen power do its worst. They had seen Jesus refuse to bow to the oppressors, and watched the oppressors kill him for it. They had heard Jesus dream of a just world, watched him preach it and demonstrate it for years, and then watched all hope of it be placed in a tomb late on Friday.

Jesus is dead, y’all. The Jesus movement is dead. All hope for it to be better is dead, all hope that love will win is dead. The future looks bleak.

It is Saturday after Jesus died, and all they have is each other, the memories of what Jesus taught them, the knowledge of what they saw, and whatever hope they can muster as a result of those three things.

That is why Holy Saturday is my favorite day on the Christian calendar. Because it shows us that doubt, fear, paranoia, uncertainty, pain, disappointment and hopelessness can also be part of the experience of Jesus people. That it isn’t always about celebrating resurrection, but sometimes about wondering if resurrection is even real. It’s a reminder that the Jesus story isn’t just a story about overcoming the Powers, but also a story about despair at the hands of the Powers and trying to figure out how to survive it.

And when that happens, what we have left to hold us through is just each other, what we have been taught, what we have seen, and whatever hope we can muster as a result.

1 thought on “Jesus is Dead – a reflection on Holy Saturday”

  1. Hugh, I really needed to hear this. Because I’ve felt like I’ve been living in Holy Saturday every day since the election, and my faith has been shaken, and I’ve been afraid, and I’ve lost hope. Thank you for reminding me of how I might find my hope again.

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