A Holy Saturday Christian.
I learned the term from Wil Gafney, an Episcopal priest and Hebrew Bible Scholar who teaches at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth. In a “pastoral letter” she wrote to her students after they had dealt with particularly violent biblical texts she said,
I am a Holy Saturday preacher. I wake in the aftermath – if I have slept – to the knowledge that the Beloved is still dead. And I take comfort in the God who is and has said I AM with you. And I rail and scream and curse at God knowing God hears and is there with me to hear. And I try to sleep one more night to see if it will be easier the next day.
And that is where the sermon ends. It is still too soon to talk about resurrection. But God-with-us sits in her chair grieving with us. Waiting with us, walking with us as we make our way through and make sense of our grief.
As I continue to figure out how to live through these days, I am mindful that the loss of control, sense of isolation, lack of government support, and general uncertainty that are all new to me, at least at the extreme I am living with them, are not new to a large number of people in our country who live at the margins without the effects of the pandemic. For me to say now that Holy Saturday has new meaning is also to say I am aware that there are generations of people whose lives have been nothing but Holy Saturday, as Gafney described.
Often, when we talk about the Realm of God, as in Jesus saying, “The realm of God is among you,” we say things like, “It is both now and not yet,” which is one of those statements like, “The arc of history is long but it bends towards justice.” What comfort we find in them depends on how close we feel to the redeeming end of the arc. For most folks, life feels like we will not be here to get all the way around the bend to the not yet.
Life is, perhaps, more like Holy Saturday than any other day. We hold the promise of the Resurrection, but we live in the middle of the grief.
The irony of this post is most of you will read it on Easter. Actually, thanks to Facebook’s algorithmic distancing, many of you won’t even see it until Tuesday or Wednesday. Easter will have come and gone. And we will still be wearing masks and staying home and doing our best to help the businesses around us keep going. We will keep watching the numbers everyday and hoping that death from the virus doesn’t hit too close. We will keep asking in our own way, “How long, O Lord ?”
Even after Mary saw Jesus in the graveyard and then the others saw the angel in the tomb, those who followed Jesus were not freed from their grief. They were still huddled in the Upper Room with the door bolted from the inside. Even though they had seen Jesus, they feared for their lives. They didn’t know what would happen. He was alive, but that didn’t fix everything. They, too, were stuck in Holy Saturday though they didn’t know to call it that.
I trust that love is stronger than death. I trust that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. But that doesn’t mean that all that stuff that can’t separate us will leave us unscathed. But, as Wil said, God sits with us and grieves with us. The way we learn to trust that truth is by sitting and grieving with one another.