Meditations on Aspects of Easter: 7. Silence & Questions
Lk 23:54-56 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment
It is Saturday, the Sabbath in Israel. Let’s clarify days and times first. For the Jew the new day began at 6pm (yes, of the previous day) and so the day of celebrating Passover and eating the lamb started at 6pm on Thursday and finished at 6pm on Friday. The Sabbath, the Saturday on which no work could be done according to the Law, started at 6pm on Friday and finished at 6pm on Saturday, after which work could be done and spices etc. purchased from the markets which had reopened, to be able to be used next morning (Sunday) once the sun had come up. It is Saturday, the day of no work and so it is quiet. Behind some closed doors in Jerusalem (or maybe in Bethany) there are red eyes, red from weeping.
Now there are two perspectives that need considering in respect of that first Easter. First there is our perspective from two thousand years afterwards, and with the knowledge of hindsight – we have the completed Gospels and so we know what follows. We know that tomorrow we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, but because of this knowledge I would suggest we have a tendency to complacency. It’s a bit like the film, ‘The Titanic’. My wife says, “I don’t want to see it; I know the end, it sinks!” From our perspective, we know the end – he rises from the dead: “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:24) Yes, tomorrow we will sing victory songs about Jesus rising from the dead but we will have lost the sense that you would have (and we’ll consider tomorrow) if you had been there.
So let’s go back nearly two thousand years and see if we can grasp something of the awfulness of this day – because it was awful! It is a day that is almost worse than yesterday. Yes, yesterday contained those awful events, the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, but somehow it seemed somewhat unreal. Some had been up all night long. Peter had fled in tears from the courtyard where he had three times denied his master. He is devastated and guilt ridden. John had been there and seen the trial and had no doubt heard about Peter’s experience. The others had mostly fled and were now behind locked doors. At least yesterday there was a faint glimmer of hope: if he is the Messiah it is just possible he will call down armies of angels and step down off the Cross and claim his Father’s kingdom. When he dies – well, we saw him raise others from the dead; is there yet hope? But he was taken down from the Cross, a lifeless and bloody body. They take him away, do some temporary embalming in a rush (6pm is rapidly approaching and nothing can be done on the Sabbath), place him in a cave, a tomb belonging to a follower, and roll a massive stone across the entrance to keep off predators (animal and human!)
And so now it is Saturday morning and there is an air of finality hanging over the day. Everyone else is taken up with observing the Sabbath. For them the continuity of life brings an air of normality but for those who had followed this wonderful man, this incredible miracle healer, there is an emptiness that is only filled with despair. It is all over, he is gone. Death is final. All our hopes have been dashed. Rome and the establishment have triumphed; they have got their way and removed him. All the bright hopes of ‘your kingdom come’ have evaporated. Was God in this? Was it all a dream, these past three years? What had it all been about? Is Satan stronger than God? Will evil ever more triumph over good? Has the whole Jewish history been a sham? What is the point of life? Well, we have some good memories, but you can’t live on memories, memories won’t stop you being hunted down as a supporter of this rebel who has now been executed? Nothing makes sense any longer. For three years, goodness had triumphed over evil. For three years, the sick had been made well, the deaf had been enabled to hear, the dumb had been enabled to talk, the blind had been enabled to see – but now that is all over, it is just memories. No more. The end. Where is God when we needed Him? Why didn’t He turn up and save Jesus?
Such are the questions on this Day of Silence. If the Old Testament had taught us anything it was that God is a communicator, God talks to us, but now – He is silent. Had Jesus got it completely wrong? Was he just a pretender (but what about the miracles????) and so had God judged him and put a stop to his ministry? God, are you there????? What is going on?????? It’s no good saying, “Just hold on, be patient, it will all work out to the good if you just hold on,” because the very foundation of all we believed has just been crucified and, yes, he is truly dead and death is the end. We gave up our lives to follow him and we traipsed miles around the country following him. What for? What was the point? If it was God giving us a little glimpse of what was possible when He was on the scene, surely that seems a bit unkind, devastatingly unkind, when He walks away and we’re left with nothing!
Don’t you dare look at this from our perspective and think, well just maybe there were some of them who had held on to Jesus’ words and were just waiting for him to come back; we would have. Oh no, all the accounts (and you can read them yourself as an exercise later today) show that these devastated followers were blown away when he reappeared, and the two on the road to Emmaus show they were utterly confused. No, there is no false hope here today. Just silence and questions.
Only a few days ago I was talking to a good friend who is going through harrowing life and family circumstances and all of his angst is summed up in one word – why? It is the word many of us ask out of circumstances of pain, anguish, loneliness and so on. I could attempt some answers but this Saturday is a day with no answers. Tomorrow may be different, but don’t hold your breath.
When God turns up with answers, they tend to come like a bolt out of the blue, unexpected and unforeseen. There is one thing I am sure about though, and it is this. If, when we get to heaven, should the Lord allow us to see back through all of history with His full and total sight and knowledge, I am utterly convinced that when we see it all, we will never be able to find a thing to criticize Him about. But for the moment, weep at loss, weep with fears, weep with frustration, weep for all these things, but may I come and sit or kneel beside you and weep with you so the three of us may weep together?