50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
And so we arrive at the close of our discipleship journey through Lent, which formally ends here on Holy Saturday. It’s a strange day, if we follow the liturgical pattern of Lent, because it’s a kind of interim day, a day when nothing happens, but everything seems to be over. It is most of all day of waiting and a day of grief.
It’s the kind of day which is designed to drive the modern purveyors of hyper-Church Christianity absolutely mad with impatience. If our people aren’t doing anything, aren’t ‘growing’ in their faith, aren’t doing some good somewhere then we don’t really know what to do with waiting. It is utterly inappropriate to sing a praise song on this day.
These days I think I understand better the importance of Holy Saturday as a necessary in-between time if the celebration of Resurrection Sunday is to be appreciated in its fullness. It is a necessary change of pace to allow for the acceleration of Sunday. It was the vital prelude to the embrace of all that follows. Christian discipleship needs these intentional changes of pace, and the more I think about these things the more I notice that awkward in-between spaces are a common feature of Christian faith. Just as they are a common feature of the kinds of life we live every day.
They re-appear in the days after resurrection for instance. Jesus had forewarned the disciples that he was leaving and sending someone better equipped for the task of spreading good news. The prospect of this Greater One must have been tremendously sustaining for them, but the transition unfolds in an unusual way.
If I had been Christianity’s spin doctor back then I would have advised Jesus to manage the handover carefully. This potentially world-changing movement whose charismatic leader was departing in favour of his successor would need a strong start. All the more so since the earliest members were so…well…socially awkward, to be kind to them. I’d probably stage a spectacular handover, seamlessly moving from resurrection to ascension to descent of the Spirit all in a matter of moments.
Instead we get a bizarre inter-regnum where the date of handover is never confirmed (a bit like the situation our current Prime Minister finds herself in with her Tory party at the minute). Jesus hangs on for forty days, sometimes here, sometimes not, in these strange, intermittent visits.
Finally, we get this fantastic departure. Then, nothing. NOTHING. Ten days of absolutely nothing.
Did heaven get its scheduling wrong?
The disciples are faced with yet another strange interim period when there is nothing to do but wait. I’m tempted to imagine this as wasted opportunity. Unless the waiting was an essential part of their preparation.
These strange ‘in-between’ periods makes us uncomfortable. Especially so, because generally we are not accustomed to it. We want things to happen. We want to make sense of things, to make the best use of time. But the biblical account forces us to confront this period of inactivity. We want to get the show on the road but we have to wait. Here we endure a liturgical stopover on a journey to another place, an enforced period of inactivity between the death and the resurrection
.It seems to me now that there is a connection between this waiting and resurrection, between waiting and the coming of the Spirit. And that this interim period is more important than we know, possibly even essential, to the readiness for all that follows.
I think we need to learn the discipline of waiting during periods of apparent abandonment because this is the nature of God. With all the power at God’s disposal God takes seven days to make the world. Instead of righting the world after the Fall God takes generations to work out his play, so that Jesus comes ‘when the time had fully come’. If we want to become more like God we need periods of waiting.
We need waiting because we need to be reminded that only God is God and that we are not. God doesn’t do things our way. God is sovereign and works in God’s own time. We cannot manipulate the timetable by our activity, our techniques, not even by our strongest desires.
We need waiting because we need to be weaned off of the need to walk by sight and not by faith. When we can hold fast, and pray hard when God appears to have left us, then we are ready for resurrection.
We need waiting because we need time to learn good habits. It is important for us to realise, and perhaps it is an act of faith, that there is as much spiritual formation going on in the interim days as when we rejoice at the news of resurrection. These empty days of relying on one another and praying together lays a strong foundation so that when the action happens we are not overwhelmed by the power and presence of God.
We need to be careful not to despise Interim Periods.
So hold your alleluias till tomorrow.
From the cross you committed your body
To your Father.
And then rested in the tomb.
Lord I’m eager to get over this day,
To get on with celebration
To sing the Alleluias
We left behind
At the beginning of Lent.
Teach me though the importance of this day.
This day of grief.
For whatever might be next.
Give me faith to believe
That you are forming me as a disciple
Even as I wait this day out,
As I have done with all the interim days
That have fallen to me.
Teach me that your work with me
And for me
Is not over
Though it might appear that way.
Give me patience
To wait for your glorious resurrection