Holy Saturday: The In-Between

At a church in Lexington, Kentucky where I served as a temporary youth minister, one of the part-time pastors shared with me one Easter how he liked to spend the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday in quiet reflection. Today, we know we will celebrate the resurrection on Sunday, he explained, but for the disciples who watched Jesus crucified? They were afraid and confused and hurting.

I’ve never forgotten his words. But with family and life that surges with busyness and, at times, chaos, a day of quiet contemplation isn’t necessarily possible, right? But we can all take at least a few moments to reflect on what it may have been like on that first Saturday separating Good Friday from Resurrection Sunday.

The following words are an excerpt from At His Dusty Feet: Storied moments from the road to Golgotha, a Lenten devotional I’ve written hoping to capture what it was like to be among those original disciples.

As we sit in the in-between today, I pray these words transport you to the place where Jesus was buried over 2,000 years ago.

The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching.

Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.  Matthew 27:57-66

The Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, Jerusalem, Israel photo credit: Reijo Telaranta on Pixabay

It is the Sabbath.

Last night Joseph of Arimathea asked for and received Jesus’ body as they took it down from the cross. He wrapped it with great care and laid it in a tomb, his own new tomb carved into the rock. Joseph got to say his final goodbye, to spend several quiet moments with the crucified Savior, and then he rolled a stone over the mouth of the tomb and left.

Mary and Mary sat hidden by the shadows watching Joseph take care of their King. They watched his every move, but they did not approach him. Instead, they watched him leave and wept as I now do.

There is no way for me to roll away that heavy stone that seals where Jesus now lies. I can’t say goodbye like Joseph did. And I want to. I desperately want to. I want to see Him one last time, kiss His cheek like His betrayer did, but kiss His cheek in love, deep, deep love. I want to tell Him I miss Him.

But more than anything, I want Him to come back.

He said He would, didn’t He?

In my sadness, I can’t remember what He said specifically. But I remember there was something he said about how He was laying down His life – it was His choice. To that, I know He said He has the authority to take it up again. So why doesn’t He? Why is He still dead in that tomb?

I stand in the shadows of the Sabbath’s early morning light looking around for the others. Where have they gone? Are Mary and Mary still here? What about Peter? Surely he should have deemed it important to come back by now. To admit and acknowledge not only that he knew Jesus but loved Him deeply.

It is so quiet here my breath sounds like the rushing of the winds from yesterday’s storm.

photo credit: calibra on Pixabay

I am alone.

Deeply alone.

I am scared and grieving and filled with a raging doubt. I want to go in search of the disciples – Peter, John, Mary, Mary the mother of Jesus, and the others. But I’m afraid to leave. I’m afraid to miss Him because He said He was the Christ. The Messiah.

What if I leave and He comes back to this place?

I hear sandals scraping the gravel and my heart beats faster because maybe, maybe…

But there are too many footsteps. It’s not His dusty feet that approach.

Perhaps the disciples are coming. I hope deeply they will join me here on this vigil of waiting and wondering.

From my spot here in the garden growth I squint through the sunlight that burns brightly overhead now to see who will appear. My heart breaks, fills with an overpowering aches as I take in the sight of Roman guards marching toward the tomb as if Jesus is still a threat that must be stopped. There are 16 of them, and they space themselves out surrounding the heavy stone, not far from one another, keeping watch over the tomb and over the garden. The leading priests and Pharisees accompany them, nodding approvingly as the guards apply the Roman seal to the stone and take their positions.

Are Pharisees really still so afraid?

Do they feel no remorse whatsoever?

I sink to the ground, my legs too weak to hold me up any longer. With all the power I can muster in my heart and mind and spirit I will Jesus to push aside the stone and step out like Lazarus.

Where are you? Why have you left us here?

My prayers seem barely to make it close to God’s throne; I am too angry and too afraid and too hurt. My grief is as big and heavy as that stone the Roman guard now surrounds.

As the Parisees turn to leave, I see satisfied smiles on their faces. I want to run at them and hurt them, beating them with my fists and my anguish. But it’s not worth it because they are not worth it.

Recalling Jesus’ words, I wipe the dust from the bottoms of my feet and turn away, retreating into the shadows where I can see the tomb and keep watch over the guards and maybe find some rest. Though I want to be with the disciples, I need to be here, close to my where my Savior is. I need Him.

I need Jesus, but for this moment, I will settle for being near where His body is laid as I watch and wonder, cleave and question, weep and pray.