This is my sermon from Holy Saturday. We are using Wilda Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church: Year A. The lectionary for Holy Saturday was Job 14:1-14, Psalm 31, Philippians 2:1-8, and Matthew 27:57-66.
This is what I think is the bleakest day in the whole liturgical year. I venture to say the original Holy Saturday may well be the bleakest day in all of history. I do believe, as you know, that as liturgical people, people who go with the rhythm of seasons, that even though this is the day before the most glorious day in the calendar and we are all tied up in preparations for tomorrow, it is so important for us to sit and notice where we are on this Holy Saturday.
As I was doing some of that thinking about the rhythm of this week and what today means, it occurred to me that my years as a chaplain, specifically as a hospice chaplain, taught me a lot, and that I knew, but one of the things I learned from that time is that for a great number of people, perhaps the majority of the people with whom I worked, the hardest day was not the day a loved one died. The hardest day was after you slept and you woke up realizing that life as you knew it was forever changed. This was the day you needed to start living your life without a person who was important to you, whether you loved and were loved well and joyfully, or whether it was a challenging and fraught relationship. This was the day you woke up and had to live the changed life.
When I think about Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Joseph of Arimithea (and others depending upon the Gospel you read) who go to bed on the Good Friday and wake up the next morning and this man for whom they risked their safety, this man about whom it has become crystal clear that his message of hope and salvation and love and inclusion and all of things Jesus was and stood for was dangerous, exceedingly dangerous. It was as dangerous as being an insurrectionist and murder, as was Barrabas, who was supposed to hang on a cross but doesn’t, who was freed just before Jesus went to the cross. They have devoted part of their lives at least, the fullness of their lives I would guess, to be pretty public about their belief in Jesus, who he is, and what his life and his ministry means to the world, or at least their little corner of the world.
Wow! What a day today must have been. He’s gone. You’ve lost this person that you’ve loved. Your mentor. Your rabbi. Your friend. You’ve lost the person you believed was the Messiah, the one who was going come and bring to fulfillment the promises and covenants with God. And you have to live this day also knowing that it was dangerous to be Jesus and by extension it is dangerous to live your life as a follower of Jesus, and yet they do.
We have the benefit of these many years of knowing that this statement that Jesus made that he was going to rise again on the third day was more than just bravado, was more than just a way of saying, “You think you can kill me. You think you can quash these dreams. You think that this rebellion and this revolution can be stopped, but I’m going to tell you that’s not true.” We know it was more than that. We know that this tomb they were envisioning, that perhaps they were visiting on this day, would be empty. But they didn’t know it. They had to plan for what life would be like without him. And given their devotion to him, I imagine that they were having to think about living without him as they tried to their best to live their lives as he would have them to live.
And that’s what I think is to important for us on this Holy Saturday. For us to envision our life as followers of Jesus, the one whom we believe, we believe in, and, hopefully, have all had at least some little experience of face-to-face. But the reality is that we are not the people with whom he roamed the Judean and Galilean countryside. We are not the people with whom he shared an actual meal. We are not the people who got to sit at his feet, anointing them. We are not the man who said, “Hey, I just bought a new tomb. Let’s use it for this man.” We are not the women who went to prepare the oils and the spices for his burial.
But that doesn’t make our heart’s desire to be followers of Jesus any different or for us to think about, on this day in particular, what that looks like. What does it look like for us as we walk from the cross to the tomb and then away from the tomb? The questions his friends would have had on that first Holy Saturday – that day when they woke up and knew without a shadow of a doubt that life was forever changed because they had lost somebody they loved, the person they committed to follow – those questions are part of our story. And those are questions each of us should be taking a look at, praying with, ruminating on, and figuring out does it look like without the man, beside us, the flesh and blood man. What does it mean to love Jesus, to be loved by Jesus, and to live our lives as an expression of the phenomenally good news that that is? Amen.