I wrote a blog for TEAR a few years ago about the fluidity of Good Friday - when our minds and theology swing between death and resurrection, hot cross buns and Easter eggs, long weekends and the ever-present work deadline. I wrote:
Friday, at least Good Friday, seems to me to be one of these “time between times”. It is a holy, chaotic time when the very foundation of the world is in flux… Friday, as a time between times, is also strongly analogous to the place we inhabit in history. N.T. Wright uses the term “now and not yet” to describe the reality of our salvation and yet acknowledge its future completion and the truth of Jesus’ declaration that the Kingdom is at hand, yet remains elusive and incomplete. Friday is very much a “now and not yet” day. The weekend has started, but not yet. The week is over, but not yet. It is finished... but not yet.
This year our Good Friday seems more like what I imagine Easter Saturday was like. I try to put myself in the shoes of the disciples who lived through the dark waiting of that first Easter Saturday. A Saturday without even the foretaste of hope. The Bible gives Easter Saturday scant attention. Luke 23:50-56 merely notes that “they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” Matthew has the Pharisees asking Pilate to seal the tomb in a futile attempt to forestall the inevitable newness Sunday would bring.
How would Jesus’ followers have remembered living through that Saturday? Did it feel as long as the recent Lost Summer fires? They hid in a room. Doors bolted. Fearful. The foundation of their world had moved. The hope that they had allowed to grow in them, that Jesus himself had fanned, had been dashed with the cold cold water of reality. Jesus was not who they thought him to be. Their understanding of his promises was obviously seriously awry and now they were destitute.
As we bunker down this Easter none of us are planning our annual camping pilgrimage or family long weekend. Instead we find ourselves tentatively venturing out to hunt for toilet paper, hand sanitiser, jobs and sanity amidst the sudden proximity of family thrust upon us.
Our minds fill with questions. How many people will become infected? Who will survive and who will succumb? Will we be able to finish year 12? Are we in danger? Will our job be there after this has passed? How will our economy respond? What will the world look like? In those quiet moments of reflection we wonder what the new normal will be.
In a beautiful counterpoint to Easter we realise that we have probably never lived with a greater sense of anticipation for salvation and restoration than now. When will a cure be found? What will a vaccination mean? Will COVID-19 mutate or will we be able to control it? We are also achingly aware that we want to reconnect with loved ones and friends - heck, I would happily hug anyone about now!
The disciples had no framework for Sunday in their Saturday isolation…
How precious must that Sunday have been then? True, it brought little clarity. But it did birth the possibility of hope. Maybe, just maybe, there would be something to come out of this that was not absolute loss! Maybe the disciples would not be killed by either the Romans or their compatriots. Maybe it was just a case of “everything I ever thought about Jesus was wrong and so much better than I could have ever dreamed.” Maybe hope was eternal...
This year we live in the dark waiting of the Saturday - of both COVID-19 and the coming Kingdom. The earth has moved. The future is going to be different. It appears that there has been a fundamental re-orientation of the world, yet nothing has been resolved. And we don’t know when Sunday will dawn or what it will bring. But we hope. We hope eternally. We hope for the end of this epidemic. We hope for the restoration of relationships. Audaciously, as we learned from those first followers of Jesus, we hope for renewal of all things...
For the disciples, of course, Easter Saturday waiting was actually the gateway to waiting for the ascension and ultimately Pentecost - 50 days of waiting scared and isolated. Locked in a room, fearful of what might come through the door and mourning all that they had lost unsure of how good the news they had received really was. A long Saturday of waiting that birthed the church.
Our COVID-19 and Easter Saturday waiting is a legacy of the hope we anchor on Easter Sunday - the renewal of all things, even though it will emerge in a form we cannot yet imagine.