The Nothingness/Everythingness of Holy Saturday

I do not often spend time with Holy Saturday. One might call it a professional hazard — sermons never come out before Saturday afternoon, even if I dedicate multiple timeslots to it during the week — but Holy Saturday feels like another Saturday of me begging the Holy Spirit to make my disparate and diasporic thoughts about the sermon passage into something coherent while I stare at the blinking curser, only with the added pressure of Easter and needing the sermon to either hit all the right chords. (No, I never struggle with debilitating perfectionism with my preaching; why do you ask?)

But I have spent a lot of time this year, a weird year where I had the first month of Lent off after a very painful two years of ministry, sitting with a quote from Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens For A Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved (and complaining about the very same thing):

“Everyone is trying to Easter the crap out of my Lent.”

I have never shied away from sitting in the darkness of Lent, always intentionally letting the melancholy and depression of this darkest liturgical season wash over me and resonate with my internal heart song. Lent does not serve the purpose of “Pre-Easter Warmups” and building happy anticipation for candy, bunnies, and flowers for me.

But Holy Saturday, arguably the deepest pit of despair for those who showed their love for Christ most at the end, just kind of means nothing to me. But if I demand that we sit in Lent for all 40+6 Days of Lent, then I need to not just zoom past Day 40.

Scripture gives us painfully little about the day (which probably influences our complete lack of acknowledging it) except the Pharisees begging the Romans to post guards at the tomb to ensure the poor followers of Jesus could not just roll the stone away and steal the body to claim he had risen. I think we can make some educated guesses, though. The men ran away from Golgotha (except John if you trust the account of the guy who made sure to tell you he won the “First Annual Easter Footrace”) and they sat hiding behind locked doors after the Sabbath, so we can assume they ran away from Golgotha and immediately started hiding behind the locked doors.

But the women followed Jesus to Golgotha, they heard the nails enter the wood and the anguished cries, they stood witness to his final breath, they followed him to the tomb, and they prepared their herbs to prepare his body for his final rest. I think we can assume some things about the women and their 36 hours of waiting.

We all know that walk when leaving your beloved after their death; most of us know that walk when leaving a beloved after a sudden, unexpected death, and just how much the suddenness amplifies the nothingness and everythingness of that walk.

You have to consciously think about walking. You have not consciously thought through stepping, even in dangerous or “extreme” situations, more than you do when you leave that hospital room. You have no other conscious thoughts but how to make one foot step in front of the other.

Then you feel all the feelings. Guilt, shame, sadness, anger, frustration, more sadness, laughter and guilt from feeling laughter. It washes over you and you have no conscious thoughts but you feel everything and cannot untangle it.

Then you feel nothing, think nothing, and just float down the hallway. You push a button in the elevator, maybe the right button, and get to the lobby. Then you try to figure out how to get to the parking lot, but you get lost even in the simplest and most well-marked hospital lobby trying to just get outside.

Suddenly you have your keys looking at your ignition. No idea how we got to the car, but suddenly every feeling comes back — or nothing, like God has removed the very heart from your chest. You look at your keys and wonder how you turn the car on, or how you insert the key-fob into your pushbutton-start car.

You start driving home on autopilot. About half-way home the funeral director calls; she cannot meet you tomorrow, but the next day she can. She tells you to find a bunch of things to bring with you: documents, stories, an outfit. So you go home, you get the things together that they need, wondering if you got everything, and then you feel exhausted.

You stare at the ceiling, begging God for sleep. Maybe you do get an hour or two — or sleep fifteen hours and then cannot remove yourself from the bed. You wail at times, feeling so deeply the hurt and pain of the loss that you cannot even move; your wails come from deep within and make your whole body convulse. Then you find yourself staring into space on the couch or into the open refrigerator for minutes that feel like seconds and hours at the same time; maybe you start walking circles around your house in a way you never have before and never will again. You feel and think nothing, not out of numbness but because you cannot process the emotional shitstorm you presently find yourself in the middle of, so your brain chooses nothing over anything.

You do this all day. You swing from wailing to anger to nothing to laughter to guilt to wailing again to saying “At least they didn’t suffer long” to nothing to fury to mania and back again to wailing. You do this dance between nothing and everything all day because you have nothing else to do; you cannot help your friend enter their final rest until tomorrow.

And then you sleep. Or count bumps in the popcorn ceiling they hated and gave you grief about.

That is Holy Saturday. No wonder we do not spend any time on it. But without Holy Saturday, Easter means nothing.

Holy Saturday is nothingness and everythingness, a pendulum of detachment and devastating pain for those who followed Jesus to Golgotha, to the tomb, and promised to prepare him for his final rest.

Will you run and hide, or choose to be with him at his end?

Peace,
– Robby

A Year of Lent

A few days ago, we marked one year of all of this. Like many people – and many pastors – it feels like we never got the Easter release from Lent; we never found an empty tomb and never received the visit from the risen savior in the midst of the darkness and pain of the world.

We just experienced a year of Lent. No Easter, no Advent, no Christmas, no Epiphany, nothing but Lent. We absolutely went through the motions, singing the right hymns for the season and making sure the right paraments hung proudly for each liturgical movement, but the darkness of Lent never left us.

Or at least it never left me.

We did not just experience a pandemic. We saw 400 years of anti-Black racism come to a head – and just how much force the system will use to silence any sort of dissent. We saw anti-Asian racism used to distract from incompetent handling of a respiratory virus – and fanning anger and hatred to sow seeds of division to protect the ruling class. We saw a political system weaponize division and tear us apart by deifying an adversarial justice and political system.

And nothing got better. The world never got less dark.

We have some hope now. Well over 100 million Americans have receiving their first dose of the vaccine that will – hopefully – give us a path to being with each other without introducing risk of exposing each other to a deadly virus, but people still die every day and variants continue to prove their increased transmissibility and strength.

But still the virus of racism and White Supremacy ravage our nation. Just a couple days ago a man – taught to feel deep shame over his natural sexual desires and filled with racial hatred – killed multiple Asian women and had his actions absolved because he “had a bad day” by the very law enforcement officials we pay a lot of tax money to protect us.

All of us. Not just those who look right and/or have the correct amount of money.

The darkness of Lent never went away. At least not for me.

The holiday of Easter shines in the near distance. I find myself wondering if we will feel that relief of seeing the empty tomb this year or if Lent will continue to cover us.

Have we reached the Holy Saturday of our year long Lent? Have we finally reached the end of this liturgy of wailing and darkness? Will we experience the resurrection?

Will I see the empty tomb and have our savior enter the locked room?

It all makes me wonder: what differentiates between falling into despair and naming the reality of the darkness that surrounds us? Where do we delineate between hopelessness and the prophetic reality? Have I failed to see any hope or simply spoken the truth of God’s call in our lives and the state of what we have made God’s creation into?

I don’t know, but I have hope.

I have hope because Jesus died on the cross and so many more have sacrificed their comfort, their treasure, their livelihoods, and their lives to share the message of his sacrifice. I have hope because we can make those sacrifices, we can repent to bring about Earthly reconciliation, we can bring light into the world.

Easter did not end the story; Easter started the story. The cowards, the scoundrels, and the proud gave all of that up because they saw the risen Christ – and they gave themselves up to try to heal the world.

I have hope – reckless and idealistic hope – that our collective dark night of the soul will end, our year long Lent will get its Easter relief, and collective repentance will happen.

Darkness still covers our world, and I still long for light. My preaching and writing will speak to bringing light into the world, even if the comfortable and contented find its taste too bitter.

This is Holy Saturday; I don’t know what the empty tomb looks like, but I long for it.

Peace,
– Robby

Ash Wednesday is Dark Hope

I love Ash Wednesday.  It’s not something I realized that I loved until I started planning the worship service for tonight, but it is something that I love.

All throughout seminary there was this hesitation to admit that we were incapable – on our own – to contribute anything to God’s mission, that we brought nothing to the table that wasn’t given to us by God and directed by the Holy Spirit, and that we are hopelessly broken without God and Christ’s salvific* act on the cross.  In the ordination process, too, there is a weird push-back if you place any emphasis on your unworthiness of the call of professional ministry.

I find this weird because I am a Presbyterian, and a strong Reform Presbyterian at that, and I went to a Presbyterian seminary and currently in the process of being ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA).  I’m not quite a TULIP but Total Depravity has always been one of my theological pillars.  I have always known that I’m pretty screwed up, and that I can’t stop sinning, and I never see anyone else living without sin.  Total Depravity just seems like the logical theological position, given my reading of scripture and anecdotal observation of the world.

I think the push-back is because no one – myself included – really describes the absolutely joyous truth behind Total Depravity.  We get to caught up on the sinful part of the Total Depravity – and the correct discomfort that comes from it – that we forget that the whole point of that is the relationship with Christ that our brokenness necessitates.  The theology of Total Depravity is really a theology of hope that despite our brokenness, despite the sins that we commit every hour, we are saved and in a loving and caring relationship with our God, a God whom came to Earth and suffered our condition to save us.

364** days a year we try to ignore and/or downplay depravity and focus on forgiveness.  1 day a year we focus on our penance.  Never do the penance focus and forgiveness focus meet.  Forgiveness is light and bright, penance dark and heavy and oppressive.

I guess it just always melted together for me because I find comfort in melancholy and darkness.  It never made sense that it wouldn’t just feel comfortable to know you’re a sinner because I always knew the punchline of salvation.  It just made sense to me, and I couldn’t rationalize why there would be so much push-back when it came down to talking about it.

364 we ignore it, 1 day a year it’s all that we see.  We mark ourselves (or at least some do; I don’t, but that’s another story), we sit in ashes, and we confess.  And because we have a single-focus, we forget the hope that it is.

“Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.” – Joel 2:13 CEB

This is a day to return to God – prostrate, but knowing that you are saved – and return to the calls and talents that God has placed in your life.

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This blog is my major spiritual discipline, and you can see how much I have neglected that part of my life, citing being too busy and too tired and you name it.  I know that I’m saved, but I know that my soul needs healing, my spiritual life needs discipline, and I know that need to return to it.  My desk is a mess, my sermon for…5 hours from now isn’t finalized, and I haven’t eaten lunch yet, but I’m returning to a discipline of spiritual life.

Reflect on the darkness of your soul and of your sin, but know that the disciplines and penance are to show us hope and strengthen our relationship with God, not to create more darkness in our lives.  Focus not specifically on the sins of your soul, but on the necessity of the love that you are freely given.

Return to God, the God of love.

Peace,

– Robby

*Totally a word.

**365 this year.