And yet knowing is only a thin slice of believing.
The most athletic of dates, Easter annually leaps from March to April and back again. Easter represents the end: of Jesus’ earthly ministry, of the disciples having a leader in the flesh to follow, of the religious authorities confident they actually wielded authority, of the empire going about its business as the bully that won every argument. There on Friday, after all, Jesus died. In the end, he was dead and buried thanks to the quick assistance of Nicodemus and an Arimathean named Joseph.
But it represents a beginning, then and now: Easter dawned a morning like every morning and like no other morning. Easter began, long ago before it was dubbed Easter, with those women tramping in the dark toward nothing and everything. Easter, which for every modern Christian preacher has been clearly marked on the calendar for a year, arrives. Once it seemed far away. And then it was next Sunday.
God overcomes death, we preach.
Christ is risen, we preach.
The light rules, the darkness fades. Outside the sanctuary, in this odd year near the end of April, spring may be busting out all over, but there’s even more blooming on the inside. The lilies, where once poinsettias ruled, declare all things new. Easter reveals that the empire’s power, and the reach of human cruelty—whether local or global, personal or institutional—will prove to be a futile effort. Love wins . . . right?
Up from the grave he arose!
And yet I’m not ready for Easter. Why did I think I once was? Death, you see, is always grasping at me. Have I worked too long in hospice? Oh yes, I have seen those who are serene in their dying, peaceful in their deaths, but I know of those who were afraid. Those who died suddenly, abruptly, and unfairly. Those who took forever to die, lingering until their families resented or hated them. Sometimes both. There were those who died and no one seemed to care.
Or is my lack of readiness my aging body, the assault of years that makes joints ache and hair vanish?
Death, ever the clever actor, claims many disguises.
And today, for whatever reason, I resist Easter as beginning or end. I chose instead to ponder the day mostly ignored in the stunning detail of Jesus’ final week. Call me a Saturday fellow. A doubtful believer, rooted in Holy Week on the last day of the week. The Gospels, God bless ‘em, are remarkably quiet about that long day bridging Good Friday and Easter.
With Matthew, in the final gasps of chapter 26, a few religious leaders scheme to have Jesus’ burial site guarded on Saturday (Command the tomb to be made secure . . .). So, according to the Gospel that begins the New Testament, there was likely a flurry of activity, with guards grumbling about weekend duty or calculating their overtime pay.
For two other Gospels, I invite you—with me smirking—to study Mark 15:48 and John 19:43. Go ahead, I’ll wait until you find those verses about the Saturday events. (Remember, though, I was smirking. Because they aren’t there. Friday leaps to Sunday for terse Mark and parable-free John without any Saturday events or encounters.)
Luke 23:56, in contrast to Matthew’s burly guards setting a perimeter defense, gently declares: “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
They being Jesus’ followers. And yet did they truly rest? Was Luke’s author being generous with their faith-inspired lack of activities? Are we to believe they were such reverent Jews after Jesus’ brutal death? Did they “rest” after the Romans flexed their muscles and revealed how casually they could kill a rabble-rouser? Did they “rest” after the religious authorities chose to send the upstart preacher from Galilee to a tortuous death?
Or were Jesus’ followers in panic mode? Fearful? Anxious? Crestfallen? Defeated?
We don’t know.
But I don’t want to ignore the day sometimes called Black Saturday or Holy Saturday. It is where I spend much of my faith. It’s a threshold time; a liminal space with expanding borders. Saturday is a time before the end or after the end. The time before the beginning or when no beginning seems possible.
It’s the waiting in the doctor’s office before the professional in the white lab coat tells you the results of the medical tests that you—or your loved one—prayed to never take.
It’s the pause, barely a second but seems a year, when the doctor points to the sonogram to tell you about your pregnancy.
It’s the hospice patient just before becoming a hospice patient.
It’s the abrupt ringing in the darkest shards of night and you’re scrambling to answer your phone before it goes to voicemail.
How confident I am about God’s love until I’m not.
I know Easter is almost here, but it’s not yet.
How secure my belief feels until it isn’t.
Now and again, this is where I live.
In my faith.