The Saddest Sabbath
Robert Frost, well-acquainted with grief, once penned a small poem during a bleak period of his life. “The rain to the wind said/ you push and I’ll pelt /They so smote the garden bed /that the flowers actually knelt/ and lay lodged, though not dead / I know how the flowers felt.”
Holy Saturday is the day we commemorate our Savior’s death as he lay in the tomb. Yesterday, the disciples watched their Savior die. Likely the previous few days plagued their thoughts as they grappled with the fact that their Messiah had been killed. The triumphant crowd, angry mob, crowing rooster, humiliated savior, bloodied, thorn-crowned head all pointed to the cruelest defeat. And then there was the guilt… denying the savior. His piercing words to them as they fell asleep, “Why? Why are you sleeping?” If yesterday was the world’s darkest day, this Sabbath was likely theirs.
It was a quiet day, being the Sabbath, where work stopped and businesses halted. Jews walked to the temple, but few, if any, activities were observed: there would be no working, mending, plowing, planting. One needs only to think briefly about the disciples’ frame of mind to imagine the kind of defeated hope, and unrelenting anguish they felt. They went home Friday evening “beating their breasts”—a sign of desperate grief. Today nothing could be done; nothing which could possibly serve as a small distraction from their loss. To add to their sorrow, it was Passover, a celebration of life. This was the time of year that the Jews remembered and celebrated their God who had saved them from tyranny, slavery—death. But all this served as a painful reminder of today’s truth: If he really had been the Messiah, he wasn’t alive today to let them know.
The disciples must have understood Christ’s death in a way even those of us who are acquainted with grief have not experienced. They had been given the beautiful privilege of walking with the Lord. This was their teacher, friend and confidant who never sinned, loved perfectly and gave completely. When Jesus asked them who they believed him to be, Peter exclaimed without hesitation, “You are the Christ!” Likely now they thought of Christ’s words: The sheep know my voice. Before Abraham was, I am. I am the bread. I am the truth. I am the life. I am the resurrection. Surely on that fateful Saturday, their heavy hearts lay lodged. Perhaps today they reflected on the past few years. Had been duped… conned? Maybe Jesus was only just Jesus; a great teacher, but not the Christ. Or perhaps, he had been the Messiah, but their God was simply not big enough to save them… after all, he had just let his own son be killed. Before them stretched (what they thought might be) years to consider and mull over these dark questions.
With Jesus as a Savior and friend, it had been a taste of Eden—a type of paradise. They had become used to communing with the Lord, only to have his life come to an abrupt end by Judas, a devil. And what had this dear friend saved them from! Sin and ugliness in their lives was replaced with righteousness. This was, after all, the man who came not to the righteous but saved sinners; healing his followers physically and spiritually. To give this up—beauty for ashes—must have seemed too much. History was repeating itself, with only a few variants. Instead of sinful man cast from a perfect creation, the perfect man was cast from a sinful world. Jesus, like Eve, had been betrayed by a devil. Communion with the Creator was again forfeited by death, and their beloved, long-expected Messiah was killed. As they drifted off to sleep that Saturday night, their hope of God’s kingdom being ushered in was in vain. Any hope of a risen Savior would be dismissed as an idle tale. Tomorrow, their hearts would burn within them as they spoke to Jesus, but today was not that day. Today was the quiet stillness of deep sorrow, fear of a life apart from a Savior. It was the wind and rain that had pushed, pelted, and won; the cursed world which killed the God-man. The baby that had cooed, giggled, drooled and toddled some 33 years ago was now just as dead as he had been alive. Now his body grew cold and began its decay process. No longer would their Savior calm their storm, enter into their pain, speak truth into their lives, bind up their broken hearts. It was a day to be still, but not know if He was God. The truth seemed, to the disciples, that of defeat and death. The sting of death had come to the savior just as surely as the Savior’s would take it away. And the God who said “He watching over Israel slumbers not nor sleeps” had a child who not only did both, but wasn’t going to wake up today. Death had won, defeat was realized, Christ was conquered, and Satan rejoiced.
This Saturday, do not rejoice. Let your hearts lament and feel the coldness of a world without God. Mourn for those who have not received their resurrected savior. Mourn for those whose hearts are as heavy as the disciples were on that Sabbath because they will not only experience the sting of death but the fire of hell. They occupy the position of God’s instruments, but have not acknowledged him as Lord. Today, let us pray for a world that lives as though their Savior is still in his grave. And let us live, and have that life more abundantly, because He is risen indeed.