“On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.”
It was Saturday. The disciples, friends, and family of Jesus sat in horror, unable to remove the fear, doubt, and sheer pain of the memories of the day before.
All they had believed was called into question.
The one to whom they’d devoted the last three years (and the rest of their lives) to had been defeated. And he still laid in the grave.
“The Son of Man must be lifted up,” he said.
Continually, he predicted his death. Continually, the disciples were too afraid to ask what he meant. (Mark 9, being just one example.) And at his crucifixion, he was abandoned by almost everyone.
“Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!“
That promise still stood, the time hadn’t passed, so the disciples should have stilled retained at least a shred of hope. But imagine the despondency. The person who called them out of their old lives and gave them a new purpose, the One they believed was the messiah promised long ago, the Son of God come to bring God’s Kingdom.
But all they could see was death.
All they could experience was the hopelessness coming from circumstances they could not foresee. Blinded by fear, grief, shame, and un-fulfilment.
Perhaps some of them were tempted to think that Jesus was simply a lunatic, and that they’d wasted the last three years of their lives on a spiritual pipe dream.
The Saturday before Easter has been called many things in the history of the Christian Church: Holy Saturday, The Great Sabbath, Sabbatum Sanctum, Easter Eve.
But as I see it, the name that adequately captures the essence of what this day meant to those closest to Jesus, the one that accurately reflects the thoughts of people who were in the thick of the moment, with no assurance of the resurrection, no foresight into what Sunday would bring–the name that resonates deeply with me if I were to put myself in the shoes of what would soon become the first century Church– is Black Saturday.
Despair, echoing through the spirits of the ones Jesus invested his life into.
It all happened so fast. The last supper. The garden. Judas leading the guards to Jesus. That fateful kiss. The trials, the beatings, the sentence, the abandonment of Christ, the crucifixion.
Unresolved feelings of guilt and betrayal.
When the apostle Paul wrote his First letter to the Church at Corinth around 54-56 C.E., he addressed a controversy regarding the resurrection of the dead. Apparently, there were still those who did not believe that the dead would be raised. In addressing this problem, he points to the resurrection of Christ. If there is not a resurrection, Christ was not raised, he claims. But he was.
He goes on to talk about the importance of having the spirit (or, imperishable, as it were):
“I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.‘”
-1 Corinthians 15:50-54
This is important to remember the truth that in Christ, we have access to God. In Christ, what was once perishable and destined for death and hell is made imperishable. Because Christ was resurrected, we are resurrected! In Jesus, we have life, the kind that lasts forever.
Enter Sunday, stage right.
The women go to the tomb and, as he said, Jesus was not there. Instead, an angel appeared to them and told them he was risen. The disciples encountered the risen Christ, and everything changed. The despair and un-fulfilment became joy, and restored faith. Black Saturday becomes Holy Saturday, because the next morning, death is truly swallowed up in victory.
In my life, there are so many instances of resurrection. Too often, I forget the cost of Good Friday. We call it good because we have seen Sunday morning. We call it good because we understand that death is consumed by overwhelming life found only in Jesus Christ.
But I often forget the significance of that event. I forget that Christ became sin for me, the sinless Savior enduring the full blast of God’s wrath and righteous judgement in my place.
I forget the nails protruding from his hands and his feet. The blood pouring from his head, thorns digging into his skull, his lungs pushing heavily to get his next breath, the spear shoved into his side and the river of blood cascading down the rugged beams and pooling on the ground below.
I forget the blood curdling scream from the man fighting to keep his lungs from collapsing:
“Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?”
My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?
Not only by his disciples, not only by the people he came to save, but by his Father himself.
Too often, I am so self absorbed that I forget what my salvation cost Jesus.
Too often, I take the living Hope I have in the Gospel for granted.
But the Glory and overwhelming grace of God extend beyond my lack of devotion. I am made free, not to sit in complacency, but to be compelled and by his grace, be led to repentance.
God has truly torn down the sheets that covered the nation.
In Jesus, he has taken away the blinders from our eyes and shown us the salvation of his son. By death, Jesus defeated death. It was swallowed up. Victory belongs to Christ alone, and because of his grace, we put on the imperishable and celebrate that victory with him for eternity.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul? What wondrous love is this, O my soul? What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?
But oh, Jesus. Believe this, I love you. I really do. For what kind of love is this? That I would be freed from my despair and be given a desire to know you more, though Satan should constantly try to impede this? Hopelessness once consumed me, selfish desire creating in me a drive for self sufficiency when all along you reminded me that this life is not for me like I perceived it to be. Your patience and kindness astound this sinner saved by grace, rewrite, erase. Forgive me for the wicked things I’ve done and give me the strength to keep going until my race has been run. There you stood, on that hill shaped like a skull. That foreboding scene, the cup of God’s wrath to be completely full and spilling over like the blood from your side. Jesus, it is only in you that I can confide, despite all my pride and everything that would separate me from you. Remind me that Friday was only good because of Sunday. Saturday is only holy because the sacrifice of Friday is made complete. And God help my Mondays be just as glorifying to you. That I will not be filled with emotional drivel at the thought of the holy days, but that it would compel me to live every day in your presence. Death is swallowed up in victory, let me be swallowed up in you.
Jesus, you are the only desirable thing in me. Be the only thing I desire.