Holy Saturday is the time in between John 19:41-42 and John 20:1: Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there…(INSERT HOLY SATURDAY HERE)…Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb…
Holy Saturday is the day between the Good Friday Dusk and Easter Sunday Morning Dawn. It consists of over 30 Sabbath hours of time between Friday Sunset and Sunday Sunrise in which the gospel writers give us no details, it is just EMPTY SPACE and DEAD AIR. We know what Good Friday feels like: despair, darkness, defeat and hopelessness. We know what Easter Sunday feels like: joy, light, victory and hope. But does Holy Saturday have a feel?
Recognizing that the Passion Week represents a continuous historical narrative, churches typically pause to enter into emotion of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday or Tenebrae) and some pause to remember the journey of our Lord on the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday. But then we enter into Holy Saturday, a time when the sanctuaries of the old churches are stripped bare and lay in darkness. No services are scheduled, no sermons are preached, no one gathers for fellowship and there is no Lord’s Supper in order to commemorate the non-event of Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is a dead intermission, an empty void between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ when His body lays in the tomb. I’ve never heard a message preached about Holy Saturday and I don’t recall singing a Hymn where Holy Saturday is given more than a sentence. But in the sentence of Holy Saturday (or more accurately, the parenthesis) there is an eerie feeling of familiarity to me.
I see that we live every day in a similar yet post-resurrection tension as we wait for the King to come back to consummate the Kingdom he inaugurated 2000 years ago. In between His two advents, we sin, we feel guilt, anxiety, shame, restlessness, we deny Him, sometimes betray Him, life sometimes feels dark and we often wonder what to do next just like the disciples on that First Holy Saturday. The difference living parenthetically on this side of Easter is that we can always turn back with understanding to the significance of the Cross to find forgiveness and mercy and embrace the life and certain hope imparted to us through the Resurrection.
(Inspired by Alan E. Lewis: “Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday“)
Just days before He cleansed the temple again, before He hosted the Last Supper complete with foot-washing, before He predicted Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s thrice denial, before He went to Gethsemane and caught a glimpse of the imminent cup of wrath, before He was arrested, interrogated, flogged, and nailed to a cross like a criminal; Jesus was praised and welcomed into Jerusalem in a manner befitting the return of the King of Kings. In fact the songs that were sung by the crowds are those which we will sing when the King Returns again. Psalm 118 is a song for the promised redemption of God’s people placing their hope in the coming Son of God so they sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” See Psalm 118:19-29 for the part of the Psalm which the people gathered along the road sang to Jesus as He entered into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey:
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Hosanna (Save us), we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Jesus riding in Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on a borrowed ass is a visually irreconcilable scene where he displays an “admirable conjunctive or diverse excellencies,” a praiseworthy joining of almost paradoxically supreme qualities. This scene encapsulates the picture of His entire ministry. He has walked a long way, but now on the outskirts on Jerusalem, He must RIDE into the city of David. Why? Because this is a show! A solemn performance of the Nature of His Kingdom. Until now, he would not accept the title of King, but now He at length openly declares himself to be a King, even the King of Kings. Only Kings and dignitaries ride into Jerusalem with such pomp and circumstance. This is a Victory Parade culminating with the humiliation and death of the King. Jesus is the Picture of the Ideal King triumphantly riding into Jerusalem with transcendent majesty, but on the back of a borrowed donkey like a poor man or a child reminding us that he takes the path of weakness and service. He embodies otherwise irreconcilable qualities: transcendence & immanence; royalty & modesty; Boldness & Humility; Toughness & Tenderness. He is the Sovereign Creator King who came not to be served but to serve. He sits at the highest place in the heavenly places but the Son of Man has come to lay down his life. He exudes Royal Humility, a supremely confident weakness because He has come to bring peace not war, He has come to save not destroy. During His first advent, the Great King will not ride a war horse but a young donkey, a beast appropriate for a child.
The Middle Ages gave us the image of the Ideal Man exhibited in the Medieval Knight (not that Medieval warfare was ideal or virtuous). The Ideal Knight was a combination of Toughness and Tenderness and the greatest of all of the imaginary knights was found in Sir Thomas Malory‘s 1485 compilation of the legendary tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table called Le Morte d’Arthur. The ideal knight, was a man named, Lancelot and in one scene when he heard himself pronounced the best knight in the world, “he wept as he had been a child that had been beaten”. We are amazed at the sensitive heart of this fierce warrior. Upon his death, Sir Ector said to the dead Lancelot, “Thou were the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear in the rest.” This ideal creates an almost paradoxical image rarely exemplified in any human being. CS Lewis wrote,
“The Knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped off limbs; he is also a demure, almost maiden-like, guest in a hall ,a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness, he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth degree.” ~ Present Concerns, “The Necessity of Chivalry” (1st published in Time and Tide, Aug. 1940)
Admittedly, this ideal knight is only found in the stories of men, but its inspiration is found in Jesus Christ. The medieval ideal brought together seemingly irreconcilable qualities of which we see best portrayed in the person of Christ: He is transcendent and immanent; He is royal and modest; He is bold and humble; He is Tough and Tender, each to the nth degree not a balance between each opposite. The image of the ideal Knight came from christ whose power was expressed in weakness, whose triumph was to be dragged away and killed. He showed that it takes courage to serve, it takes power to submit, to be first you must be last, and to be great you must be humble. This is what Jonathan Edwards meant when he wrote that “there is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.” How does it strike your heart as you find this ideal in your Savior?
There are not many second chances in the Church or in the World, as the rules apply it’s most often ‘one and done’ and then you get ‘tossed under the bus.’ Many Christians even live out of a theological framework which believes that God offers mercy and forgiveness for even the most heinous sins committed before the point of personal conversion but there are new rules that apply after conversion. The New Rules are that you are expected to get it right after that and there is no mercy for sins committed after conversion. This false system leads churches to even celebrate the most dramatic conversions of the most rebellious lifestyles before salvation but extends no forgiveness or second chance to a believer who messes up. Another problem with the aforementioned erroneous system is that it typically views sin as merely outward and tolerates the sins God despises most like pride, arrogance, harshness, selfishness, ignoring the needs of the poor while living in excess. Could it be that God offers only forgiveness to those coming out of unbelief? Is there mercy for non-Christians but not for Christians?
Thankfully Jesus is the Savior of Second Chances and the framework represented above is the opposite of the gospel of Jesus Christ who holds out mercy and forgiveness to us continuously while calling us back to a lifestyle of repentance, holiness and love. Second Chances are only possible if the mistake made during the first chance was paid for and absorbed by another. This is what Jesus does, he pays for the sin and does not make us pay. The Second Chance then becomes a new lease on life, a new freedom, a new opportunity to experience a richer sense of His grace and to live as if we have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. When living within the Second Chance, we know that at some point we will need a third chance which He will graciously extend. This is what Jesus does: He restores the fallen! This is what He did for Simon Peter, a full-fledged Christian and Church leader who denied any connection with Jesus on three occasions. He gave him a Second Chance. Remember the Prodigal Son was a “Son” when he rebelled against his Father who extended a second chance and the Wandering Sheep belonged to the Shepherd and His flock before he became disoriented and was carried back to the fold for his second chance. This is the gospel program: Jesus extends mercy to His own whom He expects will need second and even third chances.
“If looks could kill” is a familiar idiomatic expression used to characterize the look of strong hostility in the penetrating eyes of a murderous heart. Often we evaluate the look we get from people because the eyes tell us much about what the heart is thinking. After Peter’s third denial of and disassociation from Jesus in the midst of His interrogation by the High Priest, the eyes of the Lord meet Peter’s. But what kind of look was this?
Peter had denied any association with Christ, with no feelings of repentance, his heart becoming harder each time, searing his conscience. The denials became progressively easier, a warning to us about how sensitive we ought to be to our consciences upon the first occasion for sin. The first time, it won’t seem like a big deal to sin, but the second time creates a habit and the third time we risk the lulling to sleep of our conscience, grieving the Holy Spirit within us our will is rendered ineffective to resist anything. When we push through the barrier of grieving the Spirit, we find ourselves on the other side of the fence with no one to restrain us. Certainly Peter understood this retrospectively when he wrote years later in his first epistle, “Therefore preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We must be early on guard against sin which desires to master us but when we sin there is only one thing that can bring us back to Jesus, His Look. Luke 22 tells the story this way,
But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
While Peter was warming himself by the fire numbering himself among wicked men and Jesus was being struck in the cheek by the closed fist of an interrogator in the courtyard of the high priest the entire scene enters into slow motion. What happens feels like a private moment between Jesus and Peter. Only Jesus sees that Peter has fallen while everyone else seems oblivious. There are no words exchanged and the Savior doesn’t disgustingly shake his head nor look away in disappointment. This is not even a parental, “I told you so” but a look of sympathy and mercy. This is a look that says, “I understand and I want you to come back!” Jesus knows the intensity of a battle with the evil one so he his sympathetic to Peter in his failure. This is the look of a friend who understands and a God who loves.
In Peter’s darkest hour, Jesus gives him THE LOOK of Mercy that initiates Peter’s repentance instantly after the moment of his greatest failure. When we sin, the only thing to bring us back is an apprehension of the mercy of God that is found in Christ’s look of sympathy and mercy. The Look that says, “I understand and I want you to come back.” Even in our most rebellious, frustrated and independent moments when our hearts rage against God we must catch the glance of the Savior, to see His eyes inviting us back to intimacy with Him. He gives us an efficacious look that meets our eyes and its rays of grace penetrate our hearts. When we fall, our repentance is always initiated by the Lord’s look of mercy. If He is not merciful, we should not dare turn back to Him but He is merciful, generous and patient towards us. What brings Peter back and what brings us back time and again is the Lord’s look of sympathy and mercy. This is no ordinary look nor a look that could kill, it is a look that gives life!
Earlier this week, I heard from a missionary friend overseas who privately commented regarding my blogposts from Monday and Tuesday. With his permission, I will relate some of our conversation. He said that he has seen that particularly the generation of younger 20’s and early 30’s seem to be struggling with an inability to build true relationships with others. He and his team felt that young people are substituting social networking for real relationships and that because of this they lacked the real ability and skills to connect with each other on a personal basis. The effect of this substitution is that so many more young people are feeling lonely and isolated. He also said that the irony seems to be that this generation craves community but they turn to social media as their source of community which is no real community at all and they are left wanting.
This is not to completely debunk the social media phenomenon which has great potential to connect people in ways that we were never connected before. (i.e. – my friend reads my blog from a link on a social media website and sends me a message about it via the same social media.) But my friend and I agree that social media is not intended to replace normal relationship building and emotional bonding. It is not the primary way to connect us to others, it is only an add-on or a layer of connection.
I love technology and I love social media. They are not the problem. The problem is that our hearts turn these media into a counterfeit for koinonia so when we look to facebook to be our relationships, we miss the real thing. Could it be that once again our own hearts are our downfall and that we are naturally moving to lesser desires not greater ones? Could it be that we are becoming satisfied with the “relational connections” and “friendships” that social media provides and we are losing our appetites for the real thing? Likely this is one more example of what CS Lewis said in His Weight of Glory address,
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Too often we bury ourselves in the busyness of following Jesus and serving others instead of relaxing and receiving uncomfortable grace from Him. Our hearts are often resistant to love that it poured out on us, a resistance that forces our bodies to tighten up inhibiting us from receiving. I think about the tender act of love bestowed on the disciples by Jesus as He washed their feet. How hard was it for the disciples to sit and receive that little act of grace? Yet an even bigger act of grace was to come as He went to the cross for them.
While Jesus certainly wants us to follow Him in doing acts of humble service and not to see ourselves as too good or too big to do little things, menial tasks and even costly, inconvenient acts; doing, for most of us, is easier than receiving! In fact we can bury ourselves in service while never having to sit and receive. Jesus asks us to first relax and receive from Him then expend ourselves generously toward others only to come back to Him to relax and receive again.
Meatloaf sang the popular song, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that” which became an instant classic when Dr. Pepper picked it up for their commercial a few years ago. The commercial pictures a young man who would do anything for his girlfriend including the purchasing of her feminine products, the folding of her laundry and accompanying her to Yoga class and on shopping trips. But when it came to giving up the thing he loved most, his 12 oz. can of cold Dr. Pepper, he chose to draw the line there and break off the relationship. She just wasn’t worth it.
At the beginning of the events of the Passion week of Jesus Christ, the Gospel-writer John gives Jesus’ purpose statement:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. John 13:1ff
John’s gospel deliberately omits many things which he knew were covered by Matthew and Mark but here in the scene of the foot-washing of the disciples as in other places he explains a narrative which was left out by the others, one which clearly had a deep impact on him. John saw this foot-washing not just as an example of servanthood, but a gesture of the deep love and affection that Jesus had for His own. This was the beginning of an extended weekend where Jesus would give many visible signs of His firm, lasting love that would never be quenched not even by death. John understood that the totality of the humiliation of the Son of God from his conception to taking the form of a servant in the foot-washing to His suffering, death and burial was all motivated by tender love.
We ought also to fix our hearts on this conviction for he bears the same tender affection for us.
Jesus’ love motive is in full operation in the foot-washing, which is an integral moment with the whole of His Life of Humiliation which began in His conception and ended in His death, burial and descending before His exaltation in resurrection, ascension and the sitting at the right hand of the Father. The purpose of all of this was to merit salvation for His people. Jesus refused to draw the line of the extent of His love for us. A love that extended from the washing of our dirt all the way to his suffering and death. Jesus says to all who believe and trust in Him, “You’re worth it! I would do anything for love, even that!”
This Spring will mark a special occasion in my life when on my physical birthday I will turn 44 and on my spiritual birthday I will turn 22. It might not mean so much to you but it means a lot to me because 22 years ago the Holy Spirit chased me down to execute a plan of grace that was made at a Triune Table before the creation of the world. The occasion is also significant because it marks exactly half of my life in personal communion with Jesus Christ as well as a passage into Christian early adulthood.
I would define my early Christian life as one of ACTIVITY including disciplined scripture memory and initiative personal evangelism while my adolescent years were about IDEAS including the study of systematic theology, Greek and Hebrew, attaining a seminary degree and climbing a rigorous denominational ordination process. Reflecting back to my early years, I saw how easy it was for me to substitute spiritual activity for God in the place of a relationship with God. Now since the collision of middle age in my physical life and early adulthood in my spiritual life I see how easy it was for me to accept ideas about God as substitutes for an experience of Him.
Sadly most of us call ourselves Christians based on our belief system more than our experience. Even the celebrated Gospel Coalition movement in which I have participated and appreciate, speaks primarily of the Christian experience and even the Gospel in the forensic language of ideas and philosophy. I am struck by the words of A.W. Tozer who still speaks to our Reformed and Calvinistic churches today,
“We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter; we are full of religious notions but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there.”
We can even treat God’s love as an IDEA while being void of a personal experience of the heart that encounters His love. God doesn’t just want us to have correct views about him, He wants to make Himself Known to us Personally and Up Close. His heart through the Old and New Testaments was not just to be objectively known ABOUT. His self-revelation to the Israelites was always in the most personal and intimate language (Cf. Exodus 34:5-7). The God of the Bible, can’t be known from a distance which was why He bent down from heaven to send His Son to live among us so we could see Him, hear Him and touch Him (Cf. 1 John 1:1-4).
My heart’s desire for my life and the lives of those who will listen is to help navigate an authentic Christian journey that finds a direct, personal experience of God which results in a deep generosity to others.