Gospel of Mark, Holy Saturday, Lent

The stone (Mark 15:42-47)

If you have ever lost someone you loved a lot, it’s not hard to imagine how the women felt on that Saturday, that Sabbath day. They woke up in the morning, if they slept at all, having to remember something they wished they did not know. Their teacher, their leader, their friend was dead. No doubt they woke up thinking about where Jesus’ body had been taken by Joseph of Arimathea.

He rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was buried. (Mark 15:46b-47, CEB)

I picture them picturing the stone, the entrance, the tomb, the path that would get them to it. I picture them planning anything at all that might feel useful, important, healing. I picture them feeling like any people do who have lost a treasured friend or family member to violence.

I picture them, and I think of the grandmother of Stephon Clark and the mother of his children, and the family of Alton Sterling, and the girlfriend of Philando Castile, and the Mothers of the Movement. Like the women who followed Jesus’ body to his tomb, they have lost dear ones to state violence.

So add to the grief a natural fear of what might come next for those who had been seen with him.

Imagine being grieved beyond measure and also afraid that the same forces responsible for executing the one you loved might be coming for you next. Imagine feeling that there is no safe place to be. Imagine wondering if your lament will draw unwanted attention. Imagine wondering if you can every trust anyone again. Imagine wishing the stone could seal you in, too.

“My God, my God,” he said, “Why have you forsaken me?” My God, my God, how can we trust you?   

Holy Saturday, Lent, Luke

Sit with it

This is a weird, in-between day for pastors, in particular, but for any church folk involved in the work of the congregation. We’ve laid Jesus in the tomb, but we know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and in the meantime, we have to get ready. There are flowers to arrange in the sanctuary, groceries to buy (or reservations to make), maybe even eggs to hide or last-minute additions to baskets for our little ones, and Lord knows, a word of witness to the Resurrection to polish, if not write from scratch.

Hoagie, the last of the Berners, at Evergreen on Holy Saturday, 2011

When I lived in Portland, I always took whatever dogs I had for a walk at Evergreen Cemetery. It seemed like the right place to be, a resting place with markers and monuments going back hundreds of years, yet still in use for more recent losses.

And there is a duck pond.

I found it to be the perfect liminal space, where thoughts of the unthinkable – a literal victory over death – seemed somehow plausible.

Every year I did my work there, walking with my words, from the first year when I wondered if I really believed in a bodily resurrection, to the last, when I believed it wholeheartedly.

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph. They saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it, then they went away and prepared fragrant spices and perfumed oils. They rested on the Sabbath, in keeping with the commandment. (Luke 23:55-56, CEB)

I’ve often thought of them on that in-between day, not knowing what was to come, expecting the sad but obvious ending – a chance to perform a ritual of respect and love for their friend and teacher. Unlike the busy preacher, chorister, or flower arranger, they could not fill the day with tasks. They could not, like my mother, press the pleats into a tiny Easter dress; or as my friend Mary Ellen and I used to do, make fresh ravioli on my big dining room table; or walk the dog or go to the German bakery to choose an appropriate dessert for tomorrow or stop by the dry cleaners for the pastor’s robe that needed cleaning (for the Lord’s sake, get there before they close).

They just had to sit with it.

Let’s remember they were not at home, so picture them in a rented room in Jerusalem, maybe the same Upper Room where the apostles retreated, or maybe in their own 1st century Air BnB. They lack the comforts of familiar space. They are each other’s family now. Which stage of grief were they in that day? After witnessing the crucifixion, I suspect shock was primary, but I want to think some among them were angry, too, angry at the betrayal, denial, and cowardice of the men who should have known better.

It’s tempting to rush ahead to rejoicing, so tempting that many in our churches skip straight from Hosannas to Alleluias. Today, at least for a long moment, I’m trying to sit with the shock, the anger, the grief, even the helplessness, as if I didn’t know what comes next.

Thank you, Lord, for the women you gathered around you, for their stories, for their courage. Amen. 

I’ve been reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. The full list of posts can be found here.


Easter Vigil, Holy Saturday, Holy Week

Keeping vigil (Holy Saturday)

It’s a blank spot in the gospel, the night and day and night the women spent between seeing Jesus’ body carried off to the tomb and the morning when they went to grieve him or anoint him or just try to make themselves believe this terrible thing had actually happened. No matter which gospel you read, it’s some part of the Passover Festival, with all the requirements of a holiday, and Sabbath with its own special needs and requirements.

You’ve been there, haven’t you, going through the motions of a special day when grief or the unknown threaten to take your feet out from under you? The world has changed forever, but life continues with its rhythm of calendar and school year and family demands and church, and we keep showing up, trying to be present even in the middle of inner and outer disaster. We show up.

And what’s a vigil but showing up when you don’t quite feel like it? What’s a vigil but staying because you can’t figure out how to muster the emotional energy to leave?

The women didn’t head home to Bethany or Galilee or Magdala or anywhere else they might have found comfort or safety. They stuck there in Jerusalem, identifiable witnesses who stood at the cross. They stayed. I think of Susan and Lucy at the Stone Table, keeping vigil through the night with Aslan’s body, absolutely stricken and hopeless.

It’s hard to call that up about Jesus now, for the preacher or the church-goer, even for the faithful attender of every service in Holy Week. We know what’s coming. We know that the Altar Guild or the Flower Committee is over at church today pulling stamens out of the lilies for the sake of the allergic preacher, or arranging the daffodils and hydrangeas, making the sanctuary ready for tomorrow’s inevitable celebrations. Trumpeters practice the big Easter hymns – maybe looking at them for the first time since last year, a little casual about what is to come.

In the church garden
In the church garden

But the women. The women. They did not know, they had no idea, even if they had heard him say the things he hinted to the disciples about three days and rising. We grow complacent. We know those bulbs are coming up again, that we can buy baby chicks at the farm store, or a bunny at the pet store. We know what is coming tomorrow at church. We know.

What we don’t always know is when the darkness of our own lives will lift, when the grief will become remotely manageable, when we will find a new way where the old one is entirely blocked or irretrievably broken. What we don’t always know is when or whether the stone closing our tomb will be rolled away.

Who sits vigil with us?

The one who laid in that tomb, the one who knows the darkness of rejection, of apparent failure, of abandonment – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He cried these words on the edge of death; he even knows death.

He’ll sit there with us, Jesus will, as long as it takes. He’ll sit there as long as it takes. I promise you this. He’s keeping vigil right now with people who have no expectation that the sun will come up again and shine on a world full of flowers and Easter eggs and new hats and suits and dresses and magnificent hymns and inspiring sermons.

He’s keeping vigil with us.