Feb 26, 2012
Coming — The Most Awful Day in Mankind’s History
This is a Lenten message, but about the end of the Lenten Season, not the beginning. So many holy days / holidays are associated with the period before Easter, that some can lose their meaning, if not their significance. We can think of how Mardi Gras and various Carnivals around the world steal from the unique spirituality of the Lenten Season that begins on Ash Wednesday. And during Holy Week itself, yes, commercialism and carnality intrude, but mostly the immense implications of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, tend to eclipse the other days.
We sometimes can benefit from looking at days on the church calendar that are less celebrated than others; and it is good to think about Christian days “out of order.” In fact it interrupts our appreciation of the fullness of God when we compartmentalize Christmas in the winter, Easter in the Spring … whoops, Palm Sunday comes first, let’s keep things in order. Commemoration is beneficial, and I’ll be the first to admit that I need reminders about some things; but we can let the calendar rule us, sometimes.
Shouldn’t we celebrate Christ’s coming to earth, God condescending to become flesh and identify with humankind – and us better with Him – every day of the year? Not just Christmas day! And woe to us if we contemplate the fact of the Resurrection – an astonishing miracle, with its implications for all of Creation, and for each of us individually – more on Easter Sunday than every day, every minute, of our lives.
In that context I have a thought about “Holy Week,” down at the other end of the Lenten Season. Palm Sunday we know about well, from the festive welcome Jesus received, and many re-creations we see. Some traditions observe Maundy Thursday and solemnly meditate on the sorrows of Jesus’s last hours as a man. Christian churches open, and even the New York Stock Exchange closes, to observe Good Friday. Easter, of course: it is central to believers’ faith; it is when families get together; it is when “Chreasters” (people who attend church on Christmas and Easter) come out to see their shadows, thank God.
But except for ancient traditions and very liturgical and Orthodox churches, and even then never to the degrees accorded other holy days, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday receives scant focus. “Holy Saturday” is the only name it has, and some ancient rites would hold services in stark settings, and exercise fasting, on the day.
It deserves a major portion of our attention.
Many theologians divide history in half: all of Creation and humankind before Jesus; then the Incarnation and redemption of the world after the Resurrection. Mankind was under the curse of the Law until His death on the cross; and, the Bible tells us – Jesus Himself told us – after the Resurrection, life is in Him. It is the message written on every page of scripture… numerous prophecies and prefiguring and foreshadows in the Old Testament, pointing to Christ. The Scarlet Thread of Redemption. And now we are heirs to numerous promises about Eternity.
Glorious! Yet… there was one day in history when humanity must have felt utterly alone. Multitudes had heard Jesus’s teachings. Many did not understand. Some did. But everyone in Jerusalem – haters and scholars, followers and family – all knew one thing that Saturday.
Jesus was gone. He died. There were many witnesses. It was official. He was prepared for burial in the usual way, wrapped and buried. The earth was dark, Jerusalem was silent. Those who followed His ministry faced His absence. Those who knew Him best, even His mother, confronted the void. The Bible’s accounts tell us that nobody remembered, or believed any more, the scripture’s prophecies, or His promises.
You and I know what happened the next day. But we would not have known on that Saturday: no one did.
Was that Saturday not just the most awful day in His followers’ hearts, but in mankind’s history? Literally and figuratively, Jesus was removed from our midst on that day. People whose faith had sustained them… were shaken. People who had witnessed miracles, who had experienced miracles… prayed vainly for another. He had comforted the little children, and the widows, and the orphans, and the sick, and the needy, and the outcasts, and the sinners… would they be comforted no more? “I have come that you might have life”… was His life over? “I will be with you always,” the promise that would be spoken later but surely was a message of His entire ministry… was it a lie?
The nearest I can imagine to the feelings in people’s hearts that Saturday is what I have read about “terminal” feelings of being alone, truly alone. People who have survived suicide attempts, for instance, often confess to an extreme, aching sense of “aloneness,” not normal loneliness or isolation, of being aware that there are no helpers, no friends to call upon. Sometimes people are not aware of God’s presence; they call out but cannot hear an answer in their distress. “Cold” is the word most often used with “alone.”
Surely this feeling, deeper than deep in the soul, is the most awful emotion anyone can feel. Disappointment, failure, defeat, betrayal, standard tragedies, cannot come close. They are not AS close to our core.
And this is the feeling that Jesus’s family and followers must have felt that Saturday we look forward to in a few weeks; before He revealed Himself, and all Truth, to them. Indeed, all Creation felt that feeling on that day. Thank God that humankind has never had another such day, before or since.
Is there a benefit in this morose contemplation? I don’t believe it is morose; it is all in God’s plan. How much greater does the glory of Easter seem? How much more can we appreciate the presence of a Living Savior in our lives? How sweeter is the Christian walk if we remind ourselves of the horror of being alone… but instead, having a Friend who not only overcame death, but takes our hand to lead us to places where we will never be alone!
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“There’s not a thing in this world that’s worse than being alone… Take my hand, let me stand…”
Click: Where No One Stands Alone