Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday

Job 14:1-14
Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24
Psalm 31
1 Peter 4:1-8
Matthew 27:57-66 or
John 19:38-42

What do you do on a day with no news? If you are the Internet, kittens!!! If you are CNN, hang tenaciously onto the last good story (CNN actually had a “Breaking News”: Titanic sank 100 years ago today). If you are a journalist, work on your book. If you are an Apostle, lay low and wait for someone to tell you what to do. We do not really know what happened with the eleven remaining apostles or in the community of the faithful. We can only imagine what they did because the Bible does not tell about the day. Only Luke 23:56b says they rested on the sabbath. We know what happens up until dusk the day before and we know what happens at dawn the next day. Various faiths have developed traditions covering Holy Saturday. Today’s Scriptures finish the Good Friday story in the Gospel reading(s), offer insight to what the believers may have been thinking based on beliefs from the Old Testament, an offer scriptural cover to some of the spiritual traditions regarding what Jesus was doing that day.

Matthew and John relate versions of the claiming and burial of Christ’s body. I admit that I had never read them side-by-side and notice the differences between them. Mark and Luke most closely agree with the Matthew passage. The Luke passage has the faithful women preparing the spices and oils for burial. The differences between the passages, ultimately are trivial - it does not matter who did what, or how much was done to prepare the body, or who owned the tomb as it was only briefly borrowed and returned good as new.

Job, as one of the oldest books in the Bible, looked at death as final. Early Jewish teaching did not widely consider any kind of spiritual afterlife, much less eternity in a place of reward or judgment. The rewards and punishments came in life and in the story of Job, we watch him experience both. God was seen as active in the day-to-day events of humanity so for the faithful, it meant watching all that one did to earn favor with him. That daily involvement is partly what gave Job the willingness to challenge God. The worst God could do was kill him, and with the troubles he was enduring, death was better than years of lament.

Lamentations continues to hold God responsible for our blessings and our troubles. The author declares that God is angry with him and has caused something like leprosy, fractured bones, mental illness, and isolation. Although God inflicted tremendous physical and mental strain on the author, the author knows God can forgive and fix. He has hope and clings to that.

The passage from 1 Peter offers clues to a passage in the Apostles Creed, and justification for several practices that result from overly-literal readings of the verses. The Apostles’ Creed affirms the belief that on Saturday, Jesus descended into Hell to bring the gospel to those who had died before so that they might have an equal chance into heaven. Verse six says the gospel was proclaimed to the dead, and because Jesus was “dead” in sin (the entire world’s past, present, and future sin), he had to be in Hell. Verse one also brings its own challenge to right behavior. The verse has been used by some to justify self abuse (flagellation) to prove their faithfulness and rejection of worldly ways. Practitioners of these beliefs will beat themselves until they are bleeding to connect with Christ’s physical pain. Contrary to that interpretation, those who suffer still continue to sin. The physical suffering of the cross forgave all sin, but did not stop it from happening. Finally verse seven’s exhortation to “be serious and discipline yourselves” has been interpreted by some to avoid anything fun, that brings pleasure, or that might twist one’s mouth into a smile, for that will be the exact moment Christ returns and instantly damns you to Hell.

The passages today bring a wide variety of ideas found in different portions of Christianity. Their wide reach accurately represents the anxious uncertainty of the day in our faith. Patience today brings us jubilation in the morning.