In the Dark: Losing My Dad and Finding Hope in Holy Saturday
"Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb." - Matthew 27:61
I had never noticed this little verse until this week. What a profound verse it is. I wonder what Mary was thinking, as she sat opposite the tomb. I imagine her just sitting there, in shock and disbelief, perhaps finally out of tears from the horror of the day. Matthew is the only gospel writer who notes that she and Mary apparently sat there, staring at the tomb, simply trying to be as near to Jesus as still possible.
I understand the feeling more now. My dad died on a Saturday and when I go and visit my Dad's tomb I just sit there, staring at the grass and the dirt, trying to be near him, seeking to remember him. Still in disbelief and shock, with a protest to the heavens "How could you, O Lord?". But in the moment at the grave I'm met with seeming silence from heaven. What on earth is God doing? There is such sting in death after all.
I have no doubt Mary and Mary were thinking very much the same about their dear friend Jesus of Nazareth. They had watched and seen the hell that was Friday, images and cries and yells that they would never forget. Here their friend Jesus, the rabbi who said he was the One, the Messiah, the Son of Man and of God was brutally beaten and crucified on a tree. Now, his body had been taken to the tomb before the beginning of the Sabbath, when every Jew must rest...as God did on the seventh day.
How can you rest in the dark? When heaven seems silent? When you have experienced such grief and sorrow and pain? Is God truly finished with all his work? Is this it? Just like the night my Dad died, I'm sure Mary and Mary got no sleep. How could they? Could they ever sleep again? Holy Saturday, as it has come to be known, is a day that is often passed over in order to rush to Easter Sunday. 'It's Friday...but Sunday's coming' we say!!! We want to move so quickly to the good news, to the light, but we miss so much of God and so much of what he wants to do with our pain when we do that. It's Friday, but Saturday's coming. A day of waiting, of silence, of pain, of wondering...now what?
I believe Saturday is a day where God honors our grief and our losses and our pain and doesn't seek to minimize them or make us simply push past them in order for things to "magically" be better. Before the foundation of the world, God could have declared the resurrection of Jesus take place on Friday night or Saturday morning...cut right to the good news! Why wait? What's the purpose of all this darkness?
If you have walked through darkness then you know. Before the morning, there must be the mourning. There is a purpose to it. And one of the ways to discover it is not to deny the reality of it, but to feel the weight of it. And that in feeling the weight of it, the Lord does indeed move closer. As Andrew Peterson sings in his song "Always Good" -- "the heartache brought me closer then the joy ever could." But how? Because for God Saturday is not just a day to get to Sunday, but a day in and of itself, where He can speak to us and carry us and bring us closer to Him in a way no other day can.
On Saturday we can truly see how in the dark, in the silence, in the waiting...God is working. I am sure Mary came to the tomb on Saturday morning and sat there again, to weep and to remember her friend Jesus. And how many memories would she have had of this man? And how these memories would have brought both tears to her eyes because of his absence and a smile to her face because of his presence. She didn't know Sunday was coming. All she had was her pain and her memories and her grief that arose from a life cut far too short, and cut too short in the most unjust and brutal way. She must have wondered...this is really how it was supposed to be?
I'm sure she just sat there, staring as the Roman guards arrived to make sure the tomb was "secure." (Good luck with that). There to protect the tomb and keep watch over Jesus just as he so often kept watch over her. She shows us, as many others do in Scripture, that in this world there will be much to be sad about and to lament about and to be angry about. There will be many lives cut short. And Saturday is a day that honors all those emotions and feelings, it is where God says "I'm not just moving on from your pain to get to glory, but that there is glory in the very midst of pain and loss. And you can sit in it.”
On this Sabbath day God, in one sense was at rest from his work, it was finished, but in another sense a new genesis was springing up all around.
"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." John 20:1
There she was again, ready to sit opposite the tomb and be near her Jesus. But it wasn't simply the first day of a whole new week, but of a whole new world. Saturday night was the final night of the old world. A world where now Sunday has the final word, not Saturday.
John writes that Mary was weeping and weeping outside the tomb, so desperate to be near her Jesus, to be close to him. The other disciples has gone back home, but Mary had remained. How much she must have loved him.
Mary asks the gardener where they have laid the body of Jesus. And then the Gardener called her by name..."Mary." I picture her face as she looks into the eyes of Jesus and sees. Then I begin to weep. She embraces him deeply and cries out "Teacher!". I can only imagine that reunion. How I long to hear my Dad again say "RD" and to be able to run to him and embrace him again. One day I will. And the tears of this Saturday, of the Saturdays that so often make up this world are honored by Jesus. And will be transformed by him. Death is wrong. There is real suffering and real loss. And we grieve, and we sit opposite many tombs in our lives...longing for that stone to be rolled away and that thing, that dream, that person that we lost to come back. One day it will.
One day, the Gardener is returning to take us to the Garden City, and we will look back over all our pain and our loss and our grief, all of our Saturdays, and see how none of them were meaningless and none of them were wasted and how much God was working in our pain and our grief to reveal to us more of His love.
And then we will look towards the East again, see the dawn and hear our names on his lips.