Today is, officially, Holy Saturday – the empty space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It might better be called Holey Saturday. It is a hole, a hiatus, an abyss between the two strongest days of the Christian calendar.
Forget Christmas. It’s a huge commercial celebration today, but there are no records of Jesus’ followers celebrating his birth until at least 200 years later.
The two key celebrations are Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified. And Easter, when he was believed to have risen from death.
Unlike Christmas – which has very little biblical evidence to support a date of December 25 – the date of Jesus’ crucifixion can be quite precisely identified. It happened at the Jewish Passover, which came about according to a 1000-year-old formula based on the spring equinox and the full moon.
The crucifixion is also one of the few facts in the Bible that cannot be challenged. Every gospel, every letter, agrees that Jesus was crucified. No other world religion claims a leader who was executed as a criminal.
And the traditions agree that on the “third day” – counting Friday as Day One, because the counters didn’t have zero, yet – on Sunday morning, he was no longer in his tomb.
The day nothing can happen
But Saturday is the day between. When nothing happens.
Because nothing could happen. Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath. The laws of Moses made it a day of rest. Jews were commanded to emulate God, who – according to Genesis – created the universe in six days, then rested on the seventh day.
Work of any kind was forbidden. That’s why the women had to wait until Sunday morning to come to the tomb, hoping to anoint Jesus’ dead body with ointments supposed to preserve it a little better. They couldn’t come on Saturday.
In some branches of the Christian church, Saturday is considered the day when Jesus “descended into hell” to vanquish the powers of sin and evil forever. The writer of Revelation seems not to have known about that tradition; he portrays the powers of evil still very much alive and kicking 100 or so years later.
The abyss between
Holy Saturday strikes me as a model for the times we live in.
We had our triumphal processions in the post-WWII years. Everything – technology, health, income, science – was going up. There was nothing we couldn’t do. We even sent humans to walk on the moon.
But then the petals started falling off the rose.
Half of the world’s wealth now belongs to one per cent of the people. Corporate CEO’s sit on thrones of cash.
Corporations run the Empire. They’ve cycled through a series of title reflecting their power -- international, multinational, transnational, and now as metanational -- entities that owe allegiance only to themselves. Apple’s cash assets alone exceed the GDP of two-thirds of the world’s countries. Microsoft speaks 107 languages. If Walmart were a nation, it would rank 25thin the world.
The recent uproar in Canada over SNC-Lavalin reveals the power that corporations have over public policy and governance.
And it is now inescapable that climate is changing. You don’t believe it yet? Just ask the residents of Tornado Alley across the southern U.S. Or the citizens of low-lying Maldives in the Indian Oceans. Or the people who own homes in the parched forests of southern California, Portugal, or Australia.
Deniers can only cling to conspiracy theories, short-term fluctuations, and biblical assurances.
This is our Good Friday. Ruthless reality crucifies blind optimism.
But we don’t know what to do about it. What we can do seems futile, pathetic, too little to make any difference. We feel helpless. Impotent.
Just like those women on Holy Saturday.
Do I, then, expect a resurrection? I’d like to say yes – but not necessarily tomorrow. I’d like to believe that the Easter story 20 centuries ago stands for all times, all situations.
Yes, I do believe that a civilization, a species, a planet, can experience a resurrection. Death and disaster can be turned around. New life can emerge from chaos and anarchy. Raw greed can be de-clawed by respect, love, and caring.
But I remember that there were two reactions to that resurrection. Peter took a look at the empty tomb, and ran away. Mary took a look, and stayed.
I believe that a resurrection is indeed possible for our society and our civilization. But I’m afraid that too many of us will run away from it, like Peter. And that too few will stay like Mary to find out what it’s all about.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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This is some kind of a record – I only received one substantive letter about last week’s column. You may recall that my column was about Erika van Oyen, who delivers menstrual kits to young women in Uganda, thus reducing the number of school dropouts and furthering women’s education. A couple of letters thanked me for drawing the program to their attention; a couple of personal comments thanked me for tackling a subject that is still taboo in most mixed conversations.
And one person, just one, commented on the content of the column.
Dave Buckna, here in Kelowna, quoted my line, “The Bible...considers menstruating women unclean. They must be segregated."
He went on, “Not ‘unclean’ per se (as we understand the word today) but ‘ritually’ unclean. BIG difference. Why didn’t you include the word ‘ritually’ in your column?
“Yes, menstruating women were segregated -- but only when it came to participating in Temple worship and the Jewish feasts. Women didn’t have to live separate from their families during the days they were menstruating.”
Dave provided a long series of webpages dealing with this subject. I find them unconvincing, so I won’t include the list; their general theme seems to be that the Bible actually treats women as equal to men -- if you look beyond the surface text. For example, the same chapter of Leviticus that condemns women’s menstrual emissions as unclean condemns male emissions (ejaculation) as unclean, with the same prohibitions about contact.
But I challenge Dave’s assertion that menstrual uncleanness applied only to ritual contexts. The laws laid down by Moses (Lev. 15:19-28) make no reference to ritual settings; it is so sweeping that anyone or anything a menstruating woman touches is considered unclean. And Leviticus in the desert vastly predates Temple worship.
The Bible does not say, incidentally, that the woman with a 12-year flow of blood was unclean when she touched Jesus’ robe (Luke 8:43-48) but the implication of contamination does seem to be there, even though there was no ritual setting involved.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet