When you are up in the wilderness, it is easy to lose track of time. What day is it? Our current lockdown does not help. Days seem to shade into one another. From an initial read of the morning news, one would not know that today is Friday–Good Friday. The Washington Post, the Stratfor Worldview Daily Brief, the WSJ Capital Journal, nor the New York Times make mention of it.
It’s even more likely few will notice that tomorrow is also on the holy calendar, often referred to as Holy Saturday.
I cannot be too critical. For the thirty-plus years I pastored, I failed to observe it. We held Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter services—all but ignoring Holy Saturday. Saturday was a bit like halftime. A timeout. You woke up from Friday services, caught your breath, did a few errands, and prepared for Sunday. Little wonder A.J. Swoboda, in his book A Glorious Dark, refers to it as “Awkward Saturday.”
Maybe it’s the quarantine we are in. It feels like many of us have been living these past few weeks in the dark, in “Awkward Saturday.” As Swoboda puts it, “Waiting with uncertainty, about not knowing what’ll happen. Saturday is ambiguity.” Muddling through when the future isn’t clear. Will we ever get past this pandemic? Will life ever be normal again? Will this day never end?
It feels like we’re sitting in a state of pause. And maybe this is okay. As Swoboda later notes, “We must sit in Saturday, not too ‘theologically busy’ and ‘religiously impatient’ to squat in the tomb for a day.” A legitimate stage of holiness is hopelessness. Part of growth is those moments where we come to the end of ourselves. Hope has to go beyond our institutions and our scientists—to God.
That first Holy Saturday, Jesus and all understanding lay dead. This is the underlying tone I sense when meditating on Jonah’s prayer, one he prays in the belly of the whale. He is having an “Awkward Saturday” moment. Life has been a downward trajectory. “To the roots of the sea’s mountains, I sank down. The earth beneath barred me in forever.” As my geologist friend noted, there is no deeper down. And now he is in the whale, in lockdown.
Isn’t it interesting that when the religious leaders in Jesus’ day demanded a sign, some verification he was, in fact, the world’s hope, Jesus offered none? As if to say, “I am not in show business!” But then, he did come back and offer one–the sign of Jonah (Matt 12:40). Meaning what? Just as Jonah was in the depths, so Jesus will be in the depths, “in the heart of the earth.” Both seemingly at a dead end. Beyond hope. So? What makes this a sign?
Three days and three nights. Jonah is not quarantined forever. The whale could not hold him, any more than the tomb could hold Jesus. Jonah and Jesus are more than death stories—they are resurrection stories. Jonah rises to preach grace. Jesus rises to offer eternal life. To the skeptics of this world, Jesus declares: “And behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (v 41). Far greater.
He is here, and he will get us through the night–from “Awkward Saturday” to “Glorious Sunday.”