[This is a sermon I gave to fellow students while I was in seminary. It is somewhat specific to that audience, but I thought I should maybe just put it out there for whoever to read. It is a reflection based on the text I was assigned: Luke 24.36-49. My wife has a beautiful, poignant post about Holy Saturday that she wrote a few years ago.]

Passion Narrative
The week had begun in dramatic fashion: the Master being welcomed into the city like royalty, cleaning out the temple like a man gone crazy, silencing all the questions and challenges from the smartest lawyers, conjuring up visions of the apocalypse that ignited the people’s hope. Even when he was being arrested, he felled the angry mob with only his words, and winked as they bound him, referring to the twelve legions of angels waiting to attack at his command. It got a little less funny when he was beaten and scourged, but the comedy of an impotent Roman governor freeing a murderous tyrant was clue enough that events were proceeding with an exaggerated irony. All these things were too well choreographed as the perfect rising action to the climax of the story: the unveiling of an as yet unrecognized king.

The pace quickened, the nails were drawn, and the people clamored for front row seats to the cosmic drama. The beams were shoved into the ground, and everyone stood back in anticipation. Even his enemies cheered for the show to begin. “Come off the cross,” they said. “Show us something amazing today! We want to see a spectacle!” And the disciples felt a burning in their chests. And it was like when you put your hand in water that burns and you can’t tell if it’s extremely hot or very cold; the disciples drew in burning breaths and asked, “Is this hope or horror, expectation or terror?”

And then the show began. The sky darkened and rumbled. Jesus cried out on the cross. And at his cry, the earth quaked and the ground broke open and the temple veil ripped in two. The time of the fearful revelation of the glory of God was at hand.

And as the rumbling subsided…


Silence? No…

It was like a dream where you open your mouth to scream and nothing comes out. Silence reverberated from the cross, echoed back across the hillside. Darkness came on like a suffocating blanket, veiling the countryside in muted colors. The air was lifeless, spent. The people walked, numb, down the hill. Everything was labored and slow and murky, as if underwater. No one knew whether to laugh or weep, so they felt nothing, reeling from a surreal finale no one had been quick enough to witness.

The Disciples’ Uncertainty
The disciples couldn’t accept that this was the end, and yet someone had to climb up the back of the cross to pull out the nails and lower the body. It wasn’t going to just disappear. This wasn’t the way the Master had spoken of the future, and yet there they were putting his body in a tomb. Were they just going to leave his body sitting out?

It became necessary to cooperate with hopelessness.

The cross was no point of clarity, whether theological or otherwise. It’s not as if it was immediately obvious that redemption had been gained that day. This was not the birth of triumphal Christianity. Instead, people crumpled up their hope, but couldn’t bring themselves to discard it. And on the third day there was more confusion: a resurrection no one saw, bringing victory no one felt. There were no celebrations, there were no joyful hymns, there were no boys in pastel shirts running around looking for colored eggs.

Even the resurrection brought no clarity to the situation. Sure, the disciples’ hearts quickened at the testimony of the women about the empty tomb, and even more as Peter confirmed the story. But what was the point? It was obvious that hope had died with Jesus. And sure, they couldn’t help getting a bit excited at hearing from the two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus when Jesus appeared to them. But hearts are sore and tender after the cross, and good news is considered cautiously.

And then Jesus appears, right there. He speaks, he embraces, and he eats, but the disciples are unconvinced. After all, you don’t rush into belief when the residue of failed Messianic expectation is still wearing off.

But Jesus patiently preached to them, reminding them of the promises of God contained in the Scriptures. The disciples in their dismay did not immediately believe in the resurrection even when they saw, heard, and touched Jesus. These realities needed interpretation. And ever since then, the Church has struggled to make sense of, interpret, and accurately proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Caught on Saturday
To this end, the Catholic Church focuses on the crucifixion: the cross and the suffering Messiah pinned to it. The Protestants prefer to think about the resurrection: the empty tomb and the bright day when Christ conquered death. And while half the church commemorates Good Friday and the other half celebrates Easter Sunday, who wants to remember that uneasy Saturday in between?

Saturday is the troubled Sabbath rest between the cross and the empty tomb. Saturday is being stuck in uncertainty, with your hope hanging in the balance, teetering back and forth between dismay and joy. Saturday is the fading of the promises of God in the face of death. Saturdays are unsettling and precarious times for attempting faith. So Jesus came to preach to disciples caught on a restless Saturday.

We all have Saturdays. We all find ourselves caught between death and life. These are the times when people crumple their hope and then weep over the wrinkles. This is the day that our generation walks listless about the earth, supposing that since yesterday was filled with death, tomorrow can only promise more of the same. Today lives are shrouded in a dreary silence and people walk to the beat of a funeral dirge. The bodies of heroes are carried off to the grave, and we march in a solemn procession to the tomb to lie in the cold place prepared for us next to them, on this our oppressive Saturday.

Saturday Preaching
And what will we say? What will we say to a congregation caught between death and life? They are just escaping from all the brutality and animosity a fallen world can dispense. These are the tattered troops of the Kingdom of God, for whom the already/not yet of the Kingdom is swallowed up by an already/not yet of a different variety: already I face cruelty in the world, not yet is mercy the rule; already I am surrounded by decay, not yet am I filled with life; already the promise of death is being fulfilled around me, not yet has the promise of God come near.

And even in the face of the realities of this world, they refuse to believe that death is the last word. But they cannot quite believe that life has come even when they see, hear, and feel it. As they strain toward Sunday, they’re waiting for an interpretation, for a reminder of the promises of God. They don’t need a preacher who will focus only on death, on the problems of this world and the failings of humanity. They know what the world is really like better than pastors who live their lives in Christian bubbles. And they don’t need a preacher who will focus only on life, on the future blessings of heaven and the glories of eternity. What good is it to me if God is always living a day away?

The world needs Saturday preachers who will straddle the gap between the death of Christ and his glorious resurrection. Preachers who will not be dismayed when the promises of God seem farthest away and most unlikely. Preachers who will patiently bear with God’s people as they struggle through confusion and anxiety. Preachers who will without apology break the silence that settles in over the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Preachers who will have the audacity to proclaim, “Though the sorrow may last through the night, joy is coming Easter morning, joy is coming Easter morning, joy is coming Easter morning.”

Silence has no choice but to yield to the voice of one preaching the promises of God. When the word is formed in our mouths, silence cannot suppress it. And even the smallest light cannot be quenched by the deepest darkness covering the face of the earth. But every light burns away the darkness as long as it has enough fuel to stay lit. Even so, God has given us his word to preach to his people so that they might not be left wondering about the meaning of the cross and the empty tomb. And even when wisdom, knowledge, creativity, or any other tools fail us in preaching, it will suffice to simply repeat the promise of God as Jesus does: As surely as God has promised Good Friday, he is bringing resurrection power on Easter Sunday.