“I get Friday, and I get Sunday. But why Saturday?” This was the question Pete Wilson proposed in his sermon at Cross Point Church last week. We understand clearly from Scripture why Jesus had to die on Saturday. He was the perfect blood sacrifice that covered the sin of the world. And we understand why Easter Sunday was the best day for all of humanity. It meant that Someone had the power to overcome death once for all. But why Saturday? Why didn’t Jesus raise from the dead on Saturday morning? Why leave the ones he loved the most in that dark space of waiting?
On Friday they watched all their hopes and dreams die. They realized this was not going to end the way they thought it would. In fact ever since the crazy events in the garden, things felt horribly out of control. The ending was coming much sooner than they thought it would. The end was much more difficult and disastrous than they could imagine. Friday ended with the hasty burial on their most beloved Rabbi. The one they had watched heal others and raise others from the dead seemed incapable of saving himself. No one understood.
As dark as Friday was, I imagine that Saturday was even darker. In God’s perfect timing it was the Sabbath, and even though there was much work to do, nothing could be done. Having nothing to distract your mind from the pain only makes you more aware of how much your heart hurts. I wonder if the Ice Queen side of the disciples kicked in. I imagine one of them suggesting they send for a prophet who could lay on his body like Elisha had done. But no messages could be sent. The women worried about all the things they should have done to the body yesterday , but didn’t have time to do. But they could go nowhere and buy nothing. Maybe some suggested war and taking up arms, but it was a holy day and everyone was scattered. Maybe instead of fighting they would organize a peaceful protest, a march or a sit in. But then they remembered what had just happened to their peaceful Teacher. But every idea fell apart when they asked, “What’s the point?” The world marched in Sabbath tradition as they sat still in fear and sadness.
The disciples searched their feeble memories trying to make the pieces fit, but their light was gone. The darkness had come. And silently it held them captive.
I looked in the gospel accounts to see what was said about Saturday. All it says is “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:56) Nothing much is said about the longest day in history. But based on where we find the players on Sunday, we can assume that they had lost it. They were filled with fear, not faith. They woke up Sunday not expecting a miracle, but expecting to find a dead body. Even after the women had seen him on Sunday morning, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8) When the women returned with the good news, it did not go into hearts eager and willing to believe. “And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” (Mark 16:13-14)
On Saturday they did not remember the words of Jesus. They didn’t remember until they the angel on top of the empty tomb reminded them. (Luke 24:8) “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:12) Jesus says to the two on the road to Emmaus, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25) He says to the disciples, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38) “For as yet they did not understand the Scriptures.” (John 20:9) “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) Even after many disciples saw him standing there in the flesh, the Bible says “but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17)
Sometimes in my waiting, in my long Saturday, in my wasteland, I have lost it. I have doubted what God has said. I have dared God to prove himself. I am not a stellar example of faith in the midst of trial. In fact, I have failed the test miserably. But the Resurrection didn’t happen because of the disciples’ perfect faith. It didn’t happen because they prayed so much and believed that everything would work out for good. It didn’t happen because they held fast to their faith. It didn’t come because they wouldn’t stop hoping for a miracle.
The Resurrection came because God keeps his promises. It came for the glory of God. It came because God so loved the world that he sent his Son into it to redeem it. Christ is the only person to have ever raised himself from the dead with no outside help. He didn’t need the faith of the disciples. He didn’t need their prayers or good deeds to overcome death. He was God.
Because of Saturday, no one could say “He wasn’t really dead.” Because of Saturday, none of the disciples could say “I knew it, and I prayed for this to happen.” Saturday was there so that everything could die and be really dead. In the wasteland, everything must die. My pride, my dreams, my hopes, my selfish desires, my idols, my good deeds. But Saturday is good because without complete death, there is no resurrection.
So the really good news is that my complete lack of faith and utter disbelief can be forgiven because of the work Jesus did on the cross. As I sat in church last Sunday, I wept because I felt him compassionately put his arm around me and say, “You are forgiven. Come home.” He knows how dark the darkness is. He knows that I am weak and not perfect. And I know this is exactly why I desperately need him in my life.
As we walk through Saturday and we lose faith and doubt and dare and tremble with fear, let us take comfort that God is bigger and greater and more powerful than our doubts and our fears. The Resurrection will come, not because of me, but because God keeps his promises.