The Last Day of the Week

7 Apr

Since sundown last night, they were forced to be still.  No work to keep their hands busy was allowed.  An afternoon nap was acceptable, but who could sleep after yesterday’s events?  Everything they had believed in and lived for died with Him.  And now, by Law, they could do nothing.

The Day of Preparation (Friday, the day before the Sabbath) had been bursting with events like no other.  Jesus was marched through Jerusalem carrying His cross, crucified between two thieves, and left there to find His way to death during which He forgave His executioners.  He died, confirmed by the water and blood that flowed from the sword wound in His side, and was wrapped in cloths and laid in a tomb by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

The Passover Sabbath was especially holy as stories about the night before the escape from Egypt hundreds of years ago were fresh in everyone’s minds told at Seder meals a few days earlier.  Every Jewish household slaughtered a lamb and smeared its blood above the front door and on the side-posts from a bowl on the threshold.  Jesus’ followers had plenty of time to think on the Sabbath after His death.  Did they remember the Passover sacrifice and notice the foreshadowing of Messiah in the ritual?

Several main players, Pilate, the Roman Prefect, and the Jewish chief priests and Pharisees, were busy on the Sabbath making sure that the tomb was guarded and sealed.   They are the only ones mentioned in the four Gospels on Saturday.  The women who followed Jesus saw where He was buried on the day of preparation, observed the Sabbath, then made their way to the tomb at sunrise on the first day of the week.  The disciples aren’t mentioned at all until Mary finds the tomb empty and runs to tell them.

So what was everyone who had followed Jesus for the last few years doing the day after He died?  We don’t know.  We know that observing the Sabbath required two things: resting from all work and acknowledging God.  But what each follower of Jesus did on the Sabbath between His death and the first day of the week isn’t recorded in Scripture.  Did they go to the temple without their Rabbi to worship with the overflowing crowd who had come to Jerusalem for Passover?  Did they sleep, trying to forget the ache in their hearts?  Did they hide from the vicious occupying army that had just killed the One they thought was Messiah, the One who would free them from the Romans?  Did they wonder if they had imagined it all?  Did they decide it had been a too-good-to-be-true dream and return to their homes?  Were they able to rest?  Could they acknowledge God?

Maybe my imagination and curiosity are too active.  I always want to know the back-story.  It helps me understand and put myself into what was happening.  And when information is missing, I wonder why.  Why, when there is so much detail about all the other days surrounding this most important week of all weeks, is this Sabbath barely mentioned?  Was God too busy with what was going on in the spiritual realm to pay attention to a handful of His Son’s disciples?  Why are the details from this day not in the Bible?

I don’t have a clue.  I wish I did.  Every year on the day before Resurrection Sunday, I ask myself the same question.

And every year, looking at the context of Saturday – smack-dab in between Crucifixion and Resurrection-I come around to the same, somewhat cliché, observations which I humbly offer in the absence of definitive answers.

+  The horror of Jesus’ death needed to truly sink in before His resurrection.  (Of course, the three days in the grave also fulfilled prophecy and was medical proof that He was really, completely dead.)  Without the agonizing time to take in what had just happened, the joy of the Resurrection would have been more like a head-jerking surprise.  “Wait… didn’t you just… die??”

+  God often does His greatest work when everything we see and know is absolutely dark, and waiting is part of the process.  We don’t know what His followers actually did, but we DO know they were distraught, probably in the darkest days of their lives, and unable to do anything except rest and acknowledge God.  I find it interesting that the chief priests remembered that Jesus said He would rise on the third day, so they asked that guards be posted and the tomb be sealed.  None of the disciples goes to the tomb on the third day in expectation or just plain curiosity to check out whether Jesus’ prophecy comes true or not.  On the contrary, the women only discover that that the tomb is empty because they are bringing spices to complete His burial anointing.  They didn’t expect Him to rise.  They thought it was over, and God lets them wait.

+  Timing is one of God’s most creative tools.  He often does what I think He should, but not according to my timeline.  He gets it right every time and at the right time.  Our part is waiting.  Waiting is part of what it means to be human.  We are bound by time– He is not, yet He works within time for our benefit, orchestrating each event masterfully.  Providing a day before displaying His power over death brought glory to His Son and proved that He is God.  Ultimate good came from temporary agony.

I still want to know what was going on during that Sabbath when it seemed to the scattered followers of a not-yet-risen Messiah to be the longest Sabbath rest of their lives.  Maybe the not knowing, at least for me, intensifies the search for Truth.

That is a good enough answer for me.


Heart check for Sunday

Set aside time to wait with your Lord.

Acknowledge Him, especially in any situation you are waiting for Him to act or to receive His answer.

Get ready to celebrate: Death is defeated; He has won!


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