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Holy Saturday Living

April 6, 2016

Photo by Chris Nickels. Taken on March 26, 2016 outside the drone war command center in Horsham, PA.

I’ve rarely done anything special on Holy Saturday. As a Christian pastor Holy Week is normally full of worship services and and events that help the congregation trace the steps of Jesus to the cross, as well as preparing to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. Saturday is often a time to rest, reflect, and catch my breath in the midst of  the season (and to try to answer the questions about Jesus’ death that my inquisitive children are now beginning to ask).

The bible doesn’t say much about Holy Saturday, though some passages can be helpful for reflection on this day (the lectionary offers Lamentations 3:1–9, 19–24, Psalm 31:1–4, 15–16, 1 Peter 4:1–8, and John 19:38–42). Whatever happened on the original Holy Saturday, we know that Jesus entered into the reality of death. Though we look forward to Easter Sunday, perhaps Holy Saturday could be a formational instrument for followers of Jesus.

Christopher Hays suggests that Holy Saturday should be thought of as a day of quiet and of mission to those who are suffering(1). Claudia Highbaugh notes that “[Holy Saturday] is a day for us to witness to the reality of suffering, even as we call out for God’s presence”(2). I like these ideas and the possibilities for actively living into the Holy Week story.

“Endless war” is a name for a manifestation of suffering and death in our world today. I was a delegate at the Mennonite Church USA Convention last summer, and there we passed a resolution concerning endless war defining it as,

a different kind of war, without traditional armies operating under rules of war. The entire world is the battlefield. The enemy is shifting and ill-defined; sometimes it is a group with a history of recent collaboration with the U.S. Often the enemy is described vaguely as “terror” or “insecurity.” (3)

War becomes a constant state, and one of the ways this is carried out is through drone warfare. The resolution linked above names some of the terrible consequences of using these death from a distance machines. As a follower of Jesus (an innocent killed through state violence), I believe that war is not the will of God and that these tactics which create the opposite of God’s shalom should be exposed for what they are-a path that leads to destruction (Mt 7:12-14). Additionally, many citizens are likely unaware of what is being done in the name of their “security,” the effect this has on innocent people abroad, as well as the consequences for drone operators at the controls.

The resolution had three action steps. The first was to call congregations to renewed the emphasis on trusting God and the way of Jesus instead of violence. The second calls our denomination to “ministries of healing and renewal in response to the moral injuries experienced by those who feel the guilt for having killed in the name of security and experienced by those who feel no guilt for the killing done on their behalf.” The third action step involved seeking public ecumenical witness(4), demonstrating the spirit of Psalm 20:7:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Since the resolution passed I’ve wanted to find ways to begin living it out. One way I do this with my congregation is through participation in a local church and veterans network. Through this network we have had members trained in trauma awareness specific to veterans (and their families), and we have also participated in coordinated public witness to show love to veterans who are suffering from tremendous burdens. I have also felt the desire to personally commit to a more active peace witness in light of the harsh realities of “endless war.”

So on Holy Saturday this year I attended a protest. The base where the drone command center is located is very familiar to me, as I grew up nearby. Here I met a number of faithful peacemakers who instantly welcomed me into the cause. For a few hours on a Saturday we held our signs at one of the Philly suburbs busiest intersections as hundreds of vehicles passed by. Some drivers showed their displeasure with unpleasant comments and hand gestures. Yet I was pleasantly surprised by the greater number of travelers who honked in support of the witness or gave a thumbs up. I also noticed some drivers slowing down to read the signs and banners as they drove past. If they become interested in learning more, then perhaps this was a small sign of renewal in these brief moments.

I’ve tried to put myself into the story of the original Holy Saturday, thinking about what it would have felt like from the perspective of those who were there. Being touched by tragedy, feeling completely overwhelmed, and not having the benefit of knowing what would happen on the third day, means I would just have to live into the reality of the present day. Though I might have an expectation for God’s kingdom to come in Christ, it sure feels like death is winning the day. Life probably kept on going for many other people. And yet it still feels like we should be doing something, no matter how small or insignificant.

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Lk 23:50-56 NRSV)

Joseph went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And a small group-Joseph and the women-lived into Saturday as they intentionally cared for Jesus. When you believe that all life is precious then when someone dies you acknowledge them, remember them, and faithfully care for them. Perhaps your action could be a witness to the governor-who might learn that even the life of his supposed enemy is precious.

The folks I met at the protest reminded me of these faithful friends of Jesus. They are waiting and working expectantly for peace-some of them have been for decades. They are faithfully doing what needs to be done in the Saturday of violence and death.

I noticed that if a driver yelled an obscenity or made a derogatory comment, the gentleman standing next to me would calmly respond by offering the peace sign to each detractor. As I drove home I continued to think about his simple action and witness. And while on a stretch of route 202 I was reminded of the risen Jesus, who walked around a fearful world offering the greeting, “Peace be with you.” This gentleman was doing a small thing, but it made a significant impact on me. Standing up and offering a word of peace is part of the work on Saturday.

In reflecting on the above Luke text, N.T. Wright offered the following:

“Our part is to be prayerfully faithful in the small things that we can see need doing. We cannot tell what God will then do.” (5)

I met folks at the protest whose witness for peace totally puts mine to shame. They inspire me and give me hope. So I’ll be back again to join them, because there will be more Saturdays and more small things to do to promote peaceful alternatives in the face of fear. And I’ll wait expectantly for what God will do.

Peace be with you.

(1) Christopher B. Hays, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) Kindle Locations 11000.

(2) Claudia Highbaugh, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) Kindle Locations 11150.

(3) “Resolution: Faithful Witness Amid Endless War,”

(4) Ibid.

(5) N.T. Wright, Lent for Everyone: Luke, Year C (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) 112.


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