Job 14:1-14+Psalm 31+Philippians 2:1-8+Matthew 27:57-66
Anyone who has ever lost someone dear to them knows the feeling of the morning after, when in those brief moments between sleeping and waking, the world is whole and right and normal. Slowly, the memory of a nightmare makes a hasty exit as the weight of reality crashes down, heavy on the chest, unbearable. Death has visited this house and left us all bereft.
On the morning after, in the praetorium where Pilate sits and where the day before he had condemned Jesus to die, another group of people were not mourning but were wracked with fear. Could what he said be true? Might he really come back from the dead? We can’t have that. So these soldiers, maybe the same ones who had spit and mocked and beat Jesus, return to that hillside just outside the city gates of Jerusalem, to the tomb that Joseph provided, and they sealed it.
Now, there was already a stone there, covering the entrance. To seal it was something different. It was to mark it with the seal of the emperor, or of Pilate as his representative. Anyone breaking that seal would be put to death. This is how afraid they were that maybe, just maybe, the story was true.
Job, also, wonders if it is possible. It is an interesting narrative choice to read from Job, a classic text of theodicy, of how God can allow bad things to happen to good people. We are at a point in this Job saga where he has lost everything – his wife, his children, his flocks, his land, his home. He is covered with sores and sits on an ash-heap and his less than helpful friends come to him and, rather than commiserating with him, suggest that he has done something to bring all of this on himself. In this section of chapter fourteen, he is on a rhetorical rampage, challenging God on the immutability of death. Trees get a second chance at life, why don’t we?
For there is hope for a tree,
if it is cut down, that it will be renewed,
and that its branches will not fail.
Its root grows old in the earth,
and its trunk dies in the dust.
At the scent of water it will bud
and put forth branches like a sapling.
Mortals die, and are carried away;
the woman-born perish, and where are they? (14:1-10)
And he begs to be hidden in Sheol, the realm of the dead, until his life is restored
If a person dies, will they live again?
until my change comes. (4:14)
A few chapters later, Job, the suffering one, holds fast to hope, to a new life that God has promised
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (19:25-27)
Perhaps the followers of Jesus knew this story, too. But the ending they knew was that Job was long dead. That resurrection had not happened for him or for anyone else since.
And so, on that first Holy Saturday, the women and men who followed Jesus were bereft. Just as we are when someone we love has died.
But we do not grieve as those who have no hope, as Paul writes. Like Job, we hold on fiercely to the promise that God has made to us and to all of humankind. Because in the face of such depths of sorrow, what else can we do?