Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24+Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16+1 Peter 4:1-8+Matthew 27:57-66
In the very early days of the Church, when people who thought about such things tried to figure out how to explain who Jesus was and what his life, death, resurrection, and ascension mean, they had a challenge in figuring out just what was going on while Jesus’s crucified body lay in that tomb. The First Epistle of Peter, which refers to the gospel being preached even to the dead, was written fairly late in the first century and maybe even early in the second. The Creeds in which we proclaim that “he descended into hell” came a couple of hundred years after that.
For the earliest believers, then, those who knew Jesus, who had followed him and listened to him and loved him and laughed with him? For them, this day, this Saturday that we call Holy, was a day I think most of us can understand. If you have been touched by death in your life, and at some point we all are, you know what that day after feels like. Time has stopped. You don’t even know what to think or to feel because a part of yourself has gone missing. There is a vast emptiness where your heart used to be. You hear the muffled sounds of the world carrying on around you and you want to shout, “How can you go about your business like normal when the world has been turned upside down because the one I love is no longer?”
We know that feeling. Over the past year, hundreds of thousands of families have experienced this because those who should know better, those whose responsibility it is to protect public health, failed to do their jobs, and our loved ones struggled for air, alone in isolation, as we said goodbye over Facetime. We know this feeling. A man is executed in public by an agent of the state, crying out, “Mama, I can’t breathe.” Oh yes, we know this feeling. The trauma, the anger, the fear, the all-consuming grief.
I give thanks to God that we live on this side of the resurrection. We know that the Way of the Cross leads not just to the tomb but to resurrection beyond. We can rejoice that, even as we imagine Jesus lying dead in a tomb, he is busting open the gates of hell, liberating Satan’s captives once and for all. No more death, only life in the nearer presence of God…forever.
But if that’s not where you are this morning, be comforted in this: God is with you. Just as God was with the Beloved one whose broken body lay in a garden tomb, God is with each of us. Too often, we try to bypass this day. We want to go straight from crucifixion to resurrection, disregarding the very real sorrow and bewilderment that comes with life as a human on this planet. We don’t walk around the valley of the shadow of death; we walk through it, and at our best, we accompany those who make that journey so that no one goes it alone.
Be assured that in death, as in life,
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24)