It's a lovely spring day here in the northwest, perhaps the first actual spring day we've had, with cerulean skies, tulips beginning to bloom and temperatures warm. I sewed a binding onto a quilt this morning, then took a book to the back patio where I enjoyed the sunshine while Beve mowed the grass and the dogs lay on the deck, sunning themselves. Chatted for a few moments with our neighbor, whom we see more often once the rain stops and we venture outside to work in our yards. In a few moments, SK, who's home for the weekend, is going down to the farmer's market, and later, both daughters and I are meeting one of my college friends and her daughter for tea. Yep, it's a typical Saturday in the spring, full of work and activities and busyness and running here and there and, "I'll meet you," and "If you drop me..." You know how these things go, if you're planners--like we surely are.
But the Saturday after that Friday--you know, that Friday--was not just a Saturday like we know it, the part of the weekend when we don't work but try to cram household and play altogether into a single day. It may not be actual labor we're paid for, but we often work as hard as if it it was. But not for these men and women who had traveled with Jesus. See, they were Jews, observant, practicing, loyal devout Jews whose Torah had told them of a coming Messiah--told them and their ancestors--for thousands of years. These called out disciples and the others who followed as well, were the ones who recognized Jesus as the Messiah who'd been promised. And His coming and dwelling among them, full of grace and truth, didn't immediately make them throw off those centuries of heritage. In fact, in order for them to even accept that a person could become a follower of Jesus without also becoming a Jew would take a vision so intense it caused Peter to go blind, then some fairly difficult disagreements among the top-rung of the flock.
So on this first Saturday after His death, His followers were Jewish. And that means that this wasn't merely a weekend day, or a day like any other, but the Sabbath. The day of rest. "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy," says the 4th commandment. But unlike most of the other commandments (except the one about making a graven image), this commandment elucidates what this means and why. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. ON it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in it, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy."
There were many, more precise laws about what a person could or couldn't do on Sabbath, but more importantly, what it was meant for was a set aside day--a sacred assembly-- to worship and honor God, as a sign of His covenant, and remember His salvation. This was His command. Not just any old command as part of the larger whole in Torah, but one of the Ten, the BIG Ten which Moses went up on the mountain to get, came down once and broke all over the place in anger and had to get another set. Part of that Ten. In other words, nothing to mess around with.
So here's the deal: these-"Follow me and I'll make you fishers of men", leave-everything, disciples have just seen (or heard via the proverbial grapevine) the Messiah crucified. THE MESSIAH. God's chosen one whom they always hoped would come, believed had come, has been taken, stone dead, from the cross and quickly placed in a borrowed tomb because the sun's about to set and when it does, the Sabbath will begin. And when that happens, when that sun sets and the Sabbath starts, all these 3-year-old, if that, followers will be expected to bow their heads in worship of God.
Right? Expected to say, "Shema yisrael. Adonai elheynu Adonai echad."--"Hear O Israel. The Lord our God The Lord is one." Expected to cover their faces with their right hands, speak the words of this most holy of texts and honor their God with everything they had. And mean it. But.
But...on this first Sabbath after Jesus died, this black Sabbath, if you will, the axis on which the world tips and spins seemed to have broken. It must have. Don't you think? How could these followers of Jesus worship God with anything resembling honesty when--as they'd laid down their work and walked away from their work--to coin a phrase that was likely ringing in their ears, "God had forsaken them"?
Now I know and you know, if we've read the gospels, that Jesus had told them in many and varied ways, what was going to happen. In literature, it's called foreshadowing, these clues he was giving them. But these people were dumb as posts that week. They really were. Grief can do that to a person. I've lived through enough to know that. And I've read enough of their story to see that it was true for them as well. If they'd really understood, they wouldn't have run away from His cross, wouldn't have been hiding behind locked doors, and wouldn't have returned to their fishing boats later. No, they didn't have a clue that Jesus' "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it again," was to be taken literally. (John 2:19) But, of course, we have to give them a pass about it, because not one of us would have been any different.
But, it turns out that God intended it just this way. At least that's what I think. I think the pain of Friday and the subsequent inability to worship honestly on the Sabbath were the necessary prelude to what God intended on the first day of the week. They make the magnificence, the glorious, unprecedented, never-before, nor never-again joy of what happens tomorrow all the more profound. The floodgates of victory, freedom, love...of everything...of tomorrow!
And that, my friends, is what it's all about.