“Obedience, I believe, is a manifestation of hope.”
I was talking with a friend last year on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. My friend, who had not attended the Good Friday service at his church, had just received an email from someone who had. In the email they told my friend, “Finally, I went to a Good Friday service that I enjoyed. It was joyful!”
The comment took me back to Good Friday services I’ve been in where either the music or the message¾or both¾could not resist the urge to rush ahead to Sunday morning. On those occasions I’ve wanted to stand up shout, “Slow down! Be patient! Easter is a three-day weekend!” I’ve been able to quell the urge so far. But I truly do believe that each day of this holy weekend holds truth we need to hear¾if we are patient enough to listen.
Good Friday. “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’¾which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ ” (Mark 15:33-34).
There is a commercial on the cable TV listing channel for a hair restoration and replacement company. These words of Jesus in Mark’s account of Good Friday reminded me of it. The commercial is populated by hair loss sufferers giving testimony to the life-changing power of their new hair. One woman looks intently into the camera and says, “You don’t know how good it feels when someone looks at me and says, ‘My God, you have beautiful hair,’ and I say, ‘Thank you.’ ” You can blame my dad for helping me make a connection between the words of Jesus and a commercial about hair loss. One of the many gems of wisdom he imparted to his sons was: “Make sure you put the emphasis on the right syllable.” When I read the words of Jesus, this is how I hear them: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The emphasis changes everything. It changes those two words, “My God,” from a common expletive into a passionate personal address. Putting the emphasis in a different place turns what could be an angry inquisition into a poignant plea.
Life can bring us to this place where we feel abandoned by our God. A pastor once described a dark season of his life to me by saying, “I preached the love of God through gritted teeth, my fists clenched tight behind my back.” King David had been there. And in the darkness of that Friday morning, Jesus prays the prayer David prayed in his hour of darkness: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1a). We know that God had not forsaken David. We also know that David dared to be passionately honest with God. It was this passionate honesty that Jesus reached for in His hour of deepest suffering.
Friday invites me to keep the emphasis in the right place. God remains my God, even when His absence feels more tangible than His presence.
Holy Saturday. “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:41-42).
“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. They went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment” (Luke 23:55, 56).
Check out your local mall or grocery store on the Saturday of Easter weekend. For many people, Christians included, it has become the day to do all the stuff we couldn’t do on Friday because the stores were closed. It is a busy day, filled with activity.
For the disciples, Saturday was the Sabbath. Friday, Preparation Day, was over, consumed by the horrible events of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. The only preparation they’d accomplished was a loving but hasty interment of the broken body of Jesus. In the Gospel accounts of this weekend, Saturday is a silent day of waiting. The only thing we’re told they did was what they had done every Sabbath day of their Jewish lives¾“they rested … in obedience to the commandment.” Obedience, I believe, is a manifestation of hope. They must have felt numb, confused and afraid. Yesterday, life had been turned upside down. They had no idea what tomorrow might bring. But they waited with hope.
In between is an uncomfortable place to be. When I find myself there, Saturday teaches me to keep doing the things I know to do, and to wait with hope.
Resurrection Sunday. “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ ” (John 20:19-22).
The disciples have locked the doors for fear. Jesus’ first words to them are, “Peace be with you!” He says it again after showing them His wounded hands and side. He doesn’t scold them for being afraid. First He gives them His peace. Then He gives them the Holy Spirit and a message of forgiveness and sends them out into the world they were afraid of.
Sunday reminds me that fear locks the door. It is Christ’s peace that unlocks it and sends me out into the world with the news that Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
May you experience a rich and meaningful three-day Easter weekend.
This editorial appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.