It seems that, by stroke of good fortune, I have been assigned to post on the week right after Easter for a second year in a row. Good deal. I love Easter.
As contemporary Christians, our observance of Holy Week is largely an act of remembering. And in a sense, by remembering we “relive” the experience of witnessing Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. For while we weren’t present in person the first time, when we recall His journey to the tomb and back, we allow ourselves to move through the emotional progression from grief to triumphal exaltation. On Maundy Thursday we remember the Last Supper and anticipate Christ’s crucifixion. On Good Friday we mourn His death on the cross. On Holy Saturday, we wait and grieve. On Easter Sunday, we rejoice at His resurrection.
This Easter felt different from former years. Not because of corona and the strange experience of celebrating in isolation (although that was different, for sure). No, this Easter felt different because this year has been the hardest year of my short twenty, and there is something quite significant about recalling Jesus’ victory when all one sees is loss. Long before corona shook everything up, God had opened the floodgates on a lot of hard (but necessary) realizations about my weaknesses, fallenness, and self-perception. Winter break felt devastating, and since then I’ve felt weighed down by a deep heaviness. An undercurrent of sadness and loss seems to taint even the best of days; sometimes I don’t even know why. All I know is that for the past year– and especially the past three months– I’ve felt stuck.
Is this what the disciples felt on Holy Saturday? Like the worst has already been done but now the hard task of moving forward remains without direction for how to get there? Like the horrifying realization that everything is different has hit, and on Saturday they have no idea what to do next? If it is, then I feel like I’ve been stuck at Holy Saturday for months now.
For a while, I’ve asked God to provide some amount of emotional resolution and growth past everything from winter break. In some ways, He did by providing a great beginning to my Spring semester. But the heaviness remains, and I’ve often wondered if it is an inescapable part of my personality. In words of Julie in Lady Bird, “some people aren’t built happy, you know?” Maybe the sadness would never subside; there would be no upturn from the hard realizations of winter break. Perhaps this “dark night of the soul” would remain and life would never be quite as colorful as before. This kind of hopelessness only adds to the heaviness.
But that’s not how God works, is it. That’s certainly not how Holy Week ended, as dark and stagnate as Holy Saturday was. Yes, perhaps those realizations of my fallenness will not be quickly resolved. Perhaps they are rooted in aspects of my personality that will require lifelong confrontation. But in Jesus’ story the sun rose, Saturday became Sunday, and darkness was defeated.
The doctrine of union with Christ says that Jesus’ story is my story. Because I am in Him and He is in me, His death on the cross was mine too– the death of my sinful self. Likewise, His resurrection was my resurrection. Rankin Wilbourne writes thus: “When we are in Christ, every part of Christ’s life, not only his death, has significance for us. We share in his life and obedience, his death and his resurrection, even his ascension! We participate in another’s victory. All that is his becomes ours” (Union with Christ, page 45).
Union with Christ shows up throughout Scripture. In 2 Corinthians 4:10-12 Paul wrote, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
As Paul indicates, there is an “already but not yet” aspect to our union with Christ. My death and resurrection have already been finished and sealed by Christ’s blood. Yet there is also an ongoing quality to this dying and resurrecting; so long as sin continues to ravage the world, the painful process of dying to self will continue. “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.” As the Holy Spirit does its sanctifying work, the process of being “resurrected” will involve His life being revealed in our weak, mortal selves.
Perhaps my winter break was what it felt like to begin carrying this ongoing death in a spiritual sense– to come to terms with sin, fallenness, and weakness and to begin dying to self. If this is the case, then yes, the months since have been an extended time in Holy Saturday. Redemption and restoration are not quite in site, and all I can do is wait for God to work. Perhaps I will remain in Holy Saturday for a long while yet. That’s ok. Holy Saturday is endurable so long as I can be confident that Easter Sunday will come, eventually. If anything, the waiting and grief from Holy Saturday make Easter Sunday so much better.
Because I am united with Christ, I will be brought to resurrection life– both eschatologically and continually, in the seasonal trials I go through as a twenty-year-old. It’s a work in progress, but I am increasingly confident that this is true, and that the heaviness will not always persist. There will come a time when I feel lighter, when I feel newness of life and see the redemption of my realizations from winter break. For Jesus, Holy Saturday had its moment. But there came a time when the sun rose and with it, resurrection.
All this is true for everyone who is in Christ. So for anyone who is overwhelmed and stuck, waiting for Saturday to end:
Take heart. Sunday is coming.