When I preached regularly the Saturday of Easter weekend always seemed in some ways to me to be almost a day without meaning. The message of Good Friday flowed clearly from the cross and the suffering of Christ. Easter Sunday with the hope of the empty tomb seemed to almost preach itself, but what was the significance of Easter Saturday?
I am not sure that we can fully understand how Jesus’ disciples must have felt the day after he was crucified. They had believed in Jesus, followed Jesus and invested their lives in Jesus and it must have felt like it had all exploded in their face. Jesus was dead and all his promises must have appeared, to his fearful emotionally crushed followers, to be equally dead and buried. He had promised a new Kingdom, he had promised a new covenant, he had promised so much but on that first Easter Saturday it looked like his promises had been empty. In hiding somewhere in Jerusalem that odd group of Galilean fishermen, ex Jewish terrorists, Roman collaborators and woman who had dared to believe they were worthy of receiving and hearing the Word of God must have felt let down, abandoned and deserted by God.
That experience of feeling let down, abandoned and deserted by God, of feeling that God has not kept His promises was not and is not unique to these first followers of Christ. I have been with Christians who have been given a terminal diagnosis who have felt the same emotions. CS Lewis the great Christian apologist for a time felt utterly let down by God after his wife died. In the midst of family break downs, chronic illnesses, friendships that have gone wrong and businesses gone bust many Christ followers have tasted something of what James and John and Peter, Mary and Martha and the rest of them did the day after Jesus died. There were times in the middle of my recent mental health problems when God’s promises seemed to me to be hollow and my past faith in them a delusion.
Its precisely when we feel those emotions of disappointment and disillusionment with God that Easter Saturday has significance for us. Its message is that we cannot always trust our emotions. Our other reading for today comes from Paul, it was written after Easter looking back and seeing what could not be seen that first Easter Saturday. It tells us that God was not inactive or absent that day, in fact nothing could have been further from the truth.
“13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He cancelled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” Colossians 2:13-15
Paul sees clearly after Easter what Peter and the other disciples couldn’t have seen that first Easter Saturday. It felt to them like God had abandoned them, disappointed them, failed them but that was not the truth. Behind the scenes of history at the point of their greatest despair God was achieving His greatest victory on their behalf. We cannot fully understand how but on that Saturday God was orchestrating Christ’s triumph on their and our behalf over sin and death. The disciples’ emotions however strong and however rooted in what they had experienced and could see were nevertheless wrong. God had not abandoned them but was working for their salvation in a way they could not yet see or comprehend. At their blackest moment God was never more committed to fulfilling His promises to them. Easter Sunday unveiled the truth, God had never abandoned them, he had never forsaken or forgotten His promises to them but had been working to fulfil them.
As this year goes on there will be times when we need to think again of Good Friday. Christians need to return time and again to the message of the Cross of sins forgiven, of evil defeated and loved displayed and inspired. There will be times to celebrate Easter Sunday, to rejoice and find hope in the Empty Tomb, we need to remember we serve a Risen Saviour not simply follow the example of dead martyr. I suspect there will also be times when we might need to remember the significance of Easter Saturday too. Experiences may well come our way which will have the capacity to leave us feeling deserted and disappointed by God. We may go through times where we can see and feel no evidence of God’s hand at work in our lives or God’s presence with us in our situations. It is in those occasions we need to remember and return to the message of Easter Saturday that our emotions are no more reliable than the first disciples’ were. The significance of Easter Saturday is that whatever we see or don’t see or whatever feel or don’t feel, the truth is that God has not abandoned us or forgotten His promises but is at work in the situation in ways we cannot see and cannot yet imagine. Saturday has significance!