Just hours ago, I attended my church’s Good Friday service. As always, it was an unsettling time. A time to do three things: Remember Jesus’ death. Eat the elements. Go home.
There was no message about the resurrection. No announcement about Easter Sunday activities. No promise of coming hope.
Not that I’m complaining. In fact, I think Good Friday should point to the cross, not the resurrection. Because Jesus’ death is too important to forget. And it’s only bearable because in hindsight, we know it wasn’t the end. When Jesus spoke his last words – “It is finished” – he meant his work on earth in the flesh, not his whole story.
But back then, no one knew that.
Good Friday leaves Jesus’ followers – both then and now – walking away from a bloody corpse and wondering what just happened, yet knowing deep down that we are somehow responsible. You know: Jesus is dead. Because of me. Have a nice day.
And after yesterday’s Good Friday service, although I walked out into bright spring sunshine, I felt only that raw blackness of death – the emptiness of limbo – with no ray of hope.
Imagine Jesus’ followers on this same Saturday back then, locked away in a dark room, listening for footfalls outside that might be coming to take them. The previous three years with Jesus must have seemed so remote, so unreal. By now, Judas is rotting in a lonely field, and Peter is haunted by a rooster’s crow and the now-hollow words of the one he had called “Lord.” Maybe Thomas is picking at a thread in his robe, wondering how even he, the skeptic, could have been taken in. On this Saturday, their great leader, the one they trusted, is dead. Obviously he must have been a fake.
Yes, the disciples had seen his “miracles”. They had seen him heal the lepers, walk on water, and bring the dead back to life. All trickery? Wishful thinking? Dumb luck? How had this now-lifeless body fooled them so badly? Had they just wanted a messiah so much that they settled for the one with the coolest tricks? Were they really that desperate? I’m sure they asked themselves all of these questions and more.
And now it’s Saturday. Life goes on, and they must live with the consequences of their choice to follow him. They must not only watch their backs lest they too be killed, but they must also, I believe, face the torment inside their own heads: “What happened? How could I be so gullible? What now?” They must live with the regret of falling for Jesus’ scam. He’s gone, and with him the hopes and dreams of the last three years of their lives. Until they die, they will be perpetually stuck in limbo.
I understand the limbo of Saturday. I have lived in that limbo for six years. My postgraduate work died a permanent death, and there was no CPR or shock treatment that could jolt it back to life.
In this limbo there is no direction, no vision, no purpose. Like the disciples, I have locked myself away, paralyzed by fear and shame. Like them, I have sat in silence and replayed the past, trying to determine where it all went so wrong, where I missed the signs that should have told me to stop. And there’s no glimmer of resurrection because I can’t yet see Sunday, when the empty tomb is exposed, when the women come running and shrieking that he is alive.
So here’s my question: On that Saturday, why did the disciples hang around? Why didn’t they scatter in all directions? After Jesus’ death on Friday, the Jewish leaders who killed him would have been home celebrating the sabbath. A perfect chance for each disciple to flee the city and escape with his life.
But they didn’t. On Saturday, in the stunned silence after Friday, some crazy, inexplicable thing kept them in Jerusalem, gathered together.
What was it?
I think it was hope. A deep, unspeakable hope. Something inside each one made them stay.
Once, Peter even voiced this subconscious hope. Jesus had just given the hard teaching that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:53-58), causing many to feel so confused and creeped out that they left him. So Jesus turned to those who remained and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (v. 67). And Peter’s answer betrays both uncertainty and conviction: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (v. 68).
On this Saturday, after the horrors of Friday, I believe those words are still ringing in Peter’s ears, piercing through the pain and bewilderment of Jesus’ death.
I so desperately want to jump ahead to Sunday – knowing, as the disciples didn’t, that Jesus does rise again. But more often I must live in the limbo of Saturday – with Jesus still dead – and echo Peter’s words through the darkness.
Tomorrow, on Sunday, I can shout, “Jesus is risen!”
But today, on this rainy Saturday, I can only say: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”