Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.

Psalm 50:14-15

 

My favorite control on the television remote is the “fast forward” button. Having recorded a show on the DVR, being able to skip over the uninteresting parts (or, more importantly, the annoying commercials) is one of the delightful benefits of modern technology. Unfortunately for those of us who have gotten used to that technology, real life doesn’t have a fast forward button.

Girls peeking around the corner in surprise.But, our memories, and the stories that shape them, do. In our minds, we can replay our favorite highlights and skip over the parts we don’t like. So it is with the story of Jesus. Today is Holy Saturday – the day between Good Friday and Easter. In my experience, today feels a bit like an intermission in a play. Lots of drama happened before; lots of drama is yet to come. Today is a pause – time to reflect on what’s transpired, and to ponder about what it might mean for the coming act. For those of us familiar with the Holy Week story of Jesus, we have seen the ending of the play. So, there’s little surprise. It leaves us with a vague desire to “fast forward” over Holy Saturday to get to the main event of Easter.

But, that lack of surprise – and the resulting desire to fast forward over Holy Saturday – is unfortunate. If the gospel accounts are clear about anything, it is how surprising the events of Good Friday and Easter were to the first followers of Jesus. I would suggest that Holy Saturday is an important way for us to re-enter the story lest we, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “have the experience and miss the meaning.” (The Dry Salvages)

In my last reflection, I talked about how God is personally and deeply engaged in human history, including our personal history, even though we often see little evidence of it. In the language of the Exodus, God hears – God sees – God knows (Exodus 2:24). Still, when God actually shows up during Holy Week, it is a surprise. Not only a surprise, but shockingly so. Eugene Peterson wonderfully captures this sense in his translation of the beginning of chapter 53 of Isaiah: “Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought GOD’s saving power would look like this?” (The Message)

Who could have imagined that the God of Creation – the One who is wholly Other – would become the truly human one? Even if that were possible, who could have imagined that the God of Creation – the One who is Ruler of All – would become the servant of the least? And, even if that were possible, who could have imagined that the God of Creation – the One who is utterly Holy – would take on the sin of the world? The Creator of the all things enters into the chaos created by the Creator’s image bearers, and bears the full weight of their consequences, all of history’s horrors and evil, known and unknown, public and private. It is all utterly unimaginable and inconceivable.

No wonder the early disciples had trouble getting their minds and hearts around this. Holy Saturday is a day for us to recover that sense of surprise. It is too easy to let the familiarity of the Holy Week story obscure its astonishing claims. Holy Saturday also reminds us that we live “in between” times. As followers of Jesus, we live our lives between Good Friday and Easter, between Christ’s work of redemption and new creation, and its ultimate fulfillment. So, Holy Saturday reminds us that we live paradoxically with a sense of wonder at what God has already accomplished even as we yearn for all that is yet to be fulfilled.

But, we begin with wonder. Holy Saturday reminds us to recover our sense of wonder at what’s already happened on Good Friday even as we wait with anticipation of the fulfillment of Easter in the final resurrection. Familiarity with the story can trigger our fast forward reflex. Today is a good day to slow down and ponder the Holy Week story in detail. In the words of today’s text, we need to remember the surprising way in which God has already fulfilled his promise: I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

What parts of the Holy Week story is most familiar to you? What parts of the story surprise you?

How do you respond to the gospel’s claim that God has become human? That he has come as a servant? That he has taken on the sin of the world?

This Holy Saturday, how can you remember what God has already done for you? What do you still yearn for God to do for you?

PRAYER:

Lord Jesus Christ, we are grateful for the astonishing work that you have done for all human beings and for the creation itself. You alone have done what we have been unable to do. We have sold ourselves for nothing, and you have bought us back at the cost of yourself.

We have unleashed forces of darkness and chaos in our own lives and in the world. You have restored light and order by your rule in our lives and in the creation you entrusted into our care.

Help us to live in response to your work in our lives. May the story of Good Friday create a sense of wonder and gratitude that shapes our life and work. May the promise of Easter provide light in the dark places of our journey.

We ask in your name, Amen.

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2 Responses to Lenten Journey, Part 4 – Surprise

  1. Cliff Wilson says:

    Thank you, Uli. You have challenged us to surrender to the “wonder”…”amazement” and live into the experience. Abraham Heschel wrote, “to be amazed is to be spiritual”. Keep pushing, guiding us to see and live into the meaning.

  2. Thank you for reminding us so clearly of the paradoxical time in which we live and our need to be aware of it and to live into it. I also appreciated the third set of questions. (BTW, the 2nd to the last sentence in the 5th paragraph, may need a correction: “The Creator of the all things” to “The Creator of all things.”)