Holy Saturday: A God-Forsaken Silence of the Lamb
(My rambling thoughts on this holy reflection day…)
Holy Saturday. It’s a quandary for me. First, it’s not a day that I usually observed in the scope and sequence of my Protestant Evangelical upbringing. For that matter, neither was Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, or any other traditional observance of the Christian Calendar. We covered Christmas Day (more Santa than Jesus) and Easter (more new Spring clothes and candies than a resurrected Savior). Fast forward… Over the last decade of my life, I’ve become more aware and studied in the traditions of the Church and found that my faith and my daily experience with the Godhead and the people of God have been enriched in ways that words cannot describe. As much as I enjoy this aspect of my spirituality, I often get caught between the tensions of intellectual understanding and the mysterious unknowing. Reflections during the Holy Triduum (evening of Maundy Thursday thru evening prayers of Easter Sunday), cause me great tension as I wonder and wander in my mind over the events that span these days… Here follow some of my thoughts over the past couple days, a Midrash of sorts maybe:
The crucifixion of Jesus and the subsequent events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus are a profound mystery to me. I say I understand, but it’s more some measure of assent of agreement to what theologians say it is and what it represents or does for humanity. Honestly, there is far more I do not understand than what I truthfully do understand. The gaps in the Holy Triduum narrative lead us to much conjecture and likely much misunderstanding, but still, I think the tension has healthy benefits…or it can have healthy benefits.
There are some aspects of these “things unknown” that I struggle with more than others. One thing in particular is the reasoning of God for choosing the instrument used in the killing of Jesus (the cross and the subsequent act of crucifixion). Yes, I’ve heard and studied much of the ideas, thoughts, metaphors, allegories, and like that gives us plausible reasoning for the cross, but all of it still falls short of registering in my simple little mind. I don’t get it. Why the cross? Why crucifixion? I simply do not know. Though speculation and theories abound, none of them satisfactorily answer the questions I have, nor do they sufficiently purpose this means of death over and above the sacrificial death of any other holy person—there have been other martyrs, there have been other gruesome, tortuous deaths, and others have given their lives as a ransom for others. We respond, saying, “Yes, but Jesus was the Son of God” and this sets apart the crucifixion as a singular event in the history of humanity. At this juncture, most Christian believers just mute up and solemnly nod in agreement and smother their questions. I do not. As I said, I give affirmation of belief, but that doesn’t mean I understand. I can parrot all the theories and doctrinal statements of belief, but I still don’t understand. For me, it begins to boil down to whether or not the cross is truly the seminal event of the Christian faith. Most of my Christian upbringing leads me to say it was what I was taught; “It’s all about the cross” “It’s all about Jesus suffering in my place” “It’s all about the blood” “There had to be a price for sin…and Jesus paid the price.” I honestly have a tough time nodding my head in agreement that these are the seminal events of the faith I profess. Don’t misunderstand my thoughts, I do think these are pieces of the whole, but the seminal event??? No. I don’t believe that.
Am I saying the cross is not central to the Christian faith? I don’t think I would actually say those words, but I don’t believe I place the same level of importance on this event as what I was lead to believe. The death of Christ is central to the faith…but the instrument of death, I’m not so convinced other than it is associated with Jesus. In other words, had it been a poison lance or a hangman’s noose, either of these might be the little golden charms we hang on our walls or around our necks.
What then, is the critical event of the Christian faith? I say it is the resurrection (The apostle Paul seems to affirm this in his 1 Corinthians discourse chapter fifteen). This begins one of my main points of contention. Many Protestants, especially in the circles that I have traveled, focus almost entirely on the cross, suffering, and death of Christ. All of these are not as much about Christ as they are about Jesus taking “my” place. He suffered for “me.” He died in “my” place. In effect, a translation of this focus can become so “me” centered it loses the focus of redemption and reconciliation entirely. This is not true of the resurrection. The resurrection remains “we” centered. Perhaps that is why so many humans lose focus on the resurrected Christ and want to keep their eyes fixated on the suffering Christ. Again, I don’t know, but I wonder. Regardless, hyper-focalization on the death of Christ inadvertently minimizes the most important aspect of the Christian faith, the resurrection.
But what about those days in-between the death and resurrection of Christ, that Holy, Silent, despondent day when Christ was silent, dead, and buried.
The historical teaching of the Church proclaims Jesus descended into the underworld or place of the dead (the Harrowing of Hell) and defeated the captor of humanity. Exactly how this played out, I am unsure, but we profess similar in our confessions and creeds within the Christian Church. I have my own theory and piecemeal understanding—speculative I am sure—nonetheless, it is what I think I think for this season of my understanding.
In his death, Christ identified with humanity more intimately than at any point previously in his life. How? I think he identified with humanity more closely through his forsaken separation from God (the Godhead: oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Because Jesus was incarnate (born and lived as human flesh), because he agreed to become human and empty himself of his Divinity (Phil. 2:5-11), he was able to fully experience, understand, and identify with humanity what separation from God was truly like. Before this moment in time, God had never been separated from God. God agreed to break unity with himself for the sake of saving humanity. All his mortal life (Jesus) was readying him for this separation and preparing him for the moment it would take place. The tragedy and heartbreak of the Gethsemane prayers, pleading for the cup of sacrifice to be removed, all leading to this point. The travesty of separation was agreed to and accepted for the sole purpose of saving souls, the most wonderful creation of all of God’s created things, humanity. It’s all about the we…not the me.
This moment of “death” precipitated by the narrative of the cross, God-Forsaking-God, led to the Silence of the Lamb (Holy Saturday), but only in temporal time…only in what we could see and hear with our physically limited eyes and ears. In eternal time, happening at the same instance of death that Silenced the Lamb, eternity heard a roar from the Lion of Judah being born gloriously for all eternity, triumphantly redeeming and reconciling God’s greatest creation, human souls.
And thus… The God-Forsaken silence of the Lamb was eternity’s greatest triumph. This is why resurrection matters. It is why I adhere to proclaiming Christus Victor (Irenaeus) opposing a hyper-exaltation of Penal Substitution (Augustine). Christus Victor is all about the “we” while Penal Substitution can easily deteriorate into the age-old trappings of “me.” I have been crucified with Christ, so I might live eternally with Christ.
Saturday: Day 4 of Lent
Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God
I don’t know where the Spirit is leading me this Lent, but it is starting out with a very serious departure from my previous seasons of penance, contrition, and somberness. I have several devotional books that have been labeled specifically for Lent and I’m following the Daily Scripture readings from the Book of Common Prayer, providing evidence to me that I have not subconsciously planned or contrived the direction my heart is drawn. I will continue my practices and devotion, and follow where God leads.
I began my morning with reflection on Psalm 30 and 32. I came away from that reflection with the following as my prayer:
I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me—you restored my health, and brought me up from the grave. O LORD, you have kept me from falling into the pit of death. Weeping and my tears may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. You are the morning, my LORD, You are the Bright and Morning Star! You are my Joy! The Bringer of Light and the Giver of Life! You have turned my mourning into a morning of joy-filled dancing! I will sing joyful praises to you and not be silent. O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 30)
My disobedience is forgiven. My sin is put out of sight. The LORD has cleared my guilt. He forgave me! All my guilt is gone! I will give thanks to you, My God and King, I will praise you forever! (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 32)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything… God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds as we live in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 NLT)
The past three days, the Gospel reading has come from John 17. This passage of Scripture is among the most influential passages found in the whole Bible for the context of my spiritual development and continues to be one of the most formative passages of Scripture no matter how many times that I read it. There is something mysterious and divine about the energy that soaks into my soul each time I encounter Christ Jesus, the Living God, through this text. It is the prayer of Jesus, perhaps that is part of its mystery. I find this prayer always challenging and always inspiring. The promise and intercessory petition of God (Jesus) for us, his disciples, is mind-blowing.
Excerpted from John 17:9-26
My prayer is for those you have given me… Protect them, so they will be united just as we are… Keep them safe from the evil one. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message—I have given them the glory you gave me. I pray they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. I am in them and you are in me…May the world know you love them as much as you love me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…
Simply an amazing passage of Scripture. This, prayer of Jesus, is this God praying to God… himself? And praying for humanity, not only for his immediate disciples, but all those who will believe in him/Jesus through their message. Yes, that will make me inclusive in that prayer!!! One of the things that I find so moving about this prayer is how it reveals the heart of God in it. Jesus says as much; “I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…” (John 17:26). It seems safe, then, to me, to assume that what is happening in this narrative account of Jesus in the Garden is Jesus revealing God the Father, his heart for us, the loved ones who will follow him and believe in him.
I am so grateful for this “reveal” of God to me… it seems fitting for this season of my life. The “Type-A” personality I am, I can often be tempted to guilt over performance issues where I feel I am not ready, studying, writing, or praying enough (as far as Christian disciplines go). I sometimes feel my thoughts are dark, evil, and unholy… There is no shortage of stuff that can bring me down and I can be tempted by the darkness and doubt to accept a false image of God—not unlike the false image that was offered to Adam and Eve during their Garden Temptation, which they ultimately accepted. I can see where that has brought us. I don’t want that image or the catastrophe it brings; no thanks!
What I continue to learn and constantly affirmed is that the Father is far more loving that I can ever imagine. And this loving Father, according to the prayer of Jesus, loves me as much as he loves the Only Begotten Son (John 17:23). Out of this world AMAZING. How can I not praise HIM!!! How can my heart not be joy-dancing-Glad!??!
Here is what my heart sings today:
I am flesh, but I am Divine because Christ is in me.
I am mortal, but my soul is immortal, promised by God to be with Him forever.
I am broken, but in the process of being restored.
I was the son of Adam, but now am the adopted son of God through the Son of God
Glory be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Thursday the day after Ash Wednesday
Entering into the Ash and Dust…
It’s only day two and this is already seeming a different Lent for me. It will be interesting to see where the Spirit of God leads and what the Work of God does with me as I offer myself in this act of contrition and surrender.
I have outlined several disciplines I plan to engage in this next forty days (not counting Sundays), and making time to write and journal my thoughts more often is one of them. Another exercise I plan to engage is meditation and reflection on a series of self-examination questions, which I plan to share on the blog. The past couple years have been pretty lean with regard to my writing time and blogging efforts. I’ve wrestled with trying to push through my lack of desire and shortage of inspiration, but did not feel like forcing myself to write. There have been other challenges and more profitable ways to use my energy in the most recent season of my life. I have felt a bit more inspired lately and hope that I am able to find the energy, inspiration, and time to share the songs of my soul once again. We will see where this season takes us.
I begin this Lent 2016 blog with a prayer and an examination question.
Lord, may your Spirit guide me to seek your loving presence more and more. For it is there I find refreshment from the busy world.
Question: “How do I see God at this point or season of my life?”
I sat with this question for some time before actually engaging it and writing out my thoughts. Actually, I’ve been sitting with this question for the better part of a month now as it is one of the questions that I’ve offered to some of the discipleship groups I lead. It is interesting that the idea to blog through the list of questions came to me as I began to step into the Lenten Season. It’s interesting because of my response… Lent brings with it a sense of somberness. We are called to recognize our mortality; “Remember, it is from dust you came and it is to dust you shall return.” We are called to contrition and penance. We are called to reflect upon and share in the suffering of Christ as he journeys to and through his Passion. As I pondered my response to this question about “how I see God…” I was a bit surprised at the incongruity of my thoughts with expected feeling this season often brings.
From my journal…
I sense God is my always-present Counselor-Guide. I am not overwhelmed as often as I once was by the Divine, but I do not consider that a negative or irreverent thing. I don’t mean to convey that I am apathetic or without awe, because that is not true. I believe that God’s Presence with me has become familiar in a very good way. I am still swept away by His Glory at times and I am in awe at the grand mystery of a God who would dwell with and within me—but I am equally comforted and pleasantly “relaxed” in His Presence as I abide with him and he abides with me. I think this is how it is supposed to be and I am grateful and humbled that God has allowed me to experience this relationship with such joy and peace.
I think one of the more joyful and wonderful changes in my relationship with God and how I see Him in this season of my life is this:
I no longer drown in a sea of self-doubt, guilt, and shame. I do not worry about whether I “measure up” to God’s expectations (or what I believe are God’s expectations) of me. I do not feel mired or marred by sin. The Word of God teaches those who believe, receive, and follow, that he will wash away and separate us from our sin—His Word also promises that perfect love, who is Jesus, will cast away all fear. I am fearlessly loved and in love with my God, Jesus the Christ! This very real realization has changed everything about me and the way I see and perceive God. The yoke I carry as a bondservant to Christ is very light. The confidence I have and the knowledge of who I am has never been more powerful or clearer than at any other time in my life. This is all due to how I have come to know and see God in this season of my life.
So, I enter this season of penance and contrition feeling a bit lopsided. My heart sings and I want to continue my shouts of Alleluia, but I will honor the tradition of the Church and keep my alleluia quiet until Easter. I will offer the joy that God has given to me as an offering of sacrifice during this next forty days. I will share in his suffering and share in his Passion. This sacrifice will be part of my Lent.
One of my Scripture readings today came from the prophet Habakkuk. It was interesting to me as I read (Hab. 3:1-18), I found what I thought was a parallel of my own spiritual paradox of emotions with Habakkuk who writes the following:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even when the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me sure-footed as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (Hab. 3:1-18 NLT)
I love this from Habakkuk. I’d love to say I really identify with his words, but seriously, I’ve not been where he was. I’ve had a pretty easy life compared to most of the inhabitants of this world…even on my worst days. Nonetheless, I can identify when I look at the big picture that includes the realm of spirit and eternity. This life cannot compare to what God has intended for us. We are His children! We are stardust! We are comprised of the Mystery of the Divine! Made in the Image of God!
I love my faith! It is wholly a gift from God, and fully rooted in Him. I love the narrative of the Holy Scriptures that God has provided for those who will believe Him and believe in Him. I love the wisdom of God’ word and O love how it awaken my soul and affirms that God is with me, with me, and eternally for me. Praise Him. Amen!
My Prayer excerpted and personally modified from Psalm 37:1-24
I will trust in the LORD and do good. I will live safely in the land and prosper. I will take delight in the LORD, and he will give my hearts all its desires. I will commit everything I do to the LORD. I will trust him and he will help me. God will make my innocence radiate like the dawn. I will be still in the presence of my LORD, and I will wait patiently for him to act. I will not worry or be angry about evil people or their wicked schemes. I am learning that it is far better to be godly and have little than to bee evil and rich. Day by day the LORD takes care of the innocent—they will receive an eternal inheritance. The LORD directs my steps and delights in every detail of my life; though I stumble, I will never fall, for the LORD holds me in His hand.
Glory be to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.