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Passion week has names for many of the days we celebrate: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, but Saturday has no special name. It's called Holy Saturday, but I think it should have its own name. It's that in-between day. I don't know what you did yesterday, but I was out in the rain burying my septic tank, and for me that is appropriate.

Philip Yancy writes about Saturday in The Jesus I Never Knew:

The other two days have earned names on the church calendar: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet in a real sense we live on Saturday, the day with no name. What the disciples experienced in small scale'three days in grief over one man who had died on a cross?we now live through on cosmic scale. Human history grinds on, between the time of promise and fulfillment. Can we trust that God can make something holy and beautiful and good out of a world that includes Bosnia and Rwanda and inner-city ghettos and jammed prisons in the richest nation on earth? It's Saturday on planet earth. Will Sunday ever come?

The angel said to the women, 'do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.
 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ?He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.
There you will see him.? Now I have told you.?  Matthew 28: 5-7

Passion week has names for many of the days we celebrate: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, but Saturday has no special name. It's called Holy Saturday, but I think it should have its own name. It's that in-between day. I don't know what you did yesterday, but I was out in the rain burying my septic tank, and for me that is appropriate.

Philip Yancy writes about Saturday  in The Jesus I Never Knew:

The other two days have earned names on the church calendar: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet in a real sense we live on Saturday, the day with no name. What the disciples experienced in small scale'three days in grief over one man who had died on a cross?we now live through on cosmic scale. Human history grinds on, between the time of promise and fulfillment. Can we trust that God can make something holy and beautiful and good out of a world that includes Bosnia and Rwanda and inner-city ghettos and jammed prisons in the richest nation on earth? It's Saturday on planet earth. Will Sunday ever come?

That dark, Golgothan Friday can only be called Good because of what happened on Easter Sunday, a day which gives a tantalizing clue to the riddle of the universe. Easter opened up a crack in a universe winding down toward entropy and decay, sealing the promise that someday God will enlarge the miracle of Easter to cosmic scale.1.


 It's Saturday on planet earth. Will Sunday ever come?
Of course it has come and we celebrate the fact of Jesus' resurrection. It is the one great event that gives us hope.
In the death of Jesus, we can come to God with confidence knowing that our sins are forgiven. Paul writes in Colossians that God nailed all our sins to Jesus' cross and canceled  the moral penalty against us.

Jesus resurrection is God's guarantee that not only is sin forgiven, but its power is canceled.
In both Genesis and Romans we read that our sin and rebellion against God brings the penalty of death.
A flower cut from its root will die.
We die when we are cut from the root of our life.
Jesus restores that connection.
He has promised us that He is the resurrection and the life and that whoever lives in Him will not die, but have eternal life.
His resurrection shows this was not the wild rambling of a madman or claims of a fool.
He has risen and so shall we.

In Matthew's gospel the women come to the tomb.
They have come on Sunday because sunrise on Sunday is the end of the passover. Jesus was crucified on Friday and the soldiers were asked to make sure he and the other two were dead before sunset, which is the beginning of the Sabbath and the beginning of passover. His body was taken hastily, wrapped without much care and buried in a new tomb before sunset.
Then at nightfall the sabbath began and they were not allowed to attend to his body on the sabbath.

Sunday morning at the first light of dawn ends the sabbath and the women come to wrap the body properly and anoint it with burial spices. They had no way to roll away the stone, but that had been looked after.
Remember Lazarus' resurrection.
The crowd had to roll away the stone so Lazarus could get out.
The angel rolls away the stone to let the women in. Jesus was already gone.
Lazarus comes out wrapped in the grave clothes.
Jesus leaves behind every vestige of the old. Death cannot cling to him even in his clothing.

They hear the message, see the empty tomb and hurry away, fearful but filled with joy to tell the news.

We celebrate that fact even though, like Philip Yancy, much of our life seems to be lived out in an inbetween place.
We hope for and have faith in the resurrection of Jesus and we live our lives with this as its central fact.
But in many ways we still wait for the final announcement.

Our struggles don't vanish just because we are believers.
Our loved ones still die and we say good-bye at many an open grave.
In too many ways, it seems that forces of evil have the upper hand in our world and at times we are tempted to think that things are getting worse rather than better.

But one of our problems is that we are prisoners of our own point of view.
We see what we see, but our vision is limited by what we know and what we believe.
Listen to this description and see if you can identify the time period:

Drunkenness became epidemic. Out of a population of five million, 300,000 were confirmed drunkards; they were burying fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most shocking kind. For the first time in the history of the (United States), women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence. What about the churches? The Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining. The Baptists said that they had their most wintry season. The Presbyterians in general assembly deplored the nation's ungodliness. In a typical Congregational church, the Rev. Samuel Shepherd of Lennos, Massachusetts, in sixteen years had not taken one young person into fellowship. The Lutherans were so languishing that they discussed uniting with Episcopalians who were even worse off. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Samuel Provost, quit functioning; he had confirmed no one for so long that he decided he was out of work, so he took up other employment. The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church 'was too far gone ever to be redeemed.' Voltaire averred and Tom Paine echoed, 'Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years. Take the liberal arts colleges at that time. A poll taken at Harvard had discovered not one believer in the whole student body. They took a poll at Princeton, a much more evangelical place, where they discovered only two believers in the student body, and only five that did not belong to the filthy speech movement of that day. Students rioted. They held a mock communion at Williams College, and they put on anti-christian plays at Dartmouth. They burned down the Nassau Hall at Princeton. They forced the resignation of the president of Harvard. They took a Bible out of a local Presbyterian church in New Jersey, and they burnt it in a public bonfire. Christians were so few on campus  that they met in secret, like a communist cell, and kept their minutes in code so that no one would know. 2.

The year year?
Just following the American Revolution, from about 1785-1790, what many people would think of as the glory years.
I suppose life might have looked pretty grim for a believer in Jesus.
But God had something in store, just around the corner.
We know it historically as The Second Great Awakening. It began with a Scottish Presbyterian minister in Edinburgh named John Erskine who called for a national time of prayer. He wrote to an American preacher  named Jonathan Edwards who published his own tract. It was like a discarded cigarette butt in a tinder dry forest, and God's fire of revival swept from New England to the frontier of Kentucky.
Its is fascinating to read about, and the effects were so profound that it brought about abolition of slavery, the great missionary movements, popular education, Bible societies and the Sunday School movement, among other changes.

When God acts, tombs and stones and grave clothes are just so much kindling for the fire.

The rest of that quote by Philip Yancy goes like this:

It is a good thing to remember that in the cosmic drama, we live out our days on Saturday, the in-between day with no name. I know a woman whose grandmother lies buried under 150 year old live oak trees in the cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana. In accordance with the grandmother's instructions, only one word is carved on the tombstone: "Waiting."

Though Jesus cast a vision for a better kingdom now and in the future, as long as it is Saturday, the fulfillment of that vision still awaits until Sunday dawns.3

But guess what!
It's Sunday and the grave is empty.
Jesus is alive. He is very much alive in the world and the final resurrection is coming.
Never give in to despair or cynicism.
Jesus is alive and so is his power to change your life and our world.

The women left the tomb and told the others. Jesus met them in Galilee just as he promised.
An interesting bit of history:
It was many centuries after the resurrection that the crusaders came to Jerusalem and started looking for the holy sites such as Calvary and the place of his burial. They had to search to find them.
Why hadn't the early Christians turned them into shrines?
They were a minority and persecuted, but there is a more important reason: Those places weren't important.
Why would you care about an empty tomb when you had the risen Christ?

Empty tombs may be interesting historically, but we have the power of the risen Jesus in us.
It may feel like Saturday, but Jesus is risen.
Someone say "He is Risen indeed!"
Amen.

Preached  March 27, 2005
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

Notes
1.Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, Zondervan, 1995
2. J. Edwin Orr, Prayer and Revival, www.christianword.org/revival.shtml
3.  Yancy