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Posts Tagged ‘Alan Lewis’

Holy Saturday

Our first time through the story, we despair:
All you came to do and be and save,
All love and peace and hope lies with you there,
Cold and dead and buried in the grave.
Our next time through, the light of Sunday’s sun
Reaches back into the darkness passed,
Expelling Friday’s shadows. So we run
Headlong into Easter all too fast.
We cannot hear the story twice the same
Could both be true, though locked in contradiction?
Could each narration speak a single name?
The Risen Lord; the man of crucifixion.
We find you on this day between the days:
The man exalted; God within the grave.

Holy Saturday 2014
Inspired by the work of Alan Lewis


Note: If you want to read some truly beautiful and deeply profound poetry, I cannot recommend the work of Malcolm Guite highly enough. He frequently posts his poetry on his blog. I found his sonnet sequence on the Stations of the Cross especially moving. His book, Sounding the Seasons, is a gem in my library.

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I realize I’ve taken a rather lengthy hiatus from blogging, but with my seminary studies some months behind me, with no professors or looming deadlines to fear, with the stress of school and the shock of completion now quaint memories, I just may be ready to take it up again. Or maybe I’m just pining for evenings spent with friends over white Russians and German theologians. In either case, I thought Lent would be an appropriate season to devote some time to theological reading and writing, to reflect specifically on a very lenten theme: God in the grave.

Alan Lewis, in his stellar book, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday, takes up these reflections with a narrative reading of the three-day story of cross, grave, and resurrection. The day between the days, Holy Saturday, the day of the grave, is mostly overlooked, glanced over in the rush toward Easter. Yet this is the day in which Lewis situates himself. As the boundary between the cross and resurrection, Holy Saturday is an ideal vantage point to understand both.

When we hear the story for the first time, Saturday is not the “day between the days.” It is the day after the last day, the first day after the catastrophic failure of the cross, the beginning of a life whose meaning has been lost in the grave with Jesus. Whoever we though Jesus was, we cannot now deny that he is the Crucified One, numbered with the worst of sinners:

What do we see if we make the effort and muster the courage to examine the cross of Jesus Christ from the second-day frontier, looking back without knowledge of the future? The sight is melancholy, terminal, disastrous. Yesterday a man suffered hellishly and died; was buried; and is now perhaps in hell. That makes today a day of godlessness and putrefaction. What are we to make of his death after all he did and said and was in life? (43)

Hearing the story for the first time forces us to pause at the cross, to weep at the graveside of the dead and buried Jesus with no hope of the pain being miraculously shattered the day after.

Easter heralds indescribable joy for those who were stuck in the story the first time around.  It overturns the verdict of the cross, vindicating the one who appeared as nothing but a common criminal or a failed revolutionary the day before. Our “No!” to the one God sent has been overwhelmed by God’s ultimate “Yes!” to him. The Crucified One is also the Risen One.

Returning to the story the second time around, we cannot disarm ourselves of foreknowledge. Try as we might, the drama will not unfold afresh, and we cannot quite proceed as if we don’t know what will follow. Yet far from blunting the vexation of Holy Saturday, the knowledge of Easter intensifies it. Now we mourn at the grave of the Crucified One whom we know to identify as the Risen One, yet whose upcoming resurrection does not negate his current status as dead and buried. Even if Jesus will be risen as Lord and saviour, nevertheless that same Lord and saviour now lies behind the stone that has not yet been rolled away. If Jesus was one with his Father, was his Father one with him in the grave?

Lewis, with his narratival pause at Holy Saturday, does not shy away from the nearly unthinkable thought: “in the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth between his crucifying and his raising, God lay dead” (255).

Precisely how—if at all—this scandalous idea might be thinkable is something that I will take up in later posts. (Lewis himself draws heavily on the work of Barth, Moltmann, and Jüngel.) However, for the time being it is worthwhile to pause on the day after the cross, to reflect on what it might mean if we dare to think along these lines. And Lent is an especially good time for this.

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