Uncertain Saturday

We’re not good at waiting. Wait… let me say it a better way: I’m not good at waiting. At traffic lights when I’ve got somewhere to go (which is basically all the time) to dinner when I’m hungry (which is basically all the time), waiting is not an area where I excel – and frankly, isn’t something I want to get good at.

Which makes today so important. What is this day – this Saturday between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday – what is it, but a day of waiting?

Of course, we’re able to see it that way, because we’re on the other side of Sunday. But I’m pretty sure the first followers of Jesus didn’t have the same outlook on that first Saturday after the crucifixion; instead, it looked a lot more like despair. Defeat. Death.

For they had no reasonable expectation that Saturday would be a day of waiting. I don’t think they were walking around, telling each other, It’s Saturday, but Sunday’s comin’! No. In the world of Rome, no weekend ever ended well that started on a cross.

In all my years of leadership in churches, I don’t think we ever did anything of any consequence on this day between – what we might call Uncertain Saturday. At best, it was the day to do an egg hunt for the kids – a day about candy and chocolate and sugaring-over any uncertainty, sadness, or any sense of suspense. Because, of course, with the benefit of 2000 years of history, we know how this story ends. We’re able to “get over” Good Friday as soon as it’s over.

But maybe this year is different. Maybe all the uncertainty that coronavirus has injected into our lives – the fact that we are in a forced time of waiting – means that we need Uncertain Saturday, now, more than any other Easter weekend in recent memory. With the fear and apprehension that many of us feel, with the loss of jobs and the collapse of the economy, and with the virus still spreading – we don’t have any choice. We are all living in Uncertain Saturday.

So maybe this year, more than ever, we get a sense – maybe just a glimpse – of what the first followers of Jesus felt on that first Uncertain Saturday. The doubt. The fear. The anguish. The unknown.

But what was nearly impossible for them to see, and may be hard for us to remember, is this: God is still at work. Even when we can’t see it. Even when we don’t know what tomorrow holds, God is faithful. Precisely because Good Friday did not have the last word – because Uncertain Saturday dawned into Resurrection Sunday – we are reminded that we can trust in the God who is bigger than our fears, our doubts, our brokenness & sin, and our present circumstances. Even death itself has been defeated.

And so, though it is difficult, we wait. Though we don’t know how things will turn out, we wait. And even though we are not promised that everything will work out the way we want, we are promised that God is working through all of this to bring good (Romans 8.28).

This morning I pulled out the prayer book I’ve been using during this Holy Week. And the first words were these, from Psalm 31.24: Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.

I need these words on this Uncertain Saturday. I need that hope. I need to wait in that truth. How about you?

Faith, Doubt, & the Choice of Easter

Recently, I read a book I really enjoyed. The Skeptical Believer, by Daniel Taylor, wrestles with faith, doubt, and what it means to live what we believe. It’s not a book for everyone, but if you’re the kind of person who likes questions, you’ll like this book. If you’re a person who simply has questions — whether you like them or not — well, then, you need to read this book.

Taylor doesn’t shy away from reasons skeptics have not to believe. In fact, he includes a chapter where he lists all kinds of reasons folks have to be skeptical, agnostic, or just straight-out atheist. There are intellectual objections (like the supposed inconsistency between faith and science). There are emotional objections (like the presence of pain and the absence of God). Some choose not to believe because of how the Church has acted throughout history (and there are plenty of ugly examples), and some can’t commit to belief when they find doctrines that they consider unpalatable. In total, Taylor lists 40 reasons people give for lack of belief in God, or the Bible, or the story of Easter that is at the center of both.

A part of what makes Taylor’s book unique is his willingness to address these concerns. He doesn’t dismiss them, or treat them casually. Instead, he challenges those who don’t believe to be honest in the search. Questions are ok, he says. But face them; don’t let the fact that you have questions keep you from honestly and fully pursuing truth. Taylor writes: Why would anyone stop looking? Why would you decide at 18 or 28 that there is no God, and not at least stay open to the idea that God might exist? If a person is really open to truth, why not stay open to truth?

In fact, why would anyone stop seeking Truth. Even for someone who doubts whether Truth (capital-T) exists, just the fact that you’re thinking about it means that it’s worth pursuing. By the sheer fact that we are able to ask big questions, why would anyone not?

Even so, when it comes to metaphysical matters, Taylor makes it clear: There is no such thing as certainty. When it comes to the Big Questions of God, purpose, and eternity, there can’t be certainty. That’s why we call it faith. And anyone, no matter what their decision is about the Big Questions, is making a faith decision — whether that faith is rooted ultimately in Science, or a Holy Book, or a life experience, or even just What-I-Feel-Inside-of-Me-Is-True. Ultimately, life is all about faith — in whatever form that takes.

Perhaps because of that, Taylor doesn’t point his reader to 3 convincing ideas that will turn a skeptic into a sure-minded believer. What he does point us to is the Story that is given to us in Scripture. It’s a story of hope, of grace, of meaning and purpose. And while we can argue with those who disagree with us, Taylor suggests a better apologetic, when he writes: “Having a plot for your life is better than having a proof.” For, as elaborates: “One can only answer some important questions, not with an argument, but with a life.”

In the end, I believe that the ultimate plot that tells me who I am is found in the Bible. And I believe that the ultimate guide for what Life is meant to be — and will one day fully be — is found in an itinerant preacher who made such an impact that the religious and political powers conspired to kill him. And they succeeded. For a time. Until Easter Sunday, when Jesus walked out of the tomb, alive.

I believe that’s exactly what happened on that first Easter, though I can’t prove it happened. No one can. But if it’s true, then everything changes, and life — my life, ALL of life — has new meaning, purpose, and direction.

So, this Easter Sunday, where I serve, I’ll be talking about the Choice that Easter lays before every person — the choice that Easter is either an End (death, Jesus defeated), or a Beginning (Jesus alive, Death defeated). You decide which is true, because only one can be true. But know this: either choice is ultimately a decision of faith. And, since it’s Easter, let’s just say: I know which basket I’m putting all my eggs in. How about you?

Don’t Rush to Easter

For many people, March is a really important month. For teachers and students, it’s the promise of Spring Break — and the opportunity to take a breather before the final push to finish the school year. For sports fans, it’s the “on-the-edge-of-your=seat” frenzy of March Madness. And every four years March is full of presidential politics. (Lucky us; this year is the year!)
And once every 3 or 4 years, Easter comes in the middle of the Madness that March can be. Maybe that’s fitting, for Easter is God’s response to the madness — the madness of humanity trying to find meaning in vacations, sports, politics, or wherever else we try to find joy. And in the midst of our lives, Easter is the story of One Life that changes ALL of life — and all lives.
It begins on Palm Sunday, when Jesus enters Jerusalem to cries of acclamation. It reaches its lowest point just five days later when Jesus heads to the cross to cries of “Crucify him!” There is simply no doubt that this is the most pivotal week in all of history. Even skeptical historians acknowledge that Jesus died this week — and go on to recognize that something happened at the tomb to change the hearts and actions of Jesus’ uncertain followers.
But before we get to the victory of Easter Sunday, we should take a few moments and reflect on the pain and the suffering and the harsh reality of Easter week, leading up to Easter. For it is during this week that the wheels of politics and religion and sin combine in an unholy trinity that will take Jesus to the cross. And before we get to the victory of Easter, we come to the harsh, cold, deathly reality of the cross.
Like the next person, I love Easter Sunday. I absolutely revel in its victory. But before we get to Resurrection Day, we should walk — slowly, thoughtfully, deliberately — each step of the way to Sunday. It takes us through the graveyard. It takes us through the harsh reality of death. And it forces us to face the raw nakedness of our sin.
It’s difficult, but don’t let it pass you by. Don’t rush to Easter. Dwell in the reality of this most painful week. For only when we truly understand the week leading up to Easter, can we truly understand — and live — the victory of Easter Sunday.