Easter Wednesday, 20 April 2022
(Acts 3:1-10, Psalm 118:19-24, Luke 24:13-35
Collect for Wednesday of Easter Week
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in the fullness of his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
I’M SLOWLY WORKING MY WAY through the book Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday. That day is the largely neglected and forgotten day of the triduum, the great three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, ending with the Great Vigil of Easter. Holy Saturday is a day when, in our minds, nothing much happened, a day to hurry through on the way to Easter. And that is precisely because we know Easter is coming; we know the next and great chapter in the story. But those who lived the story didn’t know that. For them, there was no next chapter to that story, to the story of Jesus. That story — if they were lucky and the Jewish and Roman authorities didn’t also pursue them — that story was over: dead, buried, and sealed up.
A poem by Emily Dickinson, though not written specifically about Holy Saturday, captures a bit of the sense of it, the feel of it, at least as I imagine it.
The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth —
The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity —
Of course, the death — the execution — of Jesus is even more gut-wrenching than the loss of a friend. It is also the death of a future: the fulfillment of God’s covenant, the liberation of God’s people, the righteous rule of God’s Kingdom in which Jesus’ disciples would have had key roles. His death is the end of all that. There is really no aspect of the disciples’ lives left intact, untouched by Jesus’ death. So, while for us Holy Saturday is an in-between time, for them it was the end.
Though it is Sunday morning, Cleopas and his companion are still living in Holy Saturday as they travel back home to Emmaus. When a stranger joins their company and asks what they have been talking about, Cleopas says:
Luke 24:19b–24 (ESV): “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
There is no sense of hope, no sense of expectation, no thought of a next chapter in this story that Cleopas tells. Notice that it is all in past tense: Jesus was a prophet, the authorities crucified him, we had hoped — though clearly not any longer — that he was the redeemer of Israel. Yes, there is some foolish talk by foolish women about strange visions of angels and an empty tomb, but how can you place any stock in that? No, this story is over. The cross is the end and the enduring legacy of Jesus’ story if there is any enduring legacy.
Here’s an interesting question to ponder: could the Jesus movement have continued and prospered as a Holy Saturday movement? Might there still be Christians and Christianity had Easter not happened? Now, I know we are tempted to dismiss this out of hand, to reject it as absurd, but we shouldn’t do that too quickly. Social revolutions can outlive their founders, even if — and perhaps especially if — those founders were martyrs. Perhaps the best example in our recent history is the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. His name is still invoked, his memory still in some sense guiding a movement that is still pressing forward over fifty years after his assassination. Could Jesus’ disciples have taken up their crosses as Jesus had told them to do and lived as Holy Saturday people in his name? Almost surely so, but it is difficult to image the faith growing and spreading as it did, persisting as it does even unto this day. Would the Jews have embraced a crucified Messiah, when not so many of them did even when the resurrection was proclaimed? Would an executed Jewish prophet have had any appeal to Gentiles around the Mediterranean? It seems doubtful. I think if Holy Saturday had really been the end of the story, it would have really been the end of the story.
We must linger in Holy Saturday, but we must not live there. We are not called to be Holy Saturday people. No. As St. Augustine preached:
We are Easter people and ‘Alleluia’ is our song. Let us sing here and now in this life, even though we are oppressed by various worries, so that we may sing it one day in the world to come, when we are set free from all anxiety.
That brings us to the story of Peter and John going up to the temple at the hour of prayer: weeks, months after Holy Saturday, after the forty days spent with the resurrected Jesus, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, after the explosive growth of the Church. This is a rousing good story, and it even makes for a catchy Vacation Bible School song. But, it is so much more than that. It is a resurrection story, an enacted parable. This lame man was living in Holy Saturday, and, as far as he could tell, there simply was no other chapter in his life. But, Peter and John come proclaiming and enacting resurrection. Listen to the story again, with your ears open for sounds of resurrection.
Acts 3:1–10 (ESV): 3 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Resurrection runs throughout the story. This man, who was socially as good as dead, is now given a new life, and new place in his community. Resurrection is clear in the language used. “Rise up and walk.” Peter “raised him up.” Luke doesn’t want his readers to miss it; this is Jesus’ resurrection continuing in the ministry of his disciples, manifest in the life of this lame man.
There is also a confrontational aspect in this story; the early readers would have seen it immediately, but we’re not quite so attuned to those things. Consider the location. Where was the lame man at the beginning of the story? He was lying on the ground at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. This is the Holy Saturday of the story: a man figuratively dead and buried right at the entrance to the temple, the temple which had no power of life in it. Then, Peter and John come along and speak — and enact — resurrection in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. What all the glory of the temple, all the authority of the priests, all the blood of sacrifices, all the proximity to the Holy of Holies cannot do, the simple invocation of the name of Jesus of Nazareth does. “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Let’s not miss this next statement:
8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
This man was healed — raised up — in the name of Jesus, the one who was himself raised up by God. Jesus and resurrection are inseparable. Then this walking and leaping and praising man dances his way into the temple, the temple that had been impotent to help him; and, having been raised up in the name of Jesus, he praises God. Who raised this man up, Jesus or God? And the answer can only be yes. This is a resurrection story that amazes the people and confronts the powers.
When a crowd gathers around them in the temple, Peter pulls all the threads of the resurrection story together:
Acts 3:11–16 (ESV): 11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
Now, let me begin to draw the threads of this homily together. The world lives in Holy Saturday where death has the final word and there is no next chapter. All loves lead to loss. All the best laid plans come to nothing in the end. Live and learn, die and forget it all. The Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem described Holy Saturday perfectly in Ecclesiastes:
Ecclesiastes 1:2–11 (ESV): 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
8 All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
We can eat and drink and try to be merry; that’s about all that Holy Saturday has to offer.
Into this culture come the Easter people. The disciples of the risen Jesus of Nazareth, are to stop, to look intently at those mired in Holy Saturday, to take them by the hand and to proclaim, “In the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk!” We are to sing the Easter ‘Alleluia!” in the midst of a Holy Saturday world. We are to go walking and leaping and praising God into the false and impotent temples of this Holy Saturday world. We are to challenge those with ears to hear: “Why do you wonder at this? Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” We are to live as Easter people in the midst of a Holy Saturday world.
What does that look like for you? Well, I don’t know, do I? That is for you to work out: to work out your salvation, to work out the resurrection, with fear and trembling in your life. I have to do that for myself, too. But, there are some good questions to ask ourselves.
How should this moment, this situation, this human interaction be different because Jesus is risen, because this is Easter and not Holy Saturday?
How can I proclaim the resurrection — by word and deed — here and now so that the people are amazed and the powers are confounded, because this is Easter and not Holy Saturday?
What does it look like to walk along the Holy Saturday Emmaus Road with the resurrected “stranger” when that road leads us to the hospice room, the divorce court, the unemployment line, the war zone, the refugee camp, the school, the office, the home?
What does it sound like to sing the Easter Alleluia to a tone-deaf, Holy Saturday world?
Well, questions abound, and we are called to think through them clearly and carefully. We are called to know the resurrected Jesus in the Word and in the breaking of bread first in our own lives. Then we are called to reach out to a world lying in the dust of its failed temples, take it by the hand, and say, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up!” Amen.