April 15: The Long, Dark Day in Which Nothing Hopeful Happens

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate, and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”

Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

Matthew 27:62-66

This small episode in the Gospel of Matthew goes largely unnoticed in the story of Jesus’ passion. The day after Jesus is laid in the tomb, nervous officials appeal to state power to make sure Jesus stays in the tomb. Pilate agrees to their request, giving them a contingent of soldiers to secure the tomb.

The injustice of Jesus’ execution is compounded by setting heavily-armed men outside his burial place. It’s as if the entire might of the political and religious establishment has thrown its weight against the man from Nazareth, in an attempt to erase even his memory.

This is how the Holy Saturday after Good Friday goes. It is a long, dark day in which nothing hopeful happens. 

Over the course of these forty days of Lent, I have described many forms of injustice in our world, and tried to give you a portrait of some of the people who are crushed by these offenses. These people live in a permanent Holy Saturday — a long, dark day in which nothing hopeful happens. They had hoped thing things might get better tomorrow, but the Powers That Be have made things worse, have arrayed more forces against them, have brought more guards, have sealed the stone.

Holy Saturday is a day in which all of us who work for justice, who believe in truth and freedom, who believe the prophets, begin to flag in enthusiasm. We wonder if perhaps things aren’t going to turn out right in the end. We begin to despair of our marching and protesting, of calling our lawmakers, of signing petitions. What good will it do? we ask ourselves. 

We begin to suspect that Martin Luther King, Jr. was wrong when he said that “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it’s just a straight line to destruction.

We are tempted to give up our justice work. If we can carve out our own little comfortable place of privilege in society, then perhaps we can stay there and forget about the rest of the world. After all, there is nothing I can really do, we say.

Throughout these Lent devotionals, I have quoted the Old Testament prophets, all of whom speak persistently of the unjust society in which they live. They lived in a permanent kind of Holy Saturday, too. They also lived in that long, dark day in which nothing hopeful happens. It’s obvious by their words that they have seen the worst, and expect nothing more.

And yet, in every single one of the prophet’s writings, there yet remains a word of hope. It is nothing more than a whisper in some places, a faint glimmer of possibility far off in the future. But it’s there.

Jeremiah sees a day of a new covenant with God; Hosea pictures God as a loving parent who simply can’t give up on a child; Joel foretells a time when Jerusalem will be holy again. Each prophet speaks of a reversal of fortune.

To all of you who struggle in the fight, who labor to make peace, who grapple with the forces of inequality, hear these words from the prophet Malachi, which come in the closing pages of the Old Testament, hear these words as the lone hopeful thing that you will hear on this long, dark day:

“See, the day is coming, burning like an oven,
   when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble;
   the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts,
   so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise,
   with healing in its wings.
You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:1-2).

Prayer: God, I do not pray for the death or destruction of anyone, even the wicked and evildoer. Instead, I long for those who have suffered the actions of the wicked and evildoer to be set free, healed, and restored. I look forward to seeing the sun of righteousness rise. I can't wait until I leap like a calf from the stall. Amen.