Tag Archives: Lent

Good Saturday(?):The Waiting Times of Life

Guest Post from…Justin Heinzekehr is a PhD student at Claremont Lincoln University studying theology, philosophy and ethics. He teaches high school Bible at the Peace and Justice Academy in Pasadena, and has created and is reading through perhaps the world’s most comprehensive list of great books. I (Hannah) think it is rather convenient and nice to be married to someone who is also interested in studying theology, and I am grateful that my husband was willing to write a post for The Femonite today.

You can get so confused

that you’ll start in to race

down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace

and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,

headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.

The Waiting Place…

It’s hard to know how to feel on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. No one really talks about this day. I’ve never heard of anyone doing a “Good Saturday” program, or a Saturday sunrise service, or a Saturday brunch. The gospels aren’t much help either. As far as I know, Matthew is the only one to talk about that Saturday, and then the only thing that happens is that the Roman guards seal up Jesus’ tomb (27:62-66). In Luke, it just says, “Then they rested according to the commandment” (23:56). Mark and John are silent about that day. The Saturday before Easter seems to be one of the most ambiguous days in the church calendar, sandwiched right in between a day of mourning and a day of celebration, but without any characteristics of its own.

As I think about this more, though, it seems to me that we all have plenty of  “Good Saturday” experiences in life. These are the times in between pain and healing, the times when we are unable to take any action at all. The wise philosopher, Dr. Seuss, called this the “Waiting Place.” He writes in Oh, the Places You’ll Go, of a “most useless place” where everyone is simply waiting.

Waiting for a train to go                                                                               

or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or the waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting. 

As a young(ish) adult, I have felt this ambiguity a lot in my post-college years. Whereas school provides you with a clear path forward, graduation opens up a kind of wilderness before you. You come to the end of the script, but find that the play hasn’t ended yet. It’s not necessarily a painful experience, nor certainly a joyful one, but merely uncertain and sometimes disconcerting.

I think Good Saturday might help us to make sense of this experience. This is a time when we don’t quite know what to feel or do. Like the disciples, we no longer have someone to provide us with a clear vision. On both Friday and Sunday, there was at least clarity about how they should react – either mourning or celebrating. But on Saturday, they just waited.

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Then God Wept

Then Jesus Wept.” John 11:35 (New Living Translation)

This is the shortest verse in the Bible, often simply written as “Jesus wept.” That’s one fun Sunday school tidbit that has stuck with me since childhood. In this story, Jesus comes to see Lazarus, who has been sick, only to arrive and to find out that he has already died. When he approaches Lazarus’ tomb, and before the miraculous resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, Jesus weeps. It’s a powerful, deeply human moment.

Today is Good Friday. The day when we remember Jesus’ crucifixion and death. It’s often a mournful and reflective day. And frankly, it’s a day that I have not always known what to do with. There’s not a lot about this day that seems “good” to me. Part of this problem stems from some unease with death. Death, no matter when it comes, is never something simple to make sense of. It seems to be a complicated process bound up with many emotions. You could also look at the story of Jesus that I’ve been taught, which tends to emphasize the day-to-day narrative of the life of Jesus, his actions, his treatment of people, his nonviolent stance, his preference for the poor and his resurrection over and above Jesus’ death as a salvific moment.

And then you can add to that list feminist and womanist critiques of atonement, which suggest that God mandating Jesus’ death could be compared to divine child abuse. In Proverbs of Ashes, Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker describe the ways that setting up self-sacrifice as the mark of a good Christian sets up systems and expectations that can lead women to stay in abusive relationships and can cease to address unhealthy patterns of abuse.

Of some theology, which emphasizes the necessity of Jesus’ death, Parker says, “But this theology can fail to serve life. It takes a historical act of violence and misapplies it to a spiritual truth…What happens when violent realities are transubstantiated into spiritual teachings? You’ve heard it or said it yourself. A mother loses her son to suicide. In an effort to comfort her you say, ‘God has a purpose in this.’”

And womanist theologian Delores Williams notes that by casting Jesus as a scapegoat for all human sin, theologians may have inadvertently (or even purposefully) painted oppressive systems that exploit black women, like surrogacy, as divinely ordained.

So, suffice it to say, I’ve got my reservations about Good Friday, and my tendency has been to ignore this day and skip straight to Easter. But that doesn’t seem adequate either. A robust Christology, and a robust understanding of how God works in the world, must also answer questions about suffering and loss. Weeping is a part of what it means to be fully human, and we cannot evade death forever.

Jesus was uniquely attuned to God’s call, and was able to enact in history a visible sign of God’s reign on earth. Jesus’ ministry was marked by love. As Alfred North Whitehead writes, Jesus, channeling God, “…dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and quietly operate by love.” In this way, the spirit of Jesus’ ministry is with us whenever we embrace life.

But perhaps the world, and we ourselves, are not always ready to embrace this particular vision. As John Cobb notes, there is often a disconnect between what we wish and expect to be true and what is true; between our hopes and dreams and between reality. We do not always choose life and love. Jesus’ life, which “afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted” ( from Reinhold Neibuhr), was and is an affront to systems that sought to perpetuate the status quo. This affront was not to be borne, and I think that most of us know how this particular story ends on Good Friday.

And then, I think, God wept, too.  Just like Jesus wept upon losing Lazarus. And like we all weep when things do not go according to plan.

I’m convinced that God weeps alongside us still: when racist undercurrents result in the death of a young man like Trayvon Martin; when our states pass dehumanizing immigration legislation; when our churches fail to be welcoming and inclusive places and whenever we choose against those things that give life.

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Making Space during Lent

I think I have developed some bad Lenten habits. Each year, for the past four years post-college, I have tried to give something up (chocolate twice, french fries once and Facebook once). And this year, I have tried, with mixed results, to pick something up. My goal was to take a morning walk each day, but frankly, the allure of the bed and last minute homework assignments or work meetings have sometimes (more often than I would care to admit) proved stronger than my Lenten commitments.  Given this particular list, it’s sometimes hard to sort out whether these goals have grown strongly out of a conviction that  this is a meaningful spiritual practice, or out of some deep-rooted, secret desire to disguise a diet and/or fitness as a Lenten practice.

But yesterday, I made my way to chapel on campus, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the worship service was being carried out in the Taizé style, with the slow, repetitive singing of several prayer songs, interspersed with scripture, prayer and meditation. For me, this style of worship allows for a settling into a calm rhythm of reflection and invites me naturally to make space in amidst the clutter crowding my mind for the sacred to break in. As we sang the words “Nada te turbe” or “Nothing can trouble,” words orginally taken from a prayer written by Saint Teresa of Avila,  over and over, I found myself calmer than I had been in weeks.

Four years ago, my family had the opportunity to spend three days in France living and worshipping within the Taizé community, which includes a group of monks and nuns who have committed to living life together. The community has very clear daily rhythms set up with meals, service to the community (cleaning, cooking, etc.), time for meditation, workshops and worship three times a day. The community draws pilgrims from all around the world, who have come to experience the birth place of the Even though we were there for only a short time, there was something strangely seductive about this clear cut and stable rhythm, which placed worship and reflection as the bookends and core of each day.

Too often, during Lent, I think we can prioritize the need to give something up or to take something on, without thinking about the new spaces that are created by these actions, and what comes to fill them. As we head into this week, Holy Week, considered by many Christians to be one of the most important points in the liturgical calendar, I wonder what it would look like to think carefully about making space for the in-breaking of something new. For small deaths and little resurrections in our own lives. Or, as Jan Richardson suggests, to be willing to take refuge in order that we might be rejuvenated.

Blessing of Refuge

By Jan Richardson

That I may flee to you
not to escape forever
from the world that you have created,
the world that you
call beloved

but that in your refuge
I will find
your presence
to strengthen me
your courage
to sustain me
your grace
to encompass me
as I go
where you would
have me go.

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