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Holy Saturday and the Death of God

In Hollywood, our Lenten journey is nearly over. Today is Holy Saturday. For Adventists, every Saturday is Holy because we remember those words in the very beginning of the story, “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation” (Gen 2:3). Each Sabbath is a wonderful pause in the creative work of God. Indeed, the pause itself is creative, like a musical rest or dramatic pause in theater. The absence of speech or activity is, itself, creative and moving.

But this Sabbath is different. As Eric Severson has said, “The gaping silence between Good Friday and Easter Sunday cannot be explained as a welcome pause or an artistic hiatus…. Holy Saturday is blunt and bleak and uncomfortable.”

In the story of our Lord’s Passion there is one Sabbath unlike any other and that is what we remember today. The day our Lord — the one who “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…being born in human likeness…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross” — rested in the tomb (Phil 2:6b-8).

In just a few hours our congregation will gather for worship and this day will be unlike any other day. We will not sing songs of praise. There will be no hopeful talk of a better day. We have styled our service as a memorial service for God. My message is entitled, “God is dead.” Our prophetic word is from Frederick Nietzsche. Our members will bring to the alter written expressions of their unanswered prayers, their broken dreams and unfulfilled hopes. Together we will acknowledge that God has died and from where we stand, all hope is lost.

In doing research for my message and trying to put words around what I wanted to say I found an incredible essay entitled, “Listening on the Day of Silence: Khora and Holy Saturday”, by Eric R. Severson, published at The Other Journal (Mars Hill Graduate School). This essay is a wonderfully rich exploration of Plato’s notion of khora as picked up by postmodern theorists like Derrida and Caputo, in conversation with the story of Judas’ suicide. His essay seeks to explore the possibility that is offered by Holy Saturday as a receptacle for our “everyday experiences of aimlessness, loss, trauma, and confusion.”

Severson writes,

It would be disingenuous, however, to suggest that I study Holy Saturday for its own sake or even out of scholarly or spiritual curiosity. It is rather the experience of the disciples, of the women who lingered at Jesus’s tomb, and particularly, of Judas that compels this study. But even beyond understanding what it was like to loiter beside the corpse of Jesus or to feel the raw culpability of Judas, I suggest that the Holy Saturday experience is an ongoing characteristic of creaturely existence. In this essay, I propose a theology of Holy Saturday experience in which the healing and redemptive Triune movement does not reverse but consecrates and sanctifies this day.

This should get our attention. Later in the essay my heart really lept for joy when I read this,

At this point, I offer a general charge against Christianity for its failure to honor the fourth commandment, for our failure to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. We have, I fear, turned our back on the khora in which so many humans dwell. The rush-to-Sunday is a rush to action, a rush to tangible hope, a rush to foreseeable victories and palpable redemption. But the resurrected Jesus offers no such reversal of Saturday’s uncertainty. The resurrected Jesus moves mysteriously among the disciples, moving through walls, disappearing from tables and rising into the sky. The resurrected Christ is no resuscitated corpse; he is both less and more than this. Jesus is raised into the eschatological future, beckoning the Christian community into a future that evades our attempts to discern and anticipate. Jesus is resurrected into a divine future (eschaton), a future outside of human possibility. Inasmuch as Holy Saturday represents the death of tangible and predictable hopes, it remains today in full force. In fact, this death is sanctified by Easter Sunday. It is right and good that the false messianic hopes of the disciples remain dead and defeated. There is a lesson that the church must learn, a lesson evident at the Emmaus table, in the upper room, at the ascension, and elsewhere. The resurrected Jesus has now danced beyond the grasp of the disciples, moved below and above the realm of human expectation and possibility. Easter Sunday should cast the church into the eschatological future, insisting that the people of God live toward such a future, as unreasonable and irrational as such hope may be.

When we allow Easter to nullify Saturday we miss the blessed finality with which our Friday dreams must be shattered in order for our future to be truly divine. Easter is no Hegelian synthesis of the incarnation and the crucifixion. As a church of the eighth day, we are to be a people who have been rightly robbed of our desire to see suffering, sorrow, abuse, and death have tangible payoffs. What we learn from khora and Holy Saturday is not overturned on Sunday but given sacred confirmation and eschatological transformation. It is, in fact, a profanation of Saturday to ignore its significance or to allow its khoratic character to be overlooked and ignored. This Saturday, like every Jewish Sabbath, is anything but profane. It is blessed, sanctified, to be kept holy.

Once again I saw how the Sabbath can be such a rich gift to the Christian church and how Adventists, by keeping it, along with our Jewish sisters and brothers from whom we received it as a gift, can serve the world, like the ancient monastics who preserved so much art and literature and culture, against the tide of the day that would have completely extinguished these treasures. We have the privilege of holding these mysteries in trust for the world.

Being people of the Sabbath means that we should be people who welcome the doubting, the grieving and the confused as truly “one of us.” The church must open its arms to Judas, Thomas, and the other confused and troubled women and men whose faith has crumbled – who have been lied to by modernity – people who are in danger of giving up on God because the gods of modernity have failed them.

Together, on Holy Saturday, we can mourn the death of God and open the space for people to discover a mysterious newness that comes as a result. As Jesus himself said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).

Today we can stand together and bravely say with Nietzsche’s Madman, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” Or, if you prefer, with Meister Eckhart, the 13th century German theologian who said, “I pray to God to rid me of God.”

Who knows what might be born in his place?

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