The closest people to me that I have lost have been my grandparents, and my wife’s parents. My grandma died when I was in college, my wife’s mom and dad when I was in my twenties, and my other three grandparents passed away when I was in my thirties. Even though I was in different stages of life, and their deaths all happened in different ways, and we experienced each differently – I had a similar circumstance during each one. Maybe you have too.
At some point, usually a few days after their death, I would pick up a phone to call them, or think about stopping over to see them on my way through town – something like that. Each time basically forgetting that they were gone. My brain knew, but my heart had not yet caught up with reality – or perhaps it was the other way around. When you’ve spent a lot of time with someone and developed traditions, jokes, stories and all the rest that comes with important relationships – old habits die hard, patterns are hard to break, and ritual comes regularly. Your life goes on, even though their’s is no longer a part of it.
I’d have to believe the same thing happened for Jesus’ followers on the Saturday after His death. I’m sure that John looked around at the table he shared with Mary, Martha and Lazarus and expected to see Jesus in an empty chair. I’ll be Peter caught himself wanting to turn and tell Jesus the story of all that he’d experienced in the last 48 hours, only to realize He wasn’t going to be there. I am certain His mom, brother, closest friends, all had their own unique moments where they went to “be with Jesus” – and were thus reminded that it was all over now.
In the Jewish tradition, Saturday’s are a day of rest. From sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, Jews celebrate the Sabbath. They do no work, they attend temple ceremonies, and they worship. This would have been their tradition. I’ve often wondered what Jesus’ friends did, on that fateful Saturday. Did they rest? Perhaps, but there is not much respite from a grief like the one that they were experiencing. No rest for the weary, as they say. I find it telling that NONE of the gospels contain any information about that day. Probably because there was nothing to write about. Peter wept. John comforted and consoled. Each one of them trying to figure out what their next move would be, all the while not moving at all. I for one would understand if worshipping took a back seat that day too.
Just prior to the arrival of Jesus, the nation of Israel had gone over 400 years without a prophet, someone to speak on behalf of God to His people. In Christian tradition, we refer to those as “the silent years” for obvious reasons. God’s people, longing to hear his voice, wandering aimlessly, captured in exile, wishing and waiting for the long prophesied King. For some time now, even if just the past three years, they had thought their King had come. The voice of God had been louder than it ever was. It walked with them, and it talked with them. It told them about the Kingdom they had waited for for generations. And now, suddenly and almost without warning, God was silent again. Not even so much as a whisper – and this time it felt like He might be gone forever.
That’s the thing about death, isn’t it? The permanence. The finality. The realization that from this, there is no coming back. People don’t just rise from the dead. At least, not without Him.
And so, God’s people are back in exile – held captive by their grief. Turn out the lights, the party’s over – all except the crying. There will be no King or Kingdom. They have come, and they have gone. Death has stolen their future, their faith, and their friend. Hope has been destroyed. Hearts have been broken. Heaven has gone silent. The cross is empty, but the grave is full. Cancel the coronation. For Jesus, the supposed King, is dead.