Holy Saturday: Waiting on the Lord

"I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" (Psalm 27:13-14)

Today, in the church's historical reckoning, is Holy Saturday. Yesterday, Christ died for our sins. Tomorrow, He will rise for our salvation. This Saturday, we are sitting in the in-between.

Today, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, feels like an in-between period for many of us. Our lives seem to be on hold. Our futures feel uncertain. Our church family recently lost someone to the disease, and we wonder if there will be more funerals to come. This Easter we will be celebrating in homes, cut off from many that we love.

Today, thanks to my wife's cancer, we find ourselves in another, particularly brutal sort of in-between. Each week she slips a little further, still present but with an ever-increasing need for narcotics and hospice visits. While in a sense the end there feels certain, much that surrounds it is not. Will the meds be able to stay out ahead of the agony? What will the final days look like? How will life afterward work with the world presently turned on its head?

Holy Saturday is a strange holy day. Why didn't Jesus simply rise immediately? Was there some necessary period to prove he was really dead? Was there a requisite time for the harrowing of hell? Was it a reminder that the Sabbath rest is still a part of God's intention even in the new creation He was inaugurating Easter morning?

Some of those answers might be "yes," but there is also something deeper and simpler. Holy Saturday is a reminder of the biblical theme of waiting on the Lord.

This call is sprinkled throughout Scripture. Yesterday our family read from Lamentations 3, a gut-wrenching lament that turns to a proclamation of hope. Jeremiah starts by picturing himself as "the man who has seen affliction," picturing his grief as bodily decay, imprisonment, and divine arrows piercing his stomach. Yet as he turns from these images to hope, here is what the prophet proclaims: "The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." (Lamentations 3:25-26)

The great challenge to faith is that we live in the middle of an unfolding story. That is true of our world - Good Friday and Easter both celebrate past events but do it with an eye toward the future. They won't find their fullest expression until our final justification before the throne and the resurrection of our bodies in the age to come. There are present blessings in Jesus Christ, but all of them anticipate something more still to come.

Our lives are also unfolding stories. God is playing the long game in each of our lives, aiming at life and Christlikeness not today or tomorrow but much later, perhaps years later, and not fully until our eyes open again to the daylight after the night of the grave. Being in the middle of a good story is still a miserable experience. The "happily ever after" in chapter 10 doesn't remove the conflict, fear, and uncertainty we feel in chapter 5.

This reality is why Scripture makes so much of waiting. Our faith does not become dysfunctional simply because we long for healing and restoration. However, it gets warped when we demand them right now. The spiritual impact of seasons of suffering will be entirely determined by whether we undergo them with patience. The art of waiting is the art of grieving with hope - offering our laments while nonetheless enduring with quieted souls for salvation to arrive.

Waiting, we should be clear, is not a passive enterprise. Indeed, Jeremiah equates it with "seeking the Lord" in the above passage. This is because of its object - to wait on the Lord is not only contradicted by not waiting but also by waiting on some other object of hope. To wait biblically meant to endure in faith, to refuse the false promises of idols, and to consistently bring our struggles into the presence of our Father rather than drawing back from Him and finding solace in earthly things.

We are all, in a sense, in the long Holy Saturday of creation. Christ has risen, but creation waits with aching longing for His return and the sons of God to be revealed. Christ has risen, but we are still in mortal bodies dwelling as sojourners in an age that is passing away. 

What we must do, in this season, is wait as those whose trust is in the Lord. We must continue to press into Him, continue to grow to be more like Him, continue to enter His presence. We do all of this not because it offers immediate solutions but because it promises a final salvation on which we can sink the pilings of our hope. These are the days of waiting; may our hearts be strengthened until, at last, we look upon the goodness of the Lord.