Saturday must have been a long and dark day. Not only did they hide in fear of their lives, but even worse, they grieved deeply. Jesus was gone. His disciples had watched the soldiers carry him off to his execution the day before. Now it was Saturday, their master was dead and the grief cut deeply, leaving them utterly hollow.
They had not signed up for this. Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah. He was supposed to lead them to victory over their oppressors. He was supposed to establish Israel as a strong nation once again and allow them to bask in the joy of sweet justice. Pain, grief, and sorrow were not part of the package.
Perhaps you have felt like the disciples that dark Saturday. I know I have. Over a fifteen-month period in my life I experienced the deaths of a friend, two grandmothers, my father-in-law, and the church that we had planted, as well as the near death experiences of a sister-in-law and a niece. Wham! There I was. It seemed like everything around me was dying. I didn’t sign up for this. I thought the way of following Jesus was one of victory and peace. All I felt was pain and despair. Actually, I had lost the ability to feel. I wish I could say that I handled it with poise and dignity, quietly nodding and smiling, quoting pithy platitudes about God’s sovereignty. I didn’t. I toggled between numb denial and irritating doubt. I wondered if perhaps I didn’t measure up. Perhaps God was punishing me for something. Perhaps I’d been duped all these years and the universe really was a cold and empty place.
I have to think that the disciples had similar feelings on that dark Saturday. It seemed as if all hope was gone. We feel this way because we forget an important truth. The way of Jesus is a way of pain, grief, and sorrow. Jesus suffered much in his life – even before his arrest and execution. As a child he knew what it meant to be hidden in Egypt in fear for his life. He knew the loss of his stepfather, Joseph. He wept over the death of his friend, Lazarus. He grieved over the blindness of the citizens of Israel. He agonized to the point of blood in the garden of Gethsemane. He screamed out in the words of his ancestor, David, as he hung on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”
But Jesus told us it would be this way. In John’s account of Jesus’ final teaching Jesus said that God would prune the branches that clung to the Vine (John 15:1-17). Pruning hurts. To have large parts of your life severed from you is not a pleasant experience. There is no joy in the sensation of shears cutting into your flesh. Yet, as the Great Gardener knows, without pruning there is no life.
That is the way of Jesus – the way of God’s love and grace. God purifies us with pain. The disciples learned this and went on to write to the churches about it. James said to consider it pure joy when we suffer various trials, because in the end it makes us complete and strong. Peter told us that suffering refines our hearts like fire refines gold. Then Paul, as he described the painful process of working through persecution and breaking down the walls of prejudice, reached the climax of the whole process with one word – hope.
Saturday was finally over. On Sunday the disciples came face to face with a reality that is deeper than grief. They met hope. Jesus plowed through pain and grief and came out the other side alive once more. Saturdays will come. Of that you can be sure. They will come and they will be painful. They may last a day; they may last twenty months. When they come, remember this – without Saturday we don’t get to Sunday. The love of Jesus is our hope for today and forever. We will grieve, but we can grieve with hope.