“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” - 2 Corinthians 4:10
“Christ is risen!” My cup is running over- or so I’m told.
Meanwhile, the violence of a murderous regime in Syria spills across borders and the blood of innocent lives cries out from the ground.
“Christ is risen!” We’re wearing pretty pastels- I even catch someone sporting seer sucker before the Kentucky Derby- and we’re singing songs of triumph over sin and death.
“I’m just waiting for something good to happen,”a friend writes from a place of anguish and confusion about where her life is going, about her frustration over her inability to just “get it together.”
“Christ is risen!” We’re proclaiming that life negates death and healing overcomes brokenness.
But, he still has those recurring nightmares of roadside bombs and buddies blown to pieces. She’s having trouble just “getting over it” when everyone else has moved on. They’re the ones at the back of the church, or who never darken the doors, because “resurrection” is at best a weary trickle for them. Because they’re still stuck somewhere between death and life. Because their whole life, in fact, will be lived out “in the middle.”
Holy Saturday. We don’t really talk about it in the church. We prefer to fast forward to Easter. Just like when someone is telling us about all of the shit in their life, and we would prefer to tell them how to fix it, how God will make it all better. Just like when we feel really uncomfortable when the folks with the really obvious disabilities join us in worship and aren’t invisible. It’s hard to stay there, in the middle, between death and life, without jumping ahead to some triumphant ending. Yet I would venture to say that many of us in the church, despite our well-heeled finery and fresh-faced smiles on Easter, spend much of our lives here. In the middle.
I just finished Shelly Rambo’s Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. If you’re looking for a theology for Holy Saturday, this is a good place to start. Rambo argues that what the church needs in these spaces is not more triumphant proclamation about how resurrection has made us all better, but a willingness to tell the truth about how we’re still “waiting for something good to happen.” She challenges us to think more about who the church is for those who occupy this middle ground.
And there are many of us. Those of us who have experienced trauma of any kind know that life is never the same again. That life is a painful, muddled mix of re- enacting the trauma and finding spaces in which to breathe again and move into life even as we carry this “death” with us.
Someone I admire told me an Indian proverb yesterday about a man who dies and goes to heaven. The man upon entering the pearly gates asks if this is the only place he can go. He is told that he can also go to hell if he’d prefer. He requests that he’d be allowed to visit. There in hell he finds community with those in deep suffering and decides that solidarity with those who are suffering is “paradise” itself. He decides to stay there rather than return to heaven.
Maybe this is a bit of what it means for a God for whom “darkness is the same as light” to descend into hell. Maybe courageous solidarity with those who are suffering, not some magic bullet proclamation about resurrection, is the most powerful testimony the church can give to a God who is “with” us.
In Messy: God Likes It That Way, A.J. Swoboda gives voice to my own gripe with church triumphalism when he critiques an expression that often gets thrown around in circles we both have run in. You may have heard it, too: it goes, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” But Swoboda would say, and I couldn’t agree more, that the church’s witness would be better summed up in this: “Love the sinner, love the sinner.” This, I suspect, is what it means to occupy Holy Saturday- what it means to be in that space where life and death, sin, sickness and healing are all tangled up with one another.