Holy Week is a week of tears for Christians. It is a hard week, appearing to culminate in what we commemorate as Good Friday, the whipping, the stripping of clothes and dignity, the mocking, and finally the crucifixion of our beloved saviour, confirmed because the guard cuts him in the thigh.
It is a day for weeping! The Gospel accounts are confronting. But we have information the disciples did not know or understand on that dark day nearly two thousand years ago. We know how the story continues.
Many people will live their lives as Christians always inhabiting that uncertainty of Easter Saturday.
It is easy for us to forget about the in-between day as we look to celebrate the Risen Lord. To be able to acclaim with our fellow worshippers, “Jesus has risen … He has risen indeed.”
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However, I would like to suggest that Easter Saturday is a very important day and many people will live their lives as Christians always inhabiting that uncertainty of Easter Saturday. I am wiped clean, beloved and filled with God’s grace. I am made whole – a new creation. But if this is the spiritual truth, that does not mean it is the lived experience for everyone.
There are some traumas that cannot be set aside. Memories that are seared deeply into a person’s psyche. Traumas such as child sex abuse. Post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by psychological wounds caused by war or an environmental disaster or other shocking events, such as the death of a child.
American theologian Shelly Rambo has written about this in a book titled Spirit and Trauma, A Theology of Remaining. The research, analysis and questions she poses – and seeks to unpack – are profound. She writes: “In the aftermath of trauma, death and life no longer stand in opposition. Instead, death haunts life.” She asks the reader to think about what this means.
“The challenge for those who experience trauma is to move in a world in which the boundaries and parameters of life and death no longer seem to hold, to provide meaning. The challenge for those who take seriously the problem of trauma is to witness trauma in all of its complexities – to account for the ongoing experience of death in life. “The challenge, for both, is to forge a path of healing amid all of the complexities.” And so Rambo asks, “Can theology witness to what remains?”
For our theology and our understanding of God to hold through the deep tragedies, pain and brokenness that for some will never go away, it needs to be able to sit in the in-between. That is the place the disciples were forced to inhabit on that dark day after their Messiah died, broken and bloody. Nothing triumphant about his death and yet they thought he was their Lord.
They hid away in a locked room. We don’t know much about how they spent the day, but I suspect they wouldn’t have been great company. Desolate. Lost. Confused. Alone despite being together. How could they share their common grief when their own heart was broken? What had they given their last three years to? Were they deceived? Was it all for nothing?
And then think about that in-between day for Jesus. What do we know about this time? We say in the Apostles’ Creed “He descended into hell and on the third day he rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven.” We don’t often think about that first part. Jesus was exposed to all the horrors we cannot even imagine. But most of all, he was apart from God the Father. That is the space Jesus inhabited before Mary and the disciples found the empty tomb the following day.
He too was damaged, his scars clearly visible.
Jesus descended into hell physically broken. He had a significant wound in his side. He had suffered excruciating pain as his body hung on the cross, his nailed and bleeding hands taking the weight of his body.
When he rose from the dead, when he met Mary, when he walked the road to Emmaus unrecognised by his two companions, when he entered the locked room, Jesus was different. He too was damaged, his scars clearly visible.
Have you considered the role of the so-named “doubting Thomas” in ways other than that he questioned whether this Jesus was the same man he had seen nailed on a cross, whose blood had separated, indicative of a body without a heartbeat? It is challenging to those who dare to doubt, to contemplate that Jesus carried those visible wounds – in the thigh and the hands – as the risen saviour who had defeated death.
Churches need to find some space and language that gives room for this brokenness and pain.
This knowledge can offer great comfort to those who have suffered significant trauma, trauma that leaves an invisible or visible mark on a person. It is also the power of Easter Saturday, the in-between day.
For some Christians, their life on earth will remain in Easter Saturday. They know Jesus has risen, but the darkness of their life can overshadow the hope that they intellectually know is found in Christ. Christians who know they are loved by God, but due to their life circumstances, each day is a struggle.
Their scars are deep and no amount of scrubbing will make them feel renewed. Churches need to find some space and language that gives room for this brokenness and pain. We are all imperfect, some just hide it better.
The Psalms, Lamentations and Ecclesiastes remind us that God inhabits despair as much as shouts of praise and wonder. When we invite God into our own dark and broken hearts, into our own hidden in-between day, we will start to unfold a relationship with our heavenly father deeper than we could ever have imagined. For that is the place the broken Christ – who first descended to hell, rose with the scars of his earthly experience, and returned to God’s side – invites us to be.