This week I’ve been blogging a series of reflections on the Easter message for ChristChurch London (assisted by my friend Andy Tuck, who contributed Tuesday and Thursday’s refections). In addition I’ve preached on Gethsemane and jotted some thoughts on Dumbledore, the Potion of Despair and the wilful obedience of Christ.
I’ve felt pretty immersed in the Easter story.
Weeks back, when I looked at the prospect of writing another series of reflections on this familiar time of the year, I really didn’t know where to start. This is now the fourth year I’ve done it (you can see all of them here) and I didn’t really know what different light I could shed on the story. And the day that I struggled most with was today.
Easter Saturday. Nothing happened. Which is kind of the point.
Every year I struggle knowing what to write for Easter Saturday, and yet this year it was the one that came most easily, and which I found personally most moving. I turned to the Psalms for inspiration and was struck by the strange mixture of despair, irony and hope that come together in Psalm 88.
A limited word-count didn’t permit me to go as deep into the Psalm as I would have liked, but if you have some time today to read and reflect, why don’t you look over my thoughts below and then turn to the Psalm for yourself. Print out a copy, underline the key words, scribble notes all over it and feast on the rich hope it has to offer.
Saturday: Crying Out for Rescue
Easter Saturday: a day of many questions and few answers. It sits in the silence, suspended between the despair of Good Friday and the hope of Easter Sunday.
Psalm 88 is a cry of anguish, which sums up the pain of the disciples’ unanswered questions and expresses something of the experience of Jesus:
‘LORD, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry to you for help, LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me? From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend.’ (Psalm 88)
This is a dark and difficult Psalm. It expresses emotions that are hard enough for anyone to process, but takes on a whole new level of depth when applied to Jesus.
It is quite unthinkable that Jesus should have had to experience anything like this. That the Lord of Life should be counted among those who go down to the pit (v3), set apart with the dead (v4), rejected by the Father (v14) and cut off from His care (v5).
The Psalm ends with no easy answers and no hint of hope. And yet, with the gift of hindsight and the knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection, we can begin to see cracks in the Psalm, through which light slowly breaks in.
It is precisely because Christ spread out his hands on the cross (v9), with God’s wrath lying heavily on him (v7), separated from friend and neighbour (v18), made repulsive to all who looked upon him (v8) and cut off from the care of his Father (v5) that we can find hints of hope in the sorrow of Easter Saturday.
As Isaiah puts it:
‘He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ (Isaiah 53:2-6)
And the deepest irony of all: The psalmist writes ‘Is your love declared in the grave?’ (v11) and the implied answer is an emphatic ‘no!’ for what hope, joy or goodness is there in death?
But in the grave of Christ, this verse gets turned on its head. For it is there that the love of God is seen most vividly.
He was rejected so that we could be reconciled. He tasted death so that we might live. ‘The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Galatians 2:20)
Easter Saturday is a dark day. But take heart; Sunday is coming…
Questions for Reflection
- How must the disciples have felt on Easter Saturday? Are there any ways in which you can relate to their experience?
- Read the Psalm through again. What other insights does this Psalm give into Jesus’ experience? And how does it give you hope when you face difficult times?
Thank you Jesus that you tasted death on our behalf. Thank you that you were separated from the Father, so that we might be reconciled to Him. And thank you that in your cross we see the deepest expression of love.
Help me to trust you when I find myself in dark places and to cling to the hope that you are the resurrection and the life.
If you find yourself with some extra time today, why not read Philippians 2:5-11 and reflect on Jesus’ obedience to God’s plan, even to the point of death on a cross. You may also want to check this post, Waiting in the Silence, and read Pete Greig’s book God on Mute.
You may want to join us tomorrow for our Easter Sunday service. We will meet at The Mermaid Theatre, EC4V 3DB, 11.00-12.30. Please note there is only one service on this day, giving you the rest of the afternoon to celebrate with friends and family.