Holy Week invites us to enter into the experiences of the week … to walk with Jesus, we might say … by reliving in drama, song, and holy text, so that our memories might come to life about what took place and why it happened in just the way it happened. So, we have gathered in the breaking light of Easter morning to explore sacred memory: The early morning light … the breaking of shadowy dawn following Shabbat’s dedication to seventh day rest. Jesus has spent this time “as dead as a doornail,” a phrase coined by William Shakespeare in King Henry VI.
In this early morning we’re finishing up the business of Saturday, God’s Sabbath day observance. In Holy Week, one cannot just jump from Friday to Sunday; there must be Saturday!
This, of course, was always the holy day for the Jewish tradition. The Sabbath rest was a pivotal day for the Jews, and even the dead body of Jesus rested on Saturday, waiting for God to stir to life and do whatever God planned to do. This is our great act of trust and surrender, both together. A new “creation ex nihilo” is about to happen, but first it must be desired.
Remember, hope is not some vague belief that “all will work out well.” Biblical hope is the certainty that things finally have a victorious meaning no matter how they turn out. We learn that from Jesus, who gives us now the courage to live our lives forward from here.1
An article in National Geographic a few years back provided a penetrating image of God’s wings. Recall the poetry of the Psalms, “He will cover you with his pinions (the tips of his wing feathers), and under his wings you will find refuge …” (Psalm 91:4, NRSV)
After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers trekked up a mountain to assess the inferno’s damage. One ranger found the fire had literally petrified a bird in ashes perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of a tree. Sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked over the bird with his walking stick and when he struck it, he was stunned to see three tiny chicks scurried out from under their dead mother’s wings. The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, perhaps instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise.
The mother bird could have flown to safety but had refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze had arrived and the heat had singed her small body, the mother had remained steadfast. Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings had lived.
That’s the good news for today. We’re like those women who went to the tomb at the break of dawn to take care of Jesus’ hastily wrapped body. They were there to finish the work of Saturday’s Sabbath interruption. And when they arrived, the stone had been rolled back and the risen Jesus was mistakenly assumed to be the gardener. And he told them to go and announce his resurrection to the disciples who may not have even risen themselves from their night’s sleep.
© Rev. Dr. Keith D. Herron 2023
1 Fr. Richard Rohr, Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, Cincinnati OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2011, 141-143