Kenneth Tanner

Kenneth Tanner

Rector, Holy Redeemer Church, Rochester Hills, MI

Holy Saturday is where the world lives now, awaiting resurrection. There is darkness that remains despite all Easters.

Christians need to be honest about this reality even as we boldly confess and proclaim the reality of the Resurrection.

Those who follow Christ don’t live in denial, certainly not about the pain and tragedy of existence. Like our Lord we seek to be honest about what’s not working in us, in the church, and in the world.

Miscarriages of children. Miscarriages of justice. Senseless killings…everywhere. Broken bones that don’t heal right. Child abuse. Slavery and slave-like wages. Marriages that are on life support. Cancer. Parkinson’s. MS. Lost homes. Lost jobs. Lost children. Wars that claim our loved ones.

When we live in denial about these and other real life struggles—and denial can be simply tuning out the darkness with false enthusiasm—it’s hard for the world to receive our very good news that all of this death is not the end; that the death of Jesus means that death is now everywhere in retreat, even if we cannot always see that.

It’s also harder for us to engage suffering strangers and acquaintances with authentic compassion, mercy, and empathy when we refuse to stay with Jesus at the crosses or tombs of life.

It’s hard to be patient in our own sufferings, or endure the anguish of those closest to us—to see them as a participation in Christ’s hardships—when we expect every day to be Easter.

When we live in denial, it’s hard to sustain honest community, to engender churches where folks who doubt and struggle with faith and obedience are as welcome as those who are certain and assured.

It’s hard to keep it real when you are living Easter in denial; in denial that others—others in the pew next to yours—are living Holy Saturday or even—Christ, have mercy—gutting it out through a personal Good Friday.

In what might be called a contemporary hymn, “Wake Up Dead Man,” Bono, of the Irish band, U2, writes about a friend who dies in an apparent accident:

Jesus, were you just around the corner?
Did you think to try and warn her?
Were you working on something new?
If there’s an order in all of this disorder
Is it like a tape recorder?
Can we rewind it just once more?

Then the singer cries out:

Wake up, wake up dead man.
Wake up, wake up dead man.
Wake up, wake up dead man.

It’s honest, not blasphemous, that the protagonist of the song asks Jesus quite frankly—in a very particular instance of tragedy—‘where were you?’ … ‘where are you?’

It’s reminiscent of the Psalms and of Isaiah: “Awake, why do you sleep, O Lord?” … “Arise, cast us not off forever. Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD.”

We see this, too, in Mark’s Gospel: “Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion, the disciples woke him up, shouting, ‘Teacher, don’t you care that we are going to perish?’”

It helps, perhaps, to remember that ‘asleep’ and ‘dead’ are used interchangeably in the Bible.

Wake up dead man!

It’s a hymn about doubt but it’s really—at its depths—a hymn of faith, crying out to the Risen Christ, ‘Wake up!’

Yet in this time before Christ arises and returns—as we endure our personal and corporate seasons of trial and torture, dying and burying; in this time before Christ’s kingdom comes here on earth as it is in heaven—we do not wait as those without hope.

We wait in a tension between the darkness of Holy Saturday and the bright promise of Easter.

Some days we have faith and on other days, as one of the sisters in my congregation reminds me, we must rely on the faith of others, on the faith of the gathered church. We are not saved alone but accompanied in this journey by the body of Christ.

And as we stare this present darkness down together we have a message to deliver: The Resurrection is something that is already at work in the world and one day there will not be anywhere or (we trust and pray) anyone that’s not transfigured by eternal life.


For Holy Saturday, 2016