Endings and beginnings
March 26, 2016 4 Comments
Easter Saturday can be a bit of an odd day for many of us – sure, you can do evening service and ‘get it over with’ – and some Catholic Vigil Masses can be wonderfully evocative, but for most of us it’s the day between the two big ones for Christians – the sorrow of Good Friday and the joy of Easter Sunday. It’s a day of endings, and beginnings.
This is another ‘silent night’. The disciples are in hiding and in shock. Peter, still grieving for his friend, is tormented by his cowardice in denying him; Mary, his mother, still mourning her son, and Jerusalem is quiet – the Roman curfew sees to that. Outside the tomb Roman soldiers stand guard – there will be no stealing the body from the tomb and claiming that ‘he rose again’. The Romans did cruelty well, and they did violent death for rebels even better; you didn’t challenge Rome was the message – the coda being that if you did, you died in pain and shame. It wouldn’t be many years more before the Jews of Jerusalem learnt that truth the very hard way.
The Nicene Creed tells us that Jesus ‘descended into hell’, where he saved the souls trapped there. There’s a lot of speculation about what the medievals called ‘the harrowing of hell’, but we’re told so little 1 Peter 3:19 is all we have – and since learned theologians have disagreed on what it means, I’m not venturing an opinion – but it’s all we have to tell us what happened – until what we know happened, happened – so to speak.
The faithful Jews carried on waiting for the Messiah, and the followers of Jesus looked destined to be absorbed back into the mainstream of Judaism; somewhere a young man called Saul, from Tarsus, slept, no doubt content that heresy had been stamped out. The old order was reasserting itself whilst the world slept. In a few days time no one would talk about ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, and in a few months, few would remember him, and those who did would wonder what it had all been for. There would, no doubt, be other disturbers of the peace, but the Romans would deal with those. It was time to relax, or would be in a day or two – good job someone had put those guards on the tomb.
It was, perhaps, those men who first knew that things were not ending, but beginning. Before dawn, the women who had followed Jesus crept out to finish the job the Sabbath had prevented them from completing – anointing his body properly. It was dark, they felt their way, young Mary of Magdala got there first. They’d wondered about how to access the tomb – that stone was heavy, but perhaps they could sweet talk the Romans into helping them. But the stone was not there, and the guards were is disarray – something had happened, something was wrong … or was it?