What does it mean for God to experience death?
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for April 8th: Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16; Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24; 1 Peter 4:1-8; and Matthew 27:57-66. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is Holy Saturday. Today Jesus lies dead in the tomb. Passive. Acted upon. In Jesus, God experiences the reality of death, the reality of separation and the sorrow it brings. Today, some scholars wonder, does God permit the division of God’s perfect wholeness. On Palm Sunday, we read the Philippians passage that speaks of Jesus emptying Himself of His divinity. Jesus’ humanity, in other words, is authentic. This places self-imposed limits on the divine relationship between God the Father and God the Son Incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, but the relationship continues although modified. Is it broken as Jesus lies dead in the tomb? Is this profound separation experienced by God personally? We cannot know, but the reality of Jesus’ death and entombment, if we carry Jesus’ Incarnation forward until the moment of the resurrection’s transformation, forces us to consider this theological possibility.
On Holy Saturday, the community of the church waits, the people of faith wait. Jesus had spoken of His impending death, but also of His being raised again to life. His followers could not make sense out of this prophecy. They kept reinterpreting it according to their own expectations. However, the seed of hope had been planted.
Today’s reading from Lamentations gives expression to Jesus’ anguish as the one who suffers “under the rod of God’s wrath; [God] has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; against me alone [God] turns his hand, again and again, all day long.” However, the one who suffers also says, “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” The intent of this connection between Jesus and the Hebrew Scripture’s lamentation of a suffering, faithful servant is that Jesus suffers because of His God-given ministry, and that Jesus hopes in this same God.
Holy Saturday is a time of hope for believers, but remarkably maybe also for Jesus Himself, God Incarnate who accepted the reality of human death. Maybe the inspired words of Lamentations convey the depth of Jesus’ despair: “Though I call and cry for help, [God] shuts out my prayer; [God] has blocked my ways with hewn stones.”
I share these musings on this last day of Lent, this last of this year’s Lenten Blogs, because it puts into perspective the majesty of the joy and triumph that is hoped for in Easter. The death of Jesus of Nazareth is real. The totality of its separation may be allowed by God. And for Jesus there was hope but not certainty when He went to the cross, when He accepted even the reality of death. To imagine the wonder of that glorious moment when God raised Him off of that burial slab where His marred, dead body had been thrown unceremoniously, raised Him to the full glory of the divine nature that Jesus had emptied Himself of at the Incarnation, this is the hope and power of Easter Sunday.
I invite you to join with us at worship to share in this most profound mystery, to share in triumphant and lasting joy. If you would like to join us online, please send an email to email@example.com for the Zoom login. It is exciting to think of tomorrow’s Alleluia’s.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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