I’m sitting here at at my parents house, waiting for a fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolate cheesecake to cool enough for me to put it in the fridge so I can go to bed. And I find myself thinking.
What a dark night this must have been almost 2,000 years ago.
I’ve had a couple of those.
Most days, I am a testament to the notion that everything goes better with sleep. No matter how bad the day seems to be going, I know that I’m one solid afternoon siesta, good night’s rest, or even 20-minute power nap away from a brighter outlook.
But then there are those times in life when the prospect of night is just a sentence to eight hours of sleepless agony. I’ve been furiously angry and slept like a baby. I’ve been sad, discouraged or disappointed and still managed to…Zzzzzzzzz.
But there is something about the finality of death that transforms the “to be continued…” ellipsis of sleep into a period of immovable stone. The dawn we usually anticipate with zeal, that great cosmic reboot that offers us fresh perspective, is powerless against the granite anchor in the pit of our stomach.
Death is the end of hope.
I think about what that awful Saturday meant to Christ’s disciples. Did they find comfort in the familiarity of Sabbath observance? Were they merely going through the motions, counting the minutes until Sunday dawned and they could — what, exactly? Did some of them plan to flee Jerusalem? To go back to their old lives and try to forget all they’d seen? Surely it crossed at least a few of their minds.
These days, “hope” has become a quasi-meaningless byword, a double-edged political football tossed back and forth by two teams grappling over an imaginary line of scrimmage. The true significance of hope — the uplift of the human spirit against the formidable weight of circumstance — is reduced to a catchphrase.
But I’m sure a few souls heard the drumbeat of hopelessness echoing in the quiet of predawn Jerusalem: He is dead. Nothing will ever be the same.
They’d pinned their hopes on Jesus. And He was gone.
He’d beckoned them to walk across the swelling seas, heal the sick and cast out demons in His name. He had preached with authority and walked in certainty, declaring His eternal kingdom was at hand.
How had it all gone wrong? They had nothing left to cling to. The man who’d entered Jerusalem as a King has been dragged out as the lowest of criminals and executed in a public repudiation of all that His coming had seemed to portend.
And they, His followers, His friends, were left behind.
Huh. Sleep your way outta that one.
There is no darkness like that darkness, no mattress comfy enough to soften that blow.
And after Friday’s scramble to bury Him, after the enforced reflection of that somber Sabbath, after hours of sleepless agonizing, the day finally breaks.
The women must have been waiting all night. “Very early in the morning,” they made their way to His tomb, determined — in spite of everything — to honor His remains as the King they’d once thought He would become.
I wonder if anyone tried to discourage them. The expense of the embalming, the possibility that they’d be turned away from the sealed tomb, the danger of showing their fidelity to this radical even after His execution — any one might have been reason enough to abandon their plan. It was too late, anyway.
He is dead. Nothing will ever be the same.
They were half right.
Where they thought to see the decaying body of a would-be King, they find instead an empty tomb and a discarded shroud. Not the darkness of a grave but the gleaming light of two heavenly messengers carrying an impossible message: “He is not here; He is risen!”
Nothing will ever be the same.
There is no darkness like death. And no light so blinding as this: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
The grave is overcome. The tomb is empty.
He is Risen.