Forrest Gump was on television the other day.
For those of you who don’t remember, Forrest Gump chronicles the life of a man from Alabama who manages to be present for every significant event of the 1960s and 70s. He serves in the Vietnam War, participates in the Olympics, and is responsible for catching the burglars at the Watergate Hotel. Forrest narrates these events as he sits at a bus stop in Savannah, and he shares the stories of his life with his fellow passengers in the most matter-of-fact way possible. It gradually becomes clear that these stories shape the way that Forrest looks at the world and define his relationships with his mother, his friends, and his beloved Jenny. He derives meaning from these stories because they remind him who he is.
In a similar way, the Jewish Sabbath always begins with the telling of stories. Every Sabbath includes the same words: “Hear, O Israel the Lord your God, the Lord your God is one.” The people gathered around that table tell the story of their relationship with God. They tell the story of God’s faithfulness to their people in ages past and remind themselves that God is faithful to them through the changes and chances of their own lives.
This is why the gospels tell us that the disciples are in such a hurry to entomb the body of Jesus. According to John, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus place Jesus in a nearby tomb simply because it is conveniently located. They do this so that they can return to their homes in time to observe the Sabbath, so that they can return to their homes to tell the story of God’s faithfulness, so that they can be reminded that God is faithful even through the changes and chances of their lives. There is something very powerful about this. Even though Jesus Christ had been betrayed, abandoned, and rejected, his disciples reminded themselves that God had been faithful to them in ages past. Even though their world had been shaken to its core, the disciples renewed their trust in the faithfulness of God.
There are times that all of us feel betrayed, abandoned, and rejected. There are times that all of us doubt the presence of God among us. But this Holy Saturday reminds us that even in the face of these challenges, we are called to tell the story of our relationship with God. We are called to renew our trust in the God who is faithful to us even when our whole world has collapsed around us. We are called to be faithful to a God who is faithful to us even to the point of death.
During the Second World War, an English priest was given the unpleasant task of telling a widow that her son had been killed in action. She had already lost her husband during the Battle of Britain; the priest knew that this newest piece of information would be completely devastating. He knocked on the widow’s door and held his breath as he waited for her to answer. As she answered the door, she saw the priest’s clerical collar and knew that the news would not be good. Tenuously, the priest said, “Madam, it grieves me to inform you that your son has been killed.” The widow’s response was surprising: “Won’t you come in for a cup of tea?” As the pair sat at the woman’s kitchen table, munching on biscuits and sipping Earl Grey, the priest observed quizzically, “Madam, you seem to be coping with this loss remarkably well. I certainly would not have felt able to invite someone over for tea if I had received the news you just received.” The widow mused, “I always have a cup of tea at this time. I’m told that when one faces devastating loss, one should strive to keep one’s routine. It’s the only way I can move forward.”
Today is Holy Saturday, the day that we remember the uncertainty that followed Jesus’ death. It is the day that we remember the grief of those closest to Jesus: the sorrow of his mother, the dejection of his friends, and the uncertainty of his disciples. In the liturgy for the day, we say the words of Psalm 130: “My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning.” Holy Saturday is a day of mourning and waiting. Yet it is also a day of routine. It’s striking that in the accounts of Jesus’ burial, a primary concern of those who mourned Jesus was to ensure they observed the Jewish burial customs, that they did the same thing that their ancestors had done for hundreds of years. Even more striking is how careful they are to observe the Sabbath, to take the day of rest appointed by Jewish law, to do the same thing they have done week in and week out for their entire lives. In the face of their grief, in the face of their uncertainty, in the face of the fact that their world had crashed down around them, those who mourned Jesus fell back on their routine, because that was the only way they could move forward.
There is a wisdom to routines. In the face of uncertainty and pain, routines can be an enormous comfort. Even as our world crashes down around us, we can cling to our routines and they can sustain us as we carefully move forward. But even as we return to our routines, we must always be willing to be surprised, to be jolted from complacency by a truth that transcends even the grief and uncertainty of this day. In the meantime, we are called to return to our routine, to gather in hope, and to wait for the Lord.