THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY of the Christian year is and always has been Easter Sunday. Christians around the world have been mourning the death and then celebrating the resurrection of Jesus for roughly 2,000 years. Long before eggs and pastel bunnies (traditions which started just 300 years ago in North America, according to most sources) were three days: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Everything rests on those three days.
Paul writes it best: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19, NRSV). Reminding us of the book of Ecclesiastes, which argues that life is meaningless without God, Paul articulates the utter centrality of the cross and the rolled-away-stone. Without the crucifixion and the resurrection, belief in Jesus is worthless.
That is one of the reasons why the Gospel authors wrote the accounts of the death and resurrection in such detail, dedicating more words to it than any other event of Jesus’ life. They knew that if Christ did not die and rise again, then Christianity is a tragedy and we who believe are to be pitied above all others. The Gospel writers understood that they had to get this story exactly right.
IN EVERY GOSPEL ACCOUNT there is a particular detail that I invite you to think about with me. Have you ever noticed the passages on the Second Day – the day between the cross and the resurrection? It is a day of silence and stillness. Some call the day Holy Saturday, some don’t have a name for it, and some overlook it entirely, skipping right to Easter Sunday. But the Second Day is unmistakably there, and each Gospel writer asks us to consider it with awe and reverence.
You may remember that the Israelites practiced the sabbath on Saturdays (as Jews still do today), just as God commanded them in the Torah (first five books of the Bible). The switch to Sunday sabbath only occurred after the Resurrection. It seemed more fitting for the first day of the week to be the day of the Resurrection. The sabbath was practiced by Jesus and other Jews from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, a full 24 hours of rest and worship, every week. It was such a big ordeal, that Jesus and others would spend time preparing for it every Friday—the day of Preparation—so that they could abstain from work for the entirety of the 24-hour period.
Significantly, this detail of the sabbath between Jesus’ death and resurrection is included in every Gospel. Take Luke’s account, which reads: “[Joseph of Arimathea] went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. [But] on the sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:52-56).
On the night of that Friday that Jesus hung and died, they rushed to have him wrapped in a cloth, compelled to wait on applying the spices and ointments to leave Him until Sunday when the Sabbath was over. A day of rest—after the darkest of human history and right before the brightest—landing in-between, where all seems lost. There is no hope to be seen, touched, felt, or heard.
If you’ve ever lost a loved one, recall the moment you realized you would never see them laugh or cry on this side of heaven. I imagine the disciples had that same realization about Jesus. In despair, they may have wanted to cry out, as Jesus did, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet, the disciples still observed sabbath—that is they rested and worshipped God—and I think God tells us something in this.
WHAT WE LEARN FROM THE DAY INBETWEEN
Paul’s famous conversion story where he encounters the risen Savior on the road to Damascus is often used as an example of God changing someone’s life in an instant. But perhaps that interpretation skips the Second Day. Paul himself testifies that it took 17 years after his encounter on the road to Damascus before beginning the bulk of his ministry (See Galatians 1:15-2:1).
What does this have to do with the Second Day? Well, in both stories, we see the followers of Jesus wait. In the waiting, we see faithfulness. I am encouraged to wait on the Lord’s transformation story in my own life and the lives of others.
We love a comeback story. But, sometimes, I think we try to rush the process. Sometimes, we give up on people too easily or oversimplify the solution to their suffering. It can be frustrating to see the same man begging on the street corner when we bought his lunch yesterday. The process of transformation, moving from death to life, can be slow, and I for one am guilty of impatience.
At Oliver Gospel, our programs for men, women, and children typically run 6 – 18 months (learn more here). Our mission statement is engaging and transforming lives together through the power of Christ’s love, but there is a second day between “death” and “resurrection”; a period of waiting. When someone has encountered suffering most of their life: abuse, discrimination, hunger, depression, and loneliness—it can take some time to heal and fully be open to God’s restorative work.
THE REST OF THE STORY
Thankfully, we know the rest of the story: Jesus did rise again (and He will come again!) and God’s new Kingdom project was inaugurated with his glorious Resurrection. For humanity, that means that Jesus defeated sin and death and invites us into eternal life with Him through the finished work of the cross and empty tomb. Working and ministering on this side of the Resurrection, we hope in the that Resurrection power to transform lives.
No matter how long or hard the journey is between the cross and resurrection, it’s worth the trial. On the other side is eternal life with Jesus, who satisfies every hunger, wipes every tear, and loves deeper than we could imagine.