Saturday was a long and dark day. Not only did the disciples hide in fear for their lives, but even worse, they grieved deeply. Soldiers had carried Jesus off to his execution the day before. Now, their master was dead, and the grief cut deeply, leaving them utterly hollow.
They had not signed up for this. Jesus was supposed to lead them to victory over oppressors, establish a strong nation, and allow them to bask in the joy of sweet justice. Pain and grief were not part of the package.
Perhaps you have felt like the disciples that dark Saturday. I know I have. Over a fifteen-month period, I experienced the deaths of a friend, two grandmothers, my father-in-law, and the church that we had planted, along with some other close calls. It seemed like everything around me was dying. I thought following Jesus meant victory and peace. All I felt was pain and despair. I wish I could say that I handled it with poise and dignity. I didn’t. I toggled between numb denial and irritating doubt. I wondered if I was to blame and God was punishing me for something. Perhaps I’d been duped and the universe was a cold, empty place.
I have to think that the disciples had similar feelings on that dark Saturday, as if all hope was gone. We feel this way because we forget an important truth. The way of Jesus is a way of pain, grief, and sorrow. Jesus suffered much in his life—even before his arrest and execution. As a child he had to be hidden in Egypt in fear for his life. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus. He agonized to the point of blood in the garden of Gethsemane. He screamed out as he hung on the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus told us it would be this way. In Jesus’ final teaching, he said that God would prune the branches that clung to the Vine (John 15:1-17). Pruning hurts. To have large parts of your life severed is not a pleasant experience. Yet, as the Gardener knows, without pruning there is no life.
That is the way of God’s love and grace. God purifies us with pain. The disciples learned this and wrote to the churches about it. James said it is an opportunity for joy when troubles come because in the end it makes us complete. Peter told us that suffering refines our hearts like fire refines gold. Paul reached the climax of the whole process with one word—hope.
On Sunday the disciples became aware of a reality far deeper than Saturday’s grief. They met hope. Jesus plowed through pain and grief and came out the other side. Saturdays will come, and they will be painful. But remember: without Saturday, we don’t get Sunday. Jesus’ love is our hope for today and forever. We will grieve, but with HOPE.