Grave Reflections for Holy Saturday
This weekend our inclination is to move right to Sunday, with its spring flowers, chocolates, and promise of new life. On Friday we might pause to reflect a moment on the cruel reality of death, but by Saturday our sights are already set on the morrow, preparing our Sunday best, hiding eggs, planning to attend a celebratory service.
Why not? God is alive! At least that’s what William Lane Craig declared to the largely conservative readership of Christianity Today in 2008. He noted that reports of God’s demise were premature and “grossly exaggerated.”
Yes, the God of power, of triumph, who always gets his way, seems to be alive and well. And we like to believe that this powerful God turns this power toward us. When things are going well, it must be because God is on our side, as Bob Dylan sang so long ago.
A new world with resources and land and treasures untold is “discovered.” God is good. The Native peoples are swindled, conquered, and abused in the name of “progress.” God is good. The most impressive empire since ancient Rome is established. God is good. We are secure in our nation, our identity, our faith. God is powerful, is he not?
A convenient perspective, when things are going well.
But it has to be asked: where is this God of power for the people of Japan? The people of Haiti? The people of Libya, Egypt and Syria? Those hit hard in our current economic crunch? Where is this God of power when our nation is losing its grip as the focal point of world awe? He’s easy to invoke –even easier to believe in– when all is well. But too often throughout history, this God has nothing to say to the poor, the weak, the marginalized, and in fact, is often invoked at their expense. This God is too busy being victorious to stoop and assist the downtrodden. And so are his people, who demand, ‘strap yourself up by your own bootstraps’ and ‘that’s what they get for not being good Christians’ and so on.
For me, that God is dead.
What if God is actually bigger than that? Bigger than our claims of nationalism. Bigger than a God who acts in power at the expense of the weak. Bigger than our gospel of prosperity, which ignores people of the third world who suffer so that we can continue unimpeded in our march toward material wealth. Bigger than demanding his followers sacrifice critical thinking in the name of a slavish biblical literalism. Bigger than a God who calls us to marginalize the gay and lesbian community. Not just bigger, but better.
The catholic philosopher and theologian Jean-Luc Marion notes that “idols are not just wooden examples of the divine, they can be ideas too.” In other words, there are certain conceptual frameworks that we setup as “God”, which are not actually God. John Calvin noted that the human mind is an ‘idol factory’ bent on creating things to worship. Perhaps this powerful “God” of much of Western Christendom is such a god.
The gods of nationalism, ignorance and fundamentalism seem alive and well, but it’s time for them to die.
And perhaps, on this Holy Saturday, when the tomb is full and the questions linger, you might join me in this funeral.
After all, Jesus himself noted that unless a seed goes into the earth and dies, it cannot rise again to new life. So perhaps the death of these gods of our own making will pave the way for the God who is, and who is always beyond our limited conceptions of him.
As a Christian, I see this God incarnate in Jesus, who set aside power in entering our world. And as far as I can tell, Jesus continues to set aside his power in order to empower you and me, who after all, are now his body – his very hands and feet to minister to a broken world – not as powerful conquerors, but as fellow broken vessels. Now that is something worth celebrating this Easter.