We have travelled a great distance, you and I in these last few weeks during lent, and we find ourselves now in an extraordinary liminal space; in in-between times we no longer recognise and the world which we used to know and which we now longer want to accept or live in. In between old truths and new truths, between knowing and loving Jesus and joyfully seeing with disbelieving eyes, Christ the Son of God risen indeed. We are in-between Maundy Thursday at the last supper with our Lord and discovering the empty tomb at the start of the new week. Empty of Jesus’ body which had been wrapped so tenderly, lovingly in grief and with endless tears on Friday evening two days earlier.
Friday was the day of Preparation for the Jewish people as they were preparing for the Passover and the Sabbath, in between times as they remembered and celebrated their freedom given by God from the slavery in Egypt and now in these times of oppression with the Roman Empire.
John’s Gospel tells us about this imminent religious celebration in his description of Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane and being taken to the house of the High Priest Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas where he was initially questioned. Then they moved the trial to Pilate’s residence to get the sentence of immediate death placed on Jesus, but they did not enter Pilate’s headquarters, we are told, ‘so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover (John 18:28).
In the middle of practical arrangements for an inconvenient state murder the priests and authorities are concerned about getting the job done before this Holy Day, to avoid defilement as they looked forward to their celebrations. The irony is overwhelming.
We hear again about the importance of the time and day in John 19:31, when we are told, because it was the day of Preparation, the religious authorities:
did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity.
There is a request to Pilate and a hurried release of the bodies still hanging on the crosses once it is confirmed they are dead. This was done by breaking the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus, and piercing Jesus’ side with a spear. John states Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus came to collect Jesus’ body in the dark, fearful of declaring their discipleship openly. Matthew reports it was Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple who came asking for Jesus’ body in the evening. Pilate ordered it to be given to him.
The women were in an agony of despair and waiting. It must have felt like a lifetime of waiting before they could go to the tomb to keep watch. The women had stood at the foot of the cross all day and seen Jesus die in agony, unable to do anything except keep vigil.
The women kept Joseph company, as Jesus was prepared for burial and Joseph willingly accepted ritual uncleanliness to complete the burial rites. So many in our world today have borne this cross, this agony with loved ones. Standing in solidarity, witnessing to the pain and suffering, keeping vigil, keeping watch by night. Knowing what is important in the end and all the rest is meaningless.
Jesus has now gone before us into this pain and suffering that seems as if it will never end. Their heaviness of heart is matched by the heaviness of the stone placed across the entrance to the tomb, rolled across to cover the entrance leaving Jesus entombed. The job was completed. They had laid their beloved master and teacher to rest.
The religious authorities came to Pilate the next day, after the day of Preparation, anxious to prevent any rumour of resurrection or the body being stolen. The soldiers were sent to check the stone was sealed in place in front of the tomb. Nothing could get in or out.
We now stand with the women in this liminal space. It is Easter Saturday, we are keeping vigil for Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. The new creation is about to begin, the old creation has passed away. We have left behind all that we were, we are now emerging into the world that is coming into view, into lives reborn, baptized into Christ but this time is now pregnant with waiting, the pause before the new beginning.
We wait and we pray and I reflect on these in-between times.
In these in-between times I wonder about the six hours stretched out in the sun, warm wood against Jesus’ body, nails driven in with the sound of hammer thudding against flesh and wood and cries of pain, blood trickling into his eyes from the thorny crown making seeing difficult. The weight of his body making breathing hard. The torture done to him before the hanging, the torture done to him now in this 21st century. The pain of all bodies and all people, souls been and gone before and still to come in the people of this world, from the beginning declared, to the last day promised, are all captured in his broken body. Jesus who endured to the end as he drank the cup including the lees. Grief drowning us up, we have no place else left to be, except here, in this liminal space, with God, alone. The birds calling in the cool of the falling night, the night noises in the cemetery as grief has exhausted us, a recollection of the need to head for home and the desire to stay and not move, ever again. It’s too much, this day has done me in. I am ended. These days are ended. All I can do now is wait in silence for God to reveal God’s self to me.
We keep our vigils still. The vigil for all who need someone to know who they are and remember their story, all who are broken, forgotten, or simply tossed onto the scrapheap of history and buried in plain sight with no tomb or burial, simply disappeared, and disremembered.
We keep vigil for our Lord wherever he is keeping his company this day and night. We keep our vigil.
The Lord be with you.