I woke up Sunday morning at my usual time this past Sunday, but then remembered that worship had been cancelled because of the Coronavirus. How disappointing! Sunday morning is my favorite time of the week, and leading worship is the best part of my job! And I know that many of you were disappointed, too, not to be able to attend worship. Of all the times not to be able to come to church! Just when we need it the most! But social distancing, and doing our part to help prevent the spread of this pandemic, meant that this would be a very different Sunday for us all.
I had already posted my order of worship on this blog, and I used that for my morning prayers, and prayed for all of our church members who would be using it, too. And I thought about all of the silent, empty churches around the world on this very strange Sabbath. And my thoughts went to a surprising place: an ancient sermon, first preached on Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, that I try to read every year on that day. Here are its opening words:
Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
Indeed, I thought, there is a great silence on earth today. Churches around the world, empty in an effort to reduce the spread of this pandemic. The earth trembling, even, as we all anxiously await the next steps in this unfolding drama. We are all in a time of waiting, a “Holy Saturday” time of waiting and wondering. And it is unsettling, isn’t it? Indeed, “Holy Saturday” times always are.
But think back to that first Holy Saturday. Jesus had been crucified, but was not yet raised from the dead. And his disciples were afraid, and wondering what awaited them. They were locked away in the upper room. “Social distancing,” you might say, out of fear, and deeply anxious about what tomorrow would bring. We know, of course, what their tomorrow would hold – the miracle of the resurrection. But they didn’t know. Not yet.
Is it so different now? We don’t know what tomorrow will hold, either. We are anxious and afraid, just as so many in our world seem to be. Our world is in a “Holy Saturday” time of waiting and wondering, not sure what tomorrow will bring. But you know what? We know exactly what tomorrow will bring. We don’t know exactly when tomorrow will come, but we know, as deeply as we know anything at all, that Easter Sunday always follows Good Friday. That Holy Saturdays don’t last, and that a resurrection awaits us all.
I know that I am not alone in saying that I can’t wait for the day when we will be able to come together in worship again, and what a day of celebration that will be! But, in the meantime, in this “Holy Saturday” time of waiting, I encourage you to trust in the One who brings resurrection out of every death; trust in the One who promises that Easter Sunday is coming.
And I encourage you, too, to share your faith and your hope and your trust in God’s promise. These are anxious times, and anxiety is just as contagious as any virus. But you know what else is contagious? Hope. And faith. And love. And joy. And kindness. And generosity. And compassion. So let’s make sure that we are spreading these things, and not just anxiety. Let’s make sure that we are being the church in the world, even if we can’t come to church on Sunday. And let’s pray for the day when Christians around the world can come together again, to worship and to give thanks to the One who brings new life to us all.