Mark 15: Holy Saturday (3)

Frank and Gertrude Hiemstra, GraveBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

“And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud

and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock.

And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.” (Mark 15:46 ESV)

Jesus is buried on the Day of Preparation which ends at sundown when the Jewish Sabbath begins. This detail in Mark’s Gospel is important because burial was forbidden on the Sabbath[1] and executed criminals could not hang overnight (Deut 21:23). The Gospels mention nothing taking place on the Sabbath while Jesus lay in the tomb and the narrative resumes on the following day. In other words, Jesus rested in the tomb over the Sabbath. Holy Saturday was a day of mourning and grief.

A Grieving Holiday

Grief is more than crying. In Jesus’ Beatitudes, Matthew records: “Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4) Luke records: “Honored are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21) Both accounts of this Beatitude are written in the form of a lament which has two parts.  In the first part, one empties the heart of all grief and pain and anxiety in prayer to God; in the second part, having been emptied the heart turns to God in praise. In the lament, when we grieve, we make room in our hearts for God.

The Theology of Lament

The most famous lament in the Bible is cited by the Gospel of Mark as Jesus’ last words: “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)[2] These words come from Psalm 22 verse one which turns to God in verse 19: “But You, O LORD, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.” At a time when much of scripture was memorized, rabbis would cite the first part of a passage knowing that the audience would fill in the missing part. Knowing this tradition[3], Jesus could cite the first verse in Psalm 22 knowing that people hearing him would know the Psalm and how it ended.

Jesus gave us a template for dealing with grief the night before during his prayer in Gethsemane. Mark records that Jesus’ prayed three times:  “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (Mark 14:36). Jesus is aware that he stands before the cross and does not want to die; still, he yields to God’s will. Each time we face pain and grief we are faced with a decision: do we turn to God or do we turn into our grief? Our identity is crafted from a lifetime of such decisions.

Joseph of Arimathea

The story of Joseph of Arimathea is instructive. Mark records: “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43) Asking for the body of a man just crucified for sedition took guts. Yet, with no expectation of resurrection, on a day when Jesus’ inner circle was in hiding and in fear, Joseph “took courage” and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Then, he buried him in his own grave [4].

Holy Saturday Reveals our Theology

Holy Saturday is a time to reflect on Christ’s crucifixion. Are we among those happy to see Jesus in the tomb or are we looking forward to the kingdom of God like Joseph of Arimathea?

Footnotes

[1] Burial is work, hence forbidden on the Sabbath (e.g. Deut 5:12-15).

[2] Also: Matthew 27:46. The direct citation of an Aramaic expression—“Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?” in both the Mark and Matthew accounts makes it more likely that these are the actual words of Jesus. This is because the most important expressions in the Bible are cited directly rather than translated or, in this case, the actual words are both cited and translated.

[3] Jesus does exactly that in Matthew 21:16 citing Psalm 8:2.

[4] What a picture of substitutionary atonement—Jesus was buried in my grave so that I do not have to be.

Mark 15: Holy Saturday 2

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

Continue Reading

11. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webGod of All Compassion,

Draw near to me in my grief. Let me not mourn alone, but instead turn to you. I remember how you walked with me during sunny days—days when the trees were bright with leaves and the flowers bloomed along the beach and the hills and the forest. Now that autumn has come and the days grow shorter, be ever near as a I walk along along stormy paths that wind through the shadows and under leafless trees. Forgive my aloofness, ever at a distance, thinking that the sun would always shine and warm breezes would stay near. Forgive my tight-fisted attitude, grasping at time, grasping at resources, grasping for myself.  Grant me a clear mind, a generous heart, and helpful hands through your Holy Spirit, Almighty God. That I might be like you. Now and always. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Continue Reading

Jesus: Grief Builds Character, Defines Identity

Life_in_Tension_web“Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:38-39 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The emotional tension that we feel within ourselves when we mourn forces us to make a decision. Do we turn inward leaning into our pain or do we honor the commitment that brought us to this point? Because of this decision, mourning is an emotion that defines who we are. Standing under the shadow of the cross at Gethsemane, Jesus had to decide whether to be obedient to the will of God and proceed to the cross or to seek another future. The same decision faces us as Christians. Our character is defined by the choices we make and the pains we bear because of them [1]. It is interesting that grief is the only emotion that appears on the list of Beatitudes—why not joy or love?

Our grief arises out of the loss of the things that are important to us. In writing about the second Beatitude, Billy Graham (1955, 20-26) identified five objects of mourning:

  1. Inadequacy—before you can grow strong, you must recognize your own weakness;
  2. Repentance—before you can ask for repentance, you must recognize your sin;
  3. Love—our compassion for the suffering of our brothers and sisters takes the form of mourning and measures our love of God;
  4. Soul travail—groaning for the salvation of the lost around us; and
  5. Bereavement—mourning over those that have passed away.

Mitchell and Anderson (1983, 36-45) widen this list to identify six major types of loss, including:

1. Material loss;
2. Relationship loss;
3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream;
4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy;
5. Role loss—like retirement; and
6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin [2].

What is surprising about this list is that each loss must be separately grieved. Elderly people find themselves experiencing many of these losses and grieving them surrounded by loved ones who may be completely unaware. But we all face losses in our daily lives that challenge the assumptions that we live by. With each of these events, we find ourselves in a “Gethsemane moment”. Do we surrender ourselves leaning into our pain or do we surrender our griefs at the foot of the cross and stay the course as disciples of Christ?

My grandfather provided an important lesson to me on the nature of love and grief. My grandmother was afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease for about ten years before she died. Alzheimer’s disease had taken her mother before her and many of her siblings. My grandfather cared for her until the end in spite of the fact that he was himself towards the end over one hundred years old. In his grieving over her slow departure, he expressed his love. When I think of him now, I always remember what he did.

Saint Francis of Assisi said it most appropriately:

Lord, grant that I may seek rather
To comfort than to be comforted,
To understand than to be understood,
To love than to be loved;
For it is by giving that one receives,
It is by self-forgetting that one finds,
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,
It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life (Graham 1955, 24).

Our character is defined by the choices we make and the pains we bear.

 

[1] “Through the CALL of Jesus men become individuals. Whilly-nilly, they are compelled to decide, and that decision can only be made by themselves.” (Bonhoeffer 1995, 94)

[2] Mitchell and Anderson (1983, 46-50, 51) then go on to identify 5 attributes of those losses: 1. Avoidable or unavoidable, 2. Temporary or permanent, 3. Actual or imagined, 4. Anticipated or unanticipated, and 5. Leaving or being left. Surprisingly, they observe that: Growing up and leaving home involves…every form of loss but functional. It is surprising because we often take the process of growing up for granted—consequently when problems arise as in the case of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) we are caught unaware and unprepared.

REFERENCES

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Mitchell, Kenneth R. and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Nouwen, Henri J.M. 2010. Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Orig pub 1972). New York: Image Doubleday.

Continue Reading

Jesus: Death Means Resurrection

Life_in_Tension_web“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, Where have you laid him? … When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out.”  (John 11:33-43 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When Jesus weeps, the dead are raised [1]; when Jesus dies, we have life. Our grief is redeemed, becomes godly grief, when we grieve over the sin that separates us from Christ [2].

The Apostle Paul framed our view of Christ in these words: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10-11 ESV) Paul furthermore advises us to imitate Christ when he writes: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:14-15 ESV) We are to place our emotions in God’s service so that the world might too be redeemed.

The hope of the resurrection permits us to look beyond grief to our future in Christ. The Prophet Jeremiah understood this point when he wrote:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11 ESV)

Hope redeems our mourning. Paul talks about all of creation groaning as in childbirth [3] because a mother’s pain is overcome by the joy of seeing her baby. In fact, we can hear an echo of Jeremiah in Jesus’ next words in the Sermon on the Mount about anxiety when he says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt 6:25 ESV)

Anxiety is a form of grieving over our daily challenges—what to eat or what to wear.  In Christ, even the ultimate challenge of death does not have the final word (1 Thes 4:13).

The Apostle Paul sees this inward tension as critically important in our spiritual formation. He writes: “For godly grief (θεὸν λύπη) produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10 ESV) Paul uses an entirely different word for grief in the Greek which means: “pain of mind or spirit, grief, sorrow, affliction” (BDAG 4625). In Paul’s analysis we see grief tinged with guilt and shame—a motivator for repentance.

In grief over sin we lament our brokenness and after we pour it all out, we are able to turn to God. For this reason, the Psalmist can write:

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psa 126:5-6 ESV)

Here we see Luke’s version of the Second Beatitude:  “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21 ESV)

Through grief God gently leads us to salvation.

 

[1] Also: Mark 5:38-41; Luke 5:13-15.

[2] Isa 6:5; 2 Cor 7:10.

[3] Jer 4:28; Rom 8:22.

Continue Reading

Jesus: Lament over Sin

Life_in_Tension_web“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” (Psa 126:5 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What do you mourn for from the bottom of your heart? What does God mourn for?

One of the earliest indications of God’s experience of grief in scripture is over human sinfulness:

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Gen 6:5-6 ESV)

Not only did Adam and Eve sin in the garden, the generations expanded on their depravity—bad seed ran in the family—and God’s heart was broken.  God’s broken heart leads into the story of Noah and the flood (Gen 6:7-8).

Grief over sin also shows up the New Testament.  Jesus’ journey to the cross begins with his grief over sin:

“And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” (Mark 3:4-6 ESV)

When Mark writes about the hardness of heart of the Pharisees, he is comparing them to Pharaoh (Exod 4:21).

The Mark 3 episode: “is the only passage in the gospels where Jesus is said to be angry.” (Elliott 2006, 214) To understand why Jesus gets angry, we note that earlier in Mark Jesus says: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 ESV) Jesus clearly believes that healing is more important than Sabbath observance. The response of the Pharisees accordingly offends his sense of justice. This chain of reasoning—belief, contrary action, emotional response—an example of the cognitive theory of emotions where emotions flow out of our judgment or thinking rather than arising spontaneously in some unexplained manner (Elliott 2006, 31). Lester (2007,14-16,106) agrees seeing anger as a response to a threat to basic values and beliefs which can help us sort out our true feelings, when we pay attention.

Mourning in the Pentateuch is mostly associated with grief over the death of a person [1] For example, we read about Abraham mourning over the death of his wife, Sarah (Gen 23:2), and Joseph leading an elaborate funeral service at the death of his father, Jacob (Gen 50:3). Other times, we see crying [2]. For example, a significant point in the life of Moses arises when he cries as a baby laying in the basket floating in the Nile and the daughter of Pharaoh hears the crying and is moved with emotion; she disobeys her father’s edict to drown all Hebrew baby boys and she rescues and raises the child (Exod 1:22;2:6). Later, Moses cries to the Lord as an act of a prayer for healing of his sister, Miriam, who has be struck with leprosy and God answers his prayer (Num 12:13 ESV). By contrast, crying in the sense of whining or self-pity evokes God’s anger (Num 11:10).

The focus of mourning in the Prophets shifts from death of a person to anguish over the fate of the nation as a whole.

In the early years after leaving Egypt, the Nation of Israel has strong, charismatic leadership in the persons of Moses and Joshua. Moses led them out of Egypt; Joshua led them into the Promised Land. But then they entered a period, like our own, when: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6 ESV) During a period of almost 400 years, a cycle of sin, trouble, revival, and restoration (Younger 2002, 35). The turning point in this up and down cycle came as the people cried out (prayed) to the Lord. This cycle is repeated over and over. For example, “But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.” (Jdg 3:9 ESV) [3]

Mourning becomes more prominent in the period of the exiles of Judah to Babylon. For example, the “Mourning Prophet” is Jeremiah, the author of the Book of Lamentation. But mourning is also prominent in the Psalms. For example, “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” (Psa 137:1 ESV) But this anguish becomes the seedbed for a greater promise of eternal salvation. The Prophet Isaiah expresses this hope most clearly in moving from grief to promise:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.” (Isa 65:17-19 ESV)

Notice the movement from restoration of the earthly Jerusalem to the promise of a heavenly city—a new heaven and earth.  Also, it is interesting that Cyrus, the gentile King of Persia, that plays the role of deliverer of the exiles in Babylon (Ezra 1:1-2).

A key point in understanding mourning in the Psalms is understanding that once the heart is emptied of bitterness, it is open to God. Lament turns to praise (Card 2005, 21). This is how and why Jesus can say: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5:4 ESV)

 

[1] This result follows a word study on the Second Beatitude in Matthew 5:4.

[2] This result follows a word study on the Second Beatitude in Luke 6:21.

[3] The exact phrase in Greek—ἐκέκραξαν οἱ υἱοὶ Ισραηλ (Jda 3:9 BGT)—is used at least 5 time (Judges 3:9, 15; 4:3; 6:6-7; and 10:10).

REFERENCES

Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NAVPress.

Elliott, Matthew A. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.

Lester, Andrew D. 2007. Anger: Discovering Your Spiritual Ally. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Younger, K. Lawson. 2002. The NIV Application Commentary: Judges and Ruth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Continue Reading