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Between Good Friday and Easter: The harrowing confusion of the middle day.

My eye caught a phrase this morning in the Gospel of John. I chose to linger, and I’m glad I did. Lingering helps my soul sink in. Lord knows, a shallow connection with Scripture isn't doing much for me.

“What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

Jesus said this to Peter when he began to wash the disciples’ feet. It was the night before Jesus was going to be crucified. The truth is, everything he was did and said, and especially what was about to happen, would be confusing for the disciples. Think of it, what an odd thing to gather these men together and instead of teaching them as he had been, he starts washing their dusty feet one by one. But this phrase had me thinking beyond the Passover Meal.

Today, as I write this, it is the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. My imagination was drifting and I began to wonder…”Wow, this middle day would have been a terrible day for those who were followers of Jesus.” It was wrought with confusion, deep disappointment, and panic-ridden grief. What in the world just happened? It was whip-lash. Not only the horror of such a bloody and gruesome death, but the head-spinning bewilderment that the leader of this revolution was dead. And even more confounding, he pretty much gave himself over to it. Beyond that, I’m sure guilt and regret inevitably surfaced in their hearts. This was too much.

This middle day is like a black hole.

As I reflected on this one comment Jesus made, I could better locate myself. I am in a middle day. We all are. There are so many questions between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. At points it is challenging, at other times it is almost too much to bear. The “…afterward you will understand” is what we await. It's a painful meantime.

There is something to be said about hope. Paul reminds us that for Jesus hope was essential, too, “For the HOPE set before him he endured the cross…” So the middle day requires endurance, looking ahead to a hope in the distance. This level of endurance is wearisome. And so we must choose to sit and sink into the reality that there is a promised “afterward.” But for now, wow, the darkness makes hope difficult to access.

Jesus’s death was a trauma through and through. The disciples had invested three years in this "Kingdom" plan; they risked their lives, and gave up everything to follow their leader. They believed in what he was talking about. All in. They were moved his graciousness, forgiveness, and healing power. His wisdom floored people so that in time, thousands were following him. His gentleness put the outcast at ease. He was the hope.

So now what?

Accusations, betrayal, trials, torture, and death? What happened? Is this whole thing not actually true? Is this “Kingdom” not a real thing? Was he pretending all this time?

The questions must have come at a pace that ignited anxiety and fear.

“What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

There is a long list of unsettling "now" things. Lots of scenarios and stories that make no sense. I have lost two dear people in my life this last year in tragic ways. Bad news seems too frequent. I can affirm to Jesus, “Right, yes, I definitely don’t understand.” And there is no response and no explanation that can help shed light on darkness at this level.

We are confined, for now, to this side of the equation: “…you do not understand.”

There is a comfort here. Jesus doesn’t scold Peter for this. He simply states it as the reality. No shame on Peter, no shame on us. Our limitations leave us stuck and struggling with some senseless things we are facing. And it is true, right now, they make absolutely no sense. Not only are they confusing, they can leave us on the edge of anger and despair.

Doubt and fear.

And as we await his return, it can seem as though he left us, forgotten about us, or allowed his Kingdom plans to sputter out. So we cry out, Hosanna, too. "Save us." We look for hope. The resurrection on Easter makes the second half of Jesus’s statement a rock-solid reality, it is the hope set before us:

“…afterward you will understand.”

One day YOU WILL understand.

The full picture, the not yet, is a real thing. His willingness to die, which seemed so backward to the disciples, makes the second part of his statement a reality. While we live in the hours of this ongoing Saturday we must return again and again to this promise: If he did not endure such suffering, what seemed like a senseless and horrifying death, we would not have the “afterward.” Our lives would be assigned to a permanent state of despair and darkness, an ongoing, “you will never will never make sense because there is no sense to be made out of it. Evil has the final say.”

But thanks be to God for Jesus's willingness to endure such horror, such pain in order to make a way.

Both of my dear friends who have gone on to be with Jesus are to the “...afterward you will understand.” They, for certain, understand. But not me. Not their sad families. It’s worth asking…"How do we live in the tension of such painful grief (that God does not condemn or tell us to “put away") while accessing the hope of what is to come?"

God, have mercy on us as we wake up in another confusing Saturday…we long to be faithful people of hope.

Easter Sunday bolsters us in this meantime. We have the testimonies of many after Jesus raised from the dead. The resurrection changes everything. Not only for them but for us. And yet, we remain in the middle. We hover between Jesus's ascension and return. And though we know a little more and understand a little more, we live in the struggle of another "Saturday." Scripture describes believers as pilgrims, people who are moving in the direction of God, longing and looking. Moving, yes, but waiting. We are not robots. This waiting is hard. We experience anger and grief, and even if we grieve with hope, we grieve nonetheless.

Peter, who understands the middle confusion says this in his letter,

"And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen." I Peter 5:10-11

Let our prayer be, “Lord, give us both mourning and hope. Give us what we need to live on this side of the 'not yet' while anticipating the glory of the 'afterward you will understand.'"

And when we experience a lift, when a little light comes into our darkness on this side of "Sunday," let us rejoice and worship you, let us fan the flame of our faith with praise. For you have endured the wrenching and painful work. By it, you have made the “afterward" a reality for us.

For though that One Day is still just out of our reach, Isaiah 25 hones my longing for his return,

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare

a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—

the best of meats and the finest of wines.

On this mountain he will destroy

the shroud that enfolds all peoples,

the sheet that covers all nations;

he will swallow up death forever.

The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears

from all faces;

he will remove his people’s disgrace

from all the earth.

The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;

we trusted in him,

and he saved us.

This is the Lord, we trusted in him;

let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Dawn Woods is a counselor who walks alongside of individuals who are struggling in the confusion and disappointment of life in the middle days... Contact her HERE for a free consultation.


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