Holy Saturday Reflection 5 (and final one).
This reflection is longer, with two scripture readings.
Jonah 1 – 2:10
1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’
3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
4 Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. 6 The captain went to him and said, ‘How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.’
7 Then the sailors said to each other, ‘Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.’ They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, ‘Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?’
9 He answered, ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’
10 This terrified them and they asked, ‘What have you done?’ (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?’
12 ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.’
13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.’ 15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.’
39 He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.
Again a sign is asked of Jesus (see previous reflection 3). He refuses to give them another sign apart from those he has already given; they will only be given the sign of Jonah.
When we read the story of Jonah, he is in the belly of the whale for three days because of his disobedience. He understand all God was asking of him and … he went the other way. Yet as we have reflected this week in the course of the church services we have attended or our own private devotions, we have seen the obedience of Jesus. He understand what God was asking of him. ”My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42). Jesus has come into the heart of the earth, through his total obedience to the will of his heavenly Father.
As some of us will receive Communion this night or tomorrow on Easter Sunday. As we take the bread and wine, we remember the obedience of Christ, and we can whisper ‘Thank you for being obedient to the Father.’
The story of Jonah is perhaps too well known to us. We have acted it out. It is often in children’s bibles. We already known the punch line. Do not miss the theme that the Lord is totally in control of what is happening. Jonah chooses to go in the opposite end of the earth – to Spain! – he leaves the promised land. And yet the storm is commanded by God, the fish is commanded by God, and later God will command the fish to vomit out Jonah onto the land. When we read and meditate on Holy Saturday, we can understand that the disciples did not think God was in control else how did Jesus become crucified. They had forgotten the words of Jesus. And the words of the Old Testament as Jesus reminded some on the Road to Emmaus ”Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets he explained to them…” (Luke 24:26-27). As we take bread and wine tonight or tomorrow, it is a reminder of God remaining in control. As he had controlled the birth of his son – his parents live in Nazareth and yet he is born in Bethlehem, the Lord was working his salvation purposes out that his son was to be lifted up, so he might draw all people to himself.
As we take the bread and wine, we whisper: ‘Lord you were always in control and have worked out your plans. Hallelujah!’
And when Jonah is sucked up in that belly of that great fish, we know he will come out. And yet, we only need to watch any number of Hollywood movies or Blue / Frozen Planet documentaries to know when a great fish gets you, you aren’t coming out! When death takes you – as Mary, Salome, Peter, John, Nicodemus, Joseph, all reflected on that day – you aren’t coming back. Yes, on the Day of the Lord, the dead would be raised, but no one is raised midway through to that time. In a culture where death was common – through illness, accident, or violence – death did have the final say.
Yet. That was, the last day, when death had the final say for them.
24 hours later, their view of things had changed. They could say, as Paul would later write: ”Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory. Where o death is your sting?” But thanks be to God he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
As we take the bread and wine, we whisper, ‘Death has lost its victory.’
And Jonah is vomited out. And so Jesus would be released from the heart of the earth.The release of Jonah, the release of Jesus. And, as Jesus goes onto say, Nineveh responded to the words of a renewed – but perhaps smelly – Jonah. Would people respond to Jesus words? On Holy Saturday we cannot imagine the thought processes that were going on in homes and in discussions. If all this had happened, could anything Jesus have said and taught be true or relied upon? Was he deluded after all?
And that we can relate to. The disasters – maybe small to others but huge to us – that may crash in, despite our best efforts. The sins that are inflicted upon us, though we seek faithfully to follow God. Does it get into our faith and erode it? Is this a day, an evening, to acknowledge when God does not seem to act in a way we expect or want? Do we begin to lose confidence in other aspects of faith or other teachings? Is that the process? We have the event, and the time inbetween, and the point we come to new or deeper faith. As Pete Grieg – one of the founders of the 24-7 movement wrote on this Holy Saturday ”Welcome to Holy Saturday, the day most of us live most of our lives – somewhere between ‘Dear God’ and ‘Amen’”
As we approach perhaps our first Easter Communion, we notice the impact of the resurrection on those first followers. As its truth settles within the disciples, when the Sign of Jonah has been given, their faith is strengthened, deepened and they know Jesus words to be true. They live their lives for their lord, willing to give it all, to go anywhere, and even to suffer and be persecuted for the cause of Christ.
We take the bread and wine, whispering, Lord your words are trustworthy and true and I will live for you.
Pause to consider
What will we be praying when we receive bread and wine at our Easter Communion?
Pray – for yourself
Take some moments praying into the point above which has most meaning on this day. Control? Obedience? Death? Trust?
Witness – looking outward
How can we be a sign that Jesus is true and worthy of following? What can we pray, speak out about, give, do, proclaim?
Prayer for the late evening
Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Holy Saturday, but the sunrise approaches…