Holy Saturday

(Originally posted in 2010.)

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;? therefore, we are saved by faith.? Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.

– Reinhold Niebuhr

This is my favorite day in Holy Week, this Saturday, this unrestful Sabbath, my favorite day in the whole of the liturgical calendar.

Well, actually, “favorite” is the wrong word. It’s not that I like this day so much as that I understand it. It’s recognizable, familiar, lived-in.

This day, the Saturday that can’t know if there will ever be a Sunday, is the day we live in, you and I, today and every day for the whole of our lives. This is all we are given to know.

Easter Sunday? That’s tomorrow, the day after today. We’ll never get there in time. We can believe in Easter Sunday, but we can’t be sure. We can’t know for sure. We can’t know until we’re out of time.

Here, in time, there’s just this day, this dreadful Saturday of not knowing.

There are some things we can know on this Saturday. Jesus is dead, to begin with, dead and buried. He said the world was upside-down and needed a revolution to turn it right-way-round and so he was executed for disturbing the peace. He came and said love was greater than power, and so power killed him.

And now it’s Saturday and Jesus is dead and we’re all going to die and everything I’ve told you about him turns out to be in vain and everything I’ve staked my life on turns out to be in vain. Our faith is futile and we’re still hopeless in our sins. Jesus is dead and we are of all people most to be pitied.

That last paragraph is a paraphrase from St. Paul. What he actually says there, in his letter to the Christians in Corinth, is “if …” What he says, specifically, is:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. … If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead …

But that’s Sunday language and Sunday certainty and it doesn’t make much sense here on Saturday. Here on Saturday, we can hope it’s true and we may even try to believe it’s true, but we can’t know “in fact” one way or another. Not now. Not on Saturday.

And to be honest, it doesn’t seem terribly likely, because Saturday, this Saturday, is all we’ve ever known. Yesterday was this same Saturday, and so was the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before that.

Why should we expect that tomorrow will be any different?

Seriously, just look around. Does it look like the meek are inheriting the earth? Does it look like those who hunger and thirst for justice are being filled? Does it look like the merciful are being shown mercy?

Jesus was meek and merciful and hungry for justice and look where that got him. They killed him. We killed him. Power won.

That’s what this everyday Saturday shows us — power always wins. “If you want a picture of the future,” George Orwell wrote, “imagine a boot stomping on a human face — forever.”

“But in fact,” St. Paul says, everything changes on Sunday. Come Sunday power loses. Come Sunday, love wins, the meek shall inherit, the merciful will receive mercy and no one will ever go hungry for justice again. Come Sunday, everything changes.

If there ever is a Sunday.

And but so, this is why we hope for Sunday and why we live for the hope of Sunday. Even though we can’t know for sure that Sunday will ever come and even if Saturday is all we ever get to see.

  • Anonymous

    Chag Sameach (Happy Passover) to my Jewish friends.

    Happy Easter to my Christian friends.

  • http://profiles.google.com/joshuaaaron Joshua Taylor

    I read this in 2010, and in 2011, and have been waiting for it to appear in 2012. It rings truer each year, and is the attitude I try to keep on Saturday (and remember throughout the year).

  • WingedBeast

    I’ll disagree a little.  We actually have much more equality and much less facestomping (metaphorical or literal) today than we have before.  Not just in the US, but around the world, racism is losing out.  Sexism is losing out.  Demonization is becoming something we used to do way back then.

    Sure, you’ve got North Korea, sure you’ve got China, sure you’ve got some parts of South Africa, but things are getting better.  Power for power’s sake is slowly losing.

    This is not easy or a passive process.  It takes people who want the world to be a better place for all finding the suffering, finding the cause, doing battle with the causes and practicing the kind of long-term kindness that has benefits that will outlast their presence.

    We call the 20th century the most bloody century of all history, but when taken as a percentage of human population, there was remarkably little blood and remarkably much repulsion against the blood that was shed.  One doesn’t have to take anything from the horrors of the Holocaust to say that it was not the first such attempted genocide, but it was the first globaly decried genocide.  Even after the wave of PC, we still have people getting away with defending the US treatment of Native Americans during the expansion westward.

    Perfect?  Hell no.  Better than the centuries prior?  No doubt.

    You speak of the uncertainty that, tomorrow, Jesus will return and make right the world.  But, if every day is the saturday between when Jesus died and when he rose, we had a busy day and, if it goes on too long, it’ll set with us not caring if Jesus arises again, because we already set the world right, ourselves.

    I’m reminded of an episode of Star Trek: TNG, in which Captain Picard goes to court against an entity claiming to come to pick up the servitude of an entire planet after having provided 1000 years of peace and prosperity.  The entity turns out to be a fraud, somebody pretending to be the deity with whom the alleged contract was made.  But, Picard rightfully asks the question of whether or not the actual deity personally did the work.  The answer was “no”.  The people of the planet did the job, themselves, of cleaning up the enviroment, instituting just laws, educating the people, making sure everybody was well fed and well housed, etc.

    It seems a lot of this article seems to be about a world that is irredeamable without the holy spirit doing so for us.  We’re already doing it ourselves.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Yes. And I’ve said this before: my biggest problem with even the best Christian thought, like that Fred espouses, is the idea that the world is somehow fallen, mired in eternal “sin”. It’s not. 

    Also, love the TNG reference. I liked that episode overall, even though parts of it make me cringe. (The entity changing to look and sound like Troi and then coming on to Picard, for instance. Otoh, that proved she wasn’t omniscient; if she were, she’d have changed into Dr. Crusher.)

  • Kayla Anderson

    I agree with the others that the century wasn’t as bad as times before. And, the places that were still really bad mostly have religion to blame. Religion and other “faith” based ideas. Faith is the enemy of humanity. Paul was right about everything there, except the last sentence.

    I agree with WingedBeast. You can keep waiting for a magical zombie to fix everything or you can sack up and fit yourself.

  • Ben English

     Why does it seem like this article brings assholes out of the woodwork every year?

  • Ben English

    If you think Fred expects the Holy Spirit to swoop in and do all the work for us, then you probably need to pay attention to the blog more.

  • Panda Rosa

    Sometimes I wonder if this day, this strange holy Saturday, is the day good atheists wish would never end. A day of the end of hope, a time of ending, a day swept clean of foolish dreams, where nothing unseen seems important anymore, and all you can do is go thru the motions… all that’s left is the unblinking eye of Judgment, of hard fact and cold Reason, where the only thing left is the harsh bright unblinking Sun and the still silent light of human persistence…
    why, yes, i suffer from depression, why do you ask?

  • swbarnes2

    No, “all the work” is not what’s expected.  Just one amputee healed.  Just one piece of trash picked up.  Anything actually detectable. 

  • Lawrence LaPointe
  • P J Evans

     Were you here in this post last year and the year before? Because what you’re saying to a frequent commenter is pretty rude and thoughtless.

  • guest

    Schroedinger’s Tomb?

  • WingedBeast

    I’m not saying anything of the sort.

    I am saying that this is a much better world than this one article seems to give it credit for.

  • Aaaaaaargh

    Sure, there are some improvements, and maybe the long arc of the universe is finally starting to bend toward justice.  But it’s troubling to me that whenever Fred posts this article (I too remember comments in earlier years), wherein he admits to some hope that there will/may be some kind of eschatological event that will upend our current twisted power structures, he gets jumped on by angry naysayers spouting the most ridiculous arguments…magical zombie?  How was that comment made in good faith?  I’m waiting for someone to bring up “sky daddy” next.

    Come on, this is a reflection by a Christian in light of the darkest day of the Christian calendar.  It perfectly captures the balance of pessimism and optimism that characterizes my own faith, a faith that notes the image of God in all humanity (and not only for those who can be convinced to get “saved”), decries the world’s injustices while doing my part to denounce and counter them, and fervently hopes that God will yet make all things new, including those things currently beyond my own reach, like structural injustice and a military-industrial complex.

  • Caravelle

    WingedBeast said nothing about magical zombies. I think Fred’s post is beautiful and I enjoy it every year, but I also agree with WingedBeast’s objections which are absolutely cogent, respectful and on-point. If you’re worried about “angry” “naysayers” spouting “ridiculous” arguments including “magical zombies” – and somebody did use those words ! – why don’t you talk to THEM, not the person who posted a well-thought-out disagreement and alternate point of view ?

  • Anonymous

    I am saying that this is a much better world than this one article seems to give it credit for.

    No, you didn’t. What you said was that this world was *improving* — which is actually an entirely different issue altogether, and one that, far from being rigorously founded on experimental data, is ultimately derived from the myth of American progress.

    Of course the world seems like it’s improving to you — because the issues that are on your radar *are* always either going to be improving or they’re going to be things you’re upset about. But that doesn’t mean that the things you aren’t paying attention to — like labor rights or income inequality or overall poverty or, for that matter, social cohesion or a sense of community — are also improving, nor does that mean that *anything* is necessarily going to keep improving.

    There are a *lot* of cases in American society where we’ve actually backslid considerably for centuries on issues that modern people care about which were dealt with in ways that modern people conceptualize them (abortions were easier and safer to obtain in the mid to late 1800s than they would be a century to a half-century later; it was better to be an African-American during Reconstruction than it would be for most of the next century). There’s also a lot of evidence that most of our progress can’t persist forever (resource depletion and climate change basically guarantee a lot of human suffering in the future — there’s a good argument to be made that we’ve settled upon a modern Pax Americana at the expense of guaranteeing our children or grandchildren a far more violent and poverty-striken future).

    So, no, when we’re on an upward climb, things seem to be going great. But that doesn’t mean that they actually are, nor does it mean they ever will be.

    tl;dr: Stephen Pinker — like pretty much everything he’s written thus far — was full of shit.

  • Anonymous

    (H’m. Next time I think I’ll just skip the comments on this one.)

    I love this post. In a painful, it’s too true to not feel*, sort of way. And I don’t think I will ever tire of reading it, this day before Easter, this day of eternal twilight, waiting for a dawn. It’s one of those… things. Like Rocky Ground. When does this end? When are we allowed to heal?

    Thank you for posting this, Fred; this is what I love about Easter, in a way – it seems like the time that most captures …this. The spirit of fighting through darkness, pain, holding onto the idea of a light at the end of a tunnel, that the love will, in the end, conquer all.

    *for me, anyway. I’m not pointing fingers at people who disagree, or demanding that everyone feel the same way.

  • WingedBeast

    better for ourselves.  Sometimes, the absence of a savior doesn’t mean all hope is lost, it just means we have to start saving ourselves.

    This Saturday World isn’t all about how power won and the good guy got killed.  It’s about what we can do about it.

    This article suggests that love wins, but not until Sunday.  Well, here I am standing up for Saturday, where love has won in a number of cases, where the meek have inherited the earth in a number of cases, where power has lost in a number of cases.  Hope doesn’t have to wait for Sunday.

    @LMM22

    Firstly, yes, I did say this world is much better than this one article seems to give it credit for.  And, yes, I did say that it is improving, as a measure of how it is better than the article gives it credit ofr.

    Secondly, I did, quite on purpose, bring up examples of places where it would seem the general motion is either stalled or backsliding.  This is not to say that things aren’t improving.  Then again, I also took care to mention that the process of improvement is not easy or automatic.

    I’m not claiming that this world is perfect or the improvement that we, as a species, are making to the world is a smooth, forward slide for everybody everywhere.  But, this doesn’t *have* to be perfect in order to be better than you or this article gives it credit for.

  • WingedBeast

    better for ourselves.  Sometimes, the absence of a savior doesn’t mean all hope is lost, it just means we have to start saving ourselves.

    This Saturday World isn’t all about how power won and the good guy got killed.  It’s about what we can do about it.

    This article suggests that love wins, but not until Sunday.  Well, here I am standing up for Saturday, where love has won in a number of cases, where the meek have inherited the earth in a number of cases, where power has lost in a number of cases.  Hope doesn’t have to wait for Sunday.

    @LMM22

    Firstly, yes, I did say this world is much better than this one article seems to give it credit for.  And, yes, I did say that it is improving, as a measure of how it is better than the article gives it credit ofr.

    Secondly, I did, quite on purpose, bring up examples of places where it would seem the general motion is either stalled or backsliding.  This is not to say that things aren’t improving.  Then again, I also took care to mention that the process of improvement is not easy or automatic.

    I’m not claiming that this world is perfect or the improvement that we, as a species, are making to the world is a smooth, forward slide for everybody everywhere.  But, this doesn’t *have* to be perfect in order to be better than you or this article gives it credit for.

  • ako

     Speaking as a non-depressed atheist, the world you describe is significantly different from the world I perceive.  I don’t see a world without religion as a world without hopes and dreams, even foolish dreams, and I wouldn’t want people to lose their ability to dream foolishly.  I don’t see life without the promise of some sort of divine ultimate finish as meaning that all one can do is go through the motions.

    My feelings about the prospect of some ultimate cosmic Sunday where Jesus turns up and settles everything are somewhat ambivalent, but I don’t wish for anyone to be trapped in the feelings you describe. 

    I’m not sure what you’d consider a “good” atheist, but my hopes and feelings are significantly different from what you describe.

  • Amaryllis

    The world is getting better.

    The world is getting worse.

    The world is the same as it always was.

    All these things are true.

    And wherever your personal experience falls at any given moment, in the end, everybody loses. Power always wins, even if it’s only the power of entropy. In the end, everybody dies, and all things must pass away.

    Thanks, Fred. I look forward to this every year, and this year it seems particularly meaningful.

    I emerge from the mind’s
    cave into the worse darkness
    outside, where things pass and
    the Lord is in none of them.

    I have heard the still, small voice
    and it was that of the bacteria
    demolishing my cosmos. I
    have lingered too long on

    this threshold, but where can I go?
    To look back is to lose the soul
    I was leading upwards towards
    the light. To look forward? Ah,

    what balance is needed at
    the edges of such an abyss.
    I am alone on the surface
    of a turning planet. What

    to do but, like Michelangelo’s
    Adam, put my hand
    out into unknown space,
    hoping for the reciprocating touch?
    -R. S. Thomas

  • Amaryllis

    The world is getting better.

    The world is getting worse.

    The world is the same as it always was.

    All these things are true.

    And wherever your personal experience falls at any given moment, in the end, everybody loses. Power always wins, even if it’s only the power of entropy. In the end, everybody dies, and all things must pass away.

    Thanks, Fred. I look forward to this every year, and this year it seems particularly meaningful.

    I emerge from the mind’s
    cave into the worse darkness
    outside, where things pass and
    the Lord is in none of them.

    I have heard the still, small voice
    and it was that of the bacteria
    demolishing my cosmos. I
    have lingered too long on

    this threshold, but where can I go?
    To look back is to lose the soul
    I was leading upwards towards
    the light. To look forward? Ah,

    what balance is needed at
    the edges of such an abyss.
    I am alone on the surface
    of a turning planet. What

    to do but, like Michelangelo’s
    Adam, put my hand
    out into unknown space,
    hoping for the reciprocating touch?
    -R. S. Thomas

  • Worthless Beast

    Here’s my worthless bipolar quasi-Christian’s take on the commentary:

    Why the fighting here?

    I think I understand the humanist perspective here… even if Fred and like folk aren’t “holding out for a hero” but *are* actually rolling up their sleeves and doing the work to better the world, I imagine there must be a feeling of “not giving credit where credit is due,” right? You want people to acknowledge the greatness that is in humans and you really do think we can pull it together I imagine.  That is a very optomistic view of the world.

    Unfortunately, I don’t personally have that kind of trust in Humanity… again, I just said above that I have a cracked brain.  Even if the world were made perfect, I’m the person who’d sit in a corner thinking about all the dead people who never got to see it. I imagine if “tradtional” Christian views on Heaven and Hell are true, I’d sit in a corner of Heaven thinking about all the people in Hell who didn’t make it, too.

    In the meantime, beliefs present a gulf between people that sometimes – just can never be bridged.  One person works hard because they believe in Humanity. Another works hard because they believe God has good expectations for Humanity and will work with us. Both can get along and work hard toward the same goals even though each has a different reason spurring them on. As long as we seek the same things, why fight over the details of the heart?  

     

  • Worthless Beast

    Here’s my worthless bipolar quasi-Christian’s take on the commentary:

    Why the fighting here?

    I think I understand the humanist perspective here… even if Fred and like folk aren’t “holding out for a hero” but *are* actually rolling up their sleeves and doing the work to better the world, I imagine there must be a feeling of “not giving credit where credit is due,” right? You want people to acknowledge the greatness that is in humans and you really do think we can pull it together I imagine.  That is a very optomistic view of the world.

    Unfortunately, I don’t personally have that kind of trust in Humanity… again, I just said above that I have a cracked brain.  Even if the world were made perfect, I’m the person who’d sit in a corner thinking about all the dead people who never got to see it. I imagine if “tradtional” Christian views on Heaven and Hell are true, I’d sit in a corner of Heaven thinking about all the people in Hell who didn’t make it, too.

    In the meantime, beliefs present a gulf between people that sometimes – just can never be bridged.  One person works hard because they believe in Humanity. Another works hard because they believe God has good expectations for Humanity and will work with us. Both can get along and work hard toward the same goals even though each has a different reason spurring them on. As long as we seek the same things, why fight over the details of the heart?  

     

  • Aaaaaaargh

    Fair enough.  I should have split my replies up rather than just replying to the latest message.  I’ll do that next time, if there is one.

  • Aaaaaaargh

    WingedBeast–as somebody pointed out, I conflated my annoyance over another person’s disrespectful language into my response to you.  I’m sorry for doing that.  I’m not sure if you were replying to me in this post, as the first lines seem to have been cut off.

    You made an interesting point, although I do not fully agree with you.  I won’t accuse you of buying into the myth of American progress, but I do think that we have to be careful when stating that the world is improving, which you largely were.  And I would also note that to social justice Christians, these signs of improvement cannot necessarily be severed from the work of the Holy Spirit. Atheists might see this as another example of the circularity of spiritual belief, but that’s where faith comes in.

    I think the larger issue here is that Good Friday and Holy Saturday are excellent times for Christians to reflect on the brokenness of the world.  Hope is not absent, but this time of year has traditionally been one where we focus on the darker emotions.  Personally Fred’s reflection spoke to me on this level, but I do not claim that it will speak equally well to others, including other Christians.

  • Aaaaaaargh

    WingedBeast–as somebody pointed out, I conflated my annoyance over another person’s disrespectful language into my response to you.  I’m sorry for doing that.  I’m not sure if you were replying to me in this post, as the first lines seem to have been cut off.

    You made an interesting point, although I do not fully agree with you.  I won’t accuse you of buying into the myth of American progress, but I do think that we have to be careful when stating that the world is improving, which you largely were.  And I would also note that to social justice Christians, these signs of improvement cannot necessarily be severed from the work of the Holy Spirit. Atheists might see this as another example of the circularity of spiritual belief, but that’s where faith comes in.

    I think the larger issue here is that Good Friday and Holy Saturday are excellent times for Christians to reflect on the brokenness of the world.  Hope is not absent, but this time of year has traditionally been one where we focus on the darker emotions.  Personally Fred’s reflection spoke to me on this level, but I do not claim that it will speak equally well to others, including other Christians.

  • Panda Rosa

    Very interesting thought. 
    Your attitude is a healthy one, at least that you respect people’s rights to dream and hope. There’s too many abrasive types that seem to just enjoy knocking Christians down and mocking them, to use Reason as a weapon instead of a tool.
    A “good” atheist, in my opinion, seems content in this world, sees the beauty in this universe, but accepts why others look to an apparently unseen God. The universe can be a very indifferent place, yet people ask for hope when there’s no obvious sign of hope, have faith in things unknown and unseen, even when it doesn’t make sense. 
    A dear friend of mine, the leader of our philosophy club, is a confirmed atheist yet is very active in his church, has a more “Christian” attitude about life and faith than most born-agains down here in Georgia. 
    I think I was describing more a view of the death of hope, of a world where God had been just torn away than of one that had never had had God in the first place. Christ had been the great Hope,and then He was grabbed and hurled down. To see the death of your dreams, to realize your whole life has been for nothing, and there’s nothing left to do, that’s more of what I was getting at. Someone fully committed to a cause, made it the focal point of their life, only to have it be betrayed is going to feel far different than someone who had interest but also had other things to do.
    It’s like the death of a child, it destroys the parents and relatives, but an outsider can only offer honest sympathy at best.

  • WingedBeast

    I think the main point I’m generally trying to make is that I disagree with the notion of this world as “broken”.  Imperfect?  Certainly.  In terms of human society, badly in need of improvement?  How many vulgar expletives should I preface the word “Yes” with in order to sufficiently express the depths of my agreement?  Broken?  No.

  • WingedBeast

    I think the main point I’m generally trying to make is that I disagree with the notion of this world as “broken”.  Imperfect?  Certainly.  In terms of human society, badly in need of improvement?  How many vulgar expletives should I preface the word “Yes” with in order to sufficiently express the depths of my agreement?  Broken?  No.

  • Aaaaaaargh

    OK–as Worthless Beast pointed out earlier, much more eloquently, that’s probably something on which we will not be able to agree, but which will hopefully not prevent us from allying toward the same ends, even with different motivations.  And I think between us, it may come down to terminology…to me (though not to the “Left Behind” crowd), there’s still a huge difference between broken (repairable) and smashed into atom-sized bits beyond all hope of reconstruction.  Vaguely thinking of that Leonard Cohen line about there being a crack in everything through which the light gets in, blah blah blah.  Blessings.

  • Aaaaaaargh

    OK–as Worthless Beast pointed out earlier, much more eloquently, that’s probably something on which we will not be able to agree, but which will hopefully not prevent us from allying toward the same ends, even with different motivations.  And I think between us, it may come down to terminology…to me (though not to the “Left Behind” crowd), there’s still a huge difference between broken (repairable) and smashed into atom-sized bits beyond all hope of reconstruction.  Vaguely thinking of that Leonard Cohen line about there being a crack in everything through which the light gets in, blah blah blah.  Blessings.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I thought people were talking about the world, not American society.

  • Anonymous

    I find this post really beautiful, and so very moving. I was looking forward to its appearance again this year…which is a weird thing to look forward to, really. But it just captures that dark moment of endless waiting so perfectly for me. 

  • Anonymous

    I came here today to look for this particular post.  Thanks for re-posting it.  It’s a beautiful meditation on faith and hope, and I share it with friends every year since you posted it.

  • Anonymous

     In terms of human society, badly in need of improvement?  How many vulgar expletives should I preface the word “Yes” with in order to sufficiently express the depths of my agreement?  Broken?  No.

    My problem is that you felt the need to comment about that on *this* post in ways which basically take present trends and extrapolate them and then claim utopia. It doesn’t work that way. It never has.

    Society is society is society. And every single culture on every single continent ever has always assumed that what it’s doing is the best. And when you’re in the most powerful country in the world — the one which is, in many ways, dictating other places’ policies and, indirectly, cultures (if only by reaction) — in a position which is comfortable and not feeling the effects of the increasingly disastrous economy and *not* listening to the predicts which suggest that the economy isn’t going to improve or that things aren’t going to get better for other reasons, [1] it’s easy to claim that of *course* the world is improving, because it’s turning out the way that you feel most comfortable with, by the measures that you are most comfortable using.

    (Huh. By that definition, futurism is — virtually by definition — the practice of giving comfort to the powerful.)

    [1] Oil, oil, and more oil: There was a theory Yglesias posted on a year or two ago pointing out that just as the economy started seeming to get back together again, oil prices started spiking. Combine that with the fact that Nature (the top-tier journal) *finally* acknowledged that we hit peak oil recently, and no, there’s a lot of evidence that things are going to get a lot worse really quickly.

  • WingedBeast

    Who’s claiming utopia?  I’m claiming not a place where power always wins and the merciful never get mercy.  I’m claiming not as bad as this article makes it out to be.

    There’s a middle ground between “utopian nigh-perfection” and “so broken and fallen that only with a redemption from God do we have hope”.  To say that the world is better than the latter is really a much smaller claim than you’re responding to.

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com/ Jessica

    Fred–
    I look forward to seeing this every year– it just resonates with me, this year more than most.  So thanks.  


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X