“If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.”
That’s Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin’s promise. A haunting lyric born out of a consideration of a smothering darkness such as the world is yet to encounter. “My affection would be the constant,” he essentially reassures, “if sunlessness was our lot...and if mountains, more sturdy and reliable than the FDIC, suddenly melted into oceanic pools, “there would still be you and me.”
An apocalyptic hope and promise of never-stopping fidelity.
Only an untested one.
But this Holy Week, with only a cursory glance at Luke’s two sentence summary after the gross miscarriage of justice we call “Good” Friday, we spy broken-hearted women enacting their love in “after the sun refused to shine”-conditions, but in a manner we’d not ordinarily anticipate.
Luke, the physician, meticulously recounts the events following Jesus’ death:
“It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.” (Luke 23:54-56)
A stealthily placed, but easily overlooked observation in between Friday’s slaughter and Sunday’s resurrection—“but they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”
It is noteworthy that the command which we argue most vehemently against and which energizes our most ardent curiosity and wonder (Can I study on Lord’s Day? Can I go out to eat? Can I workout? Can I mow the lawn?--if we even ask!)
is the one to which these forlorn women, without hesitation, succumbed. Just hours before, “the sun had stopped shining” (v.45). The absence of God was the only apparent guarantee of Friday’s gloomy end.
And yet, they stopped their work.
They rested “in obedience to the commandment.” On a day when all their expectation had been crushed, they waited to resume. They stopped what they were doing and sat tight. What did they do? We don’t know for sure. We aren’t permitted eavesdropping rights into the thoughts or banter of these women. We just know that they were operating in their grief on God’s time. That his economy, rather than the whirligig of their own shouting responsibilities, was the arrangement of affairs in which they they chose to participate and remember.
Every time we choose to cease our labors---decide to wait and see what God might do as we live according to his time and in his economy---we do so knowing that resurrection is coming. The women didn’t know, and yet, still they waited in dark, uncertain obedience. And while they knew there were preparations to be made to the mangled body of the One they adored, they were themselves unwittingly being prepared in their waiting obedience.
Expecting for A Living
Though I never realized it as a child or student, and still struggle with the reality of it as a husband, father, and pastor, so much of belonging to Jesus is adopting the vocation of hope. An enormous part of what we do but will never receive taxable income for is expecting. Christians, on behalf of the world, expect for a living—we wait and yearn for the re-making of all that is sad until it becomes, in Tolkien’s words, “untrue.” Of course we sweat, sacrifice, and spend our lives for these things as well, but cannot do so fittingly unless we have first waited, watched, and learned to see what cannot be seen with the same eyes we use for tv.
To adopt this posture, we must remain in the places assigned to us. And see ourselves as assigned laborers wherever we are. Then we must knock-off from our work, our rushing, and even sometimes, our playing, to create the space to believe again what we cannot see.
We eliminate hurry and distraction enough so we can actually imagine again that God actually does stuff---big stuff, unexpected stuff, surprisingly shocking, resurrection-type stuff! It is he who incorporates my little work in my little place, work that can sometimes seem like no-work at all, into the world-mending mosaic that he is furiously weaving together one life at a time. To believe that though, I must learn to wait, to watch, to pray, and to remain where I am.
One of the most counter-cultural things we do as those who expect from God, is to remain in our place. To be in a place. It is the hardest thing to do. It is certainly very easy to be on the way to a place, or to dream about a place where once you were. But to be fully in a place, it is like threading a needle. An almost elusive task sometimes. It requires things.
It requires a certain discipline of the mind and heart, a self-imposed curfew of imagination after which you will not permit your mind to wander. In a sense, you put yourself in a pin. Closing yourself in by commitment and settling down to know well each corner and crevasse of your habitation. You put your thoughts on a leash and give them a good jerk anytime they began meandering in other towns and times. We decide. By force of will and receptivity of moments, we choose to watch here and be here and wait here….right in the place we have been put.
Placing a Bit in the Mouth of Your Desires
The psalmist says, “I wait for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning…” Yes, waiting is our work, or at least a critical aspect of it. Waiting is a purposeful holding back. A form of internal leash yanking. It is placing a bit in the mouth of your desires and yanking on the reins when they begin to gallop beyond their place. And since restraint is involved, it is painful. Not perhaps like being stung by a bee, or smacked in the face, but more like the pain of a full bladder. If you don’t get to say or have or do what you feel you must, you just know you’re going to burst!
And I like you, have often felt I might burst. But when I am open to restraining myself, and have been restrained in waiting, I learn to take seriously our Master’s insistence that “He works for those who wait on Him.”
This Holy Week is an excellent occasion to pause as God’s waiting, expecting, hoping people to recapture our bearings. The women who waited after history’s gravest injustice on Friday, got front row seats to the earth-altering event which helps us now know to call that formerly dark day, Good.
Who knows? Perhaps Jesus himself will give us front row seats to his astonishing reversals too as we, like those Sabbath-keeping women, wait, watch, hope, and pray in ways that few around us will ever understand and nearly no one would ever think to tell us to do.
Then, even on the gloomiest days, we’ll have been trained to assure the communities we’ve been given to adore, in both action and affection, that the sometimes “hidden God” never stays that way for long. Indeed for him, even “if the sun refused to shine,” his fidelity toward this world often weighted with a weariness of its own making will keep gleaming radiantly. And we need to make sure we know it’s true, so we can sing about it and live it out for the good of those around us, especially on the darkest days.
Eric Youngblood is the senior pastor at Rock Creek Fellowship (PCA) on Lookout Mountain. Please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GEricYoungblood.