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
I don’t know how comfortable I am calling myself a Christian anymore. That’s less to do with me than with other Christians – though I think we might, rather than running away from the word, be better served by taking back from the people who have been doing reprehensible things with it for so long – but it’s also me. I don’t really go to church anymore. I don’t even pray all that often. I like prayer, I like the idea of prayer, and I enjoy it when I do it. But I’ve lost the habit. I’ve lost a lot of things. I think I am, as Anne Lamott has put it, a “Jesusy Person” – down with the man himself, in love with a lot of the theology, and – even if continuously full of doubt – at least trying to live as if the major points are true, because you know what, I need to. But troubled by the rest of it, by the part of it that can be properly called the kingdom of this world, and separated from it as a result.
But regardless of what I am or am not comfortable calling myself or thinking of myself as, today leading into this weekend is major. Christmas gets all the attention, but this, right here, this is the big three-day thing. This is what it all comes down to. This is what we’ve all been gearing up for, and more, this is where we begin to understand what kind of story we’re in. Christmas gives us a glimpse of that, and regardless of whether or not you believe in any element of Christianity, it’s still a pretty amazing story: a special, holy thing comes into being in the most unlikely place, to the most unlikely people. A teenage mother, a confused father, a bunch of outcast drunks, some animals, and a terrifying chorus line of angels. That’s the first hint of what kind of (profoundly weird) story this is.
There are a lot of other hints along the way. Jesus is continuously dropping them. Some of them are a lot more than hints – some of them are him trying to get his tremendously clueless disciples to just get it already. Okay, he says, and I can almost see him rolling his eyes. Okay, so that didn’t work. How about you look at it this way…No? Still? Man, this is gonna be a long couple years.
But then we get to tonight, and the story seems like it’s headed for the worst possible ending. The hero is dying, in one of the most agonizing and most shameful ways imaginable. His friends have abandoned him to their own terror and stupidity. Love is losing and power is winning. Justice seems like a bad joke, and hope like the pointless dream of a hopeless fool.
Fred Clark observes the poignant fact that the story of the crucifixion and its aftermath is basically the story of the world so far. We’re in the middle of that, that awful moment. We’re stuck in a perpetual Saturday, with the wretchedness of Friday all around us, and little hope of anything better to come:
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 I want to believe in Sunday.
I think what this too often means for some is that all we have to do is wait – the big Whoever has it all taken care of, so we can sit back and just be here when Sunday comes. (In the meantime, let’s make sure we say the right nasty things about all the bad people, because if they’re hanging around when Sunday comes… hoo, boy.)
But Christ never says that. He says the exact opposite. Christ promises justice, mercy, the death of power and the eternal reign of love, but he never, ever gives people that kind of out. Waiting isn’t enough. Sitting on your hands and pretending to be better than everyone else because you think and say the right things makes you a whitewashed tomb. You want justice? Fight injustice. You want freedom? See the captives freed. You want mercy? Be merciful. You want love? Love. Sunday comes when you work for it, when you do. The doing matters. First that. Then Sunday. Get through Saturday as best you can. But above all, keep moving.
But what am I feeling on Saturday?
A while ago, I wrote about anger, about writing in anger, about writing in a state of ugly rage. I wrote about finding the poison inside yourself and letting it out into your words, about using it to tell all the truths you’ve ever been told to hide. About how, when your heart is a volcano and these things are burning through your skin, to let them out and make them a light. Because I also wrote about courage, and I wrote about hope, because without those two, rage is just rage.
And ultimately, on its own, rage can’t save us.
I can’t speak for anyone else, and I wouldn’t try to. I’m just wise enough now to know that there is no one best way for everyone, no single right path to walk. But when I’m here in my Saturday, and I’m hurt, angry, frightened, and full of despair, this is the story I come back to. It may be true. It might not be. What I do know is there are things in it that can save me, because rage isn’t all there is, because hope is waiting there at the end of it if I have the courage to find it. Everything seems lost a lot of the time. Everything seems pointless. Everything seems like a bad joke, and I don’t like the kind of story it seems like this is.
But we can’t really know what kind of story we’re in until it ends.
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.