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Hope Entombed, Hope Unleashed: A Holy Saturday Sermon

And so we will speak further of the journey of Love. We have spoken already of many things, of the refusal of Love to accomplish its ends through power (Palm Sunday); of how Love refuses to come to us, even in our moments of darkest betrayal as anything other than a servant (Maundy Thursday); we have spoken finally of how the world and all its forms of power, of life, of order, righteousness and justice must finally treat the coming of Love (Good Friday). The Love that makes no distinctions between the righteous and the wicked, the Love that washes feet, that weeps, that cries out, the Love that proclaims the justification of the ungodly, the unholy, the lost, the forsaken, this Love must be destroyed.

One cannot be a friend of emperors, governors, and high priests and allow this Jesus to live. If one wants to live, to thrive, to have hope and a future, one must cast this Jesus out of the world. “We push God out of the world and onto the cross” (Bonhoeffer). At last the world has had it’s way, at last this insurrectionist, this agitator, this wandering crazy has been put in his proper place: among the dead. Here then is the end of Love’s journey: to be among the dead, to find no place among the living, the speaking, the healthy, the wise, the established. To love with the love of Jesus is to find one’s end among the refuse, the carcasses, the silent corpses. It is to find oneself entombed, securely locked out of the world of light and life.

And yet, even as words fail us and fall silent in the face of the cold tomb of Jesus we find that while we may be out of words, we have not yet ceased to hear the echoes. We have been brought to silence, our lips have fallen mute, and yet even now the gravity of Love remains, abides. We find ourselves drawn, even to his corpse.

We find ourselves occupying a non-space, a place we do not know, a place without foundations, a “middle” of remaining in the abyss of trauma, of the unresolved and unresolveable, a yearning, a hoping that cries out, not for survival, or persistence, but for radical newness. Inhabiting the nullpoint, the zone of death, the Holy Saturday moment cannot create a stable place for us, it does not give us answers or assurances, but rather names movement-in-remaining-together, an abiding that looks beyond itself, a remaining that remains only as it yearns. To remain without yearning, without really and truly yearning—not in a metaphysical, but in a profoundly historical, existential, and fundamentally personal sense—is to be ossified, immobilized, left merely to spin for ourselves spiritual forms of propaganda that might satiate our despair. To yearn for the new is not to deny or seek for some sort of escape from the depths, it is rather to cry out for every depth to be lifted up, and likewise for every high place to be made level. Indeed, can we not only inhabit the depths, the day of silence, the Holy Saturday moment in the mode of yearning? Is it not that yearning that alone establishes this space as something that can be meaningfully called a “middle” rather than un ultimate and final ending? And seen thusly the very naming of these depths as a “middle” speaks of the ultimate act faith, an act of utterly audacious hope. It dares to name what, by all accounts is an irrevocable end as something else, as a space into which the new may irrupt in as yet unimagined forms. To speak of “remaining” in the “middle” in the “depths” is to speak of a very odd kind of remaining indeed. It is to speak of a remaining that can never be satisfied with cheap answers, with mere perdurance, mere survival. It is to speak of a remaining that remains precisely as a mode of lived hope that can only appear in this world of death as utter foolishness. And yet it is only such foolishness that can truly, patiently, for the long haul, remain.

To remain, to abide in this mode, this mode of apocalyptic yearning, is to remain unsettled, to remain ever ready for action and for new calls to action, risk, and suffering. It is to continue to hope even when one does not know how to draw breath for the next moment, when one cannot bear the thought of enduring another day. It is to know an unshakeable love, only known as such because, in being utterly bereft, so utterly broken, so utterly hapless before the burdens of the this life, we find ourselves unable to turn away from those we find ourselves remaining alongside. To remain in yearning is to somehow find oneself acting in faith, somehow believing for inarticulable reasons (with sighs too deep for words) that the suffering of these dark days, weeks, and years is somehow not the harbingers of an end—even though it appears to us as nothing but end, termination, finishing, failure—but rather the last futile struggles of defeated death, somehow promised to be transformed into life.

Remaining, abiding, here names not a mode of resignation, not a struggle for survival, but rather the constant state of finding oneself bizarrely sustained in the midst of death. We remain, not because there is a way to make it through, but because, precisely having no ability, no potentiality, no hope of ever making it out, we yearn. And we yearn with a yearning that somehow, again, inarticulably, can only be if it is met. This meeting, eludes our grasp and denies us any stable possession of it. If it comes to us it will come as life, as promise, as hope, as transfiguration, and yet, in the end all we can say for sure is that it must come to us. This, this grace, must meet us. And it is in hope this meeting, this inability to deny that even before the tomb of Jesus, we still yet yearn, with wordless cries, we still,yet cry out for the coming of a Kingdom. Bringing the balms and ointments for our Lord’s corpse, we still yet come yearning. We come, knowing that we have been met with something, with something beyond all that we could ever ask or think, it is this stumbling block, this foolishness, this Love that has ended in death and silence, that impels us on, that calls us to remain, to abide in the shadow of death, and somehow, idiotically, to hope and work for new life.

And as we come, silently, inexplicably, to the tomb of Jesus we are confronted with the full breadth, the horrifying weight of what must be if our yearning were to be met with new life. The Love that loves unto death, has died, lies cold and alone in the depths of the dead. If then this Love were to somehow have victory, if somehow, even among and with the dead this Love might live, what then would that mean? It would mean that all our visions and imaginings had been too small, utterly blind and off kilter. It would mean that liberation from oppression, conversion, repentance, forgiveness of sins, that none of this is enough. That all this was but the beginnings of the true and final revolution. If the corpse of Jesus were to live it would mean nothing less than the dissolution of all that is. It would mean that nothing of this world can be fixed, that it all must pass away and be transfigured by something utterly new, wholly new, something beyond imagination and thought must come to us from God. If there is to be any hope on Holy Saturday it cannot be a reduced, measured or realistic hope. It is all such responsible hopes that are crucified and buried with Jesus. The only hope left to us is the irrational mindless hope that looks for something inconceivable. The hope that yearns before the tomb of Jesus can only be a hope for everything that is to be made nothing, it would be a hope that could only be satisfied by an impossible new creation, an impossible new kingdom, an impossible new life that conquers death itself.

On Holy Saturday all reasonable hopes have been brought to an end. Before the tomb of Christ, and before the tomb of every life, beloved by God that has been snuffed out, extinguished by the god of this world–before the tomb we can have no measured or realistic hopes, no hopes for justice, for righteousness, or even for our own salvation. The only hope left to us is the hope that manifests itself in “mutual silence and screaming, that the world which has forced us into distress together might pass away and Your kingdom come to us” (Bonhoeffer). It is a hope that cannot be satisfied with being rescued from the depths of sin and death. No, the hope that is left to us on Holy Saturday is not a hope of climbing out of the depths, but rather a nonsensical hope that the depths themselves might be transformed (Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma). The hope that is left for us can now only be the hope of extremists and lunatics, the deviant and the deceived. For at the tomb of Jesus the only hope that is left for us is the hope that death, which undeniably holds dominion over us all, might be swallowed up by life. It is a hope so ridiculous it can barely be spoken, but it is to this hope that we are called to witness. For us, gathered at the tomb of Jesus, there can be no more shallow hopes. If we are to hope together, we shall hope for the coming of an infinitely greater glory. And we shall hope for it, live for it, yearn for it here, at the tomb of Jesus.


  1. Amen.

    Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink
  2. Clark West wrote:

    What a blessing this sermon is. I have been eagerly awaiting your next word after such a long absence, and this is just so remarkable that I give great thanks to God for it. I am so glad you have been reading Shelly Rambo–she had a great influence on my recent doctoral dissertation on hell and trauma, and you have added a profound word of hope in the midst of hell.

    Many blessings on your continued work.

    (And by the way, St. Egregious sends his own hearty: Amen, brother Halden!)

    Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

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