Holy Saturday: Pushing into Liminal Spaces

Last year at this time I was preparing to speak to the 2019 graduating class of Columbia Bible College. Speaking to them at an “in-between” moment, the crux of a teeter-totter: on one side the predictability of grade 5, then grade 6, then grade 7… all the way up to completion of College; on the other side, overwhelming possibility.

Graduation is a liminal space.

“Liminal” is an art and literature term that describes the space between two realities—it comes from limin, which means: threshold. When you stand on a threshold (in a doorway), you have exited one room, but have not yet entered another. It’s an in-between moment. I told the class of 2019 that it was oddly appropriate that they were graduating on Holy Saturday.

It’s also, however, strangely appropriate to return to this thought on Holy Saturday 2020. I’ve been describing the feeling of this pandemic as follows: “It’s like we were all on a trampoline together, and someone threw something large and extremely heavy right in the middle, and everything—us, all our plans, all our stuff, everything—flew up in the air… and we froze there.” It feels like an in-between moment. Planning is difficult in constantly shifting circumstances, finances are imperiled, we are either far too stretched or far too bored, events are put on hold. Our 2020 graduates will graduate, but without the usual weight of ceremony and communal celebration. It’s a liminal moment.

So I’m coming back to the story of Holy Saturday—because it feels like a moment I need to push into right now. It feels like we might need to sit in the dark, to hold a vigil, to allow for grief, to acknowledge the “in-between.”

Yesterday, we mourned Jesus’ death and walked through his pain. Tomorrow, we will celebrate (in whatever way we can manage) the joy and bursting light of his resurrection. But today—today is a liminal space.

 On Holy Saturday, Jesus is entombed. When we think of Easter weekend, we usually talk about the room before and the room after: about the first day, and then… on the third day… but we rarely talk about the day in the middle: Christ’s death accomplished, his resurrection yet to come.

Other years, on this in-between day, I have found myself wondering what that particular Sabbath was like for the followers of Jesus. Luke 23:50-56 tells it this way:

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

“But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”

Why have I never noticed that sentence before? What a radical form of obedience: to rest when it’s the last thing you want to do.

Imagine you are Mary, or one of the other women who had come with Jesus from Galilee… or perhaps you are Peter or one of the other disciples, or Joseph of Arimathea:

You have been waiting for the kingdom of God.

You have pinned your hopes for your self and your nation on one man.

You have watched him heal the blind make crippled legs strong again.

You have heard him teach, and have marveled at his wisdom, maybe trembled at the challenge of his teaching.

You have dreamed that a Messiah would rise to throw off Roman oppression—to give back to the Jewish people full rule of the land from which they had been exiled by their own sin.

And you FOUND him! You FOLLOWED him!

And now……

A tomb.

What must that long Sabbath rest of felt like?

You can’t work to take your mind off it.

You can’t even do for Jesus’ body the things that should be done.

Pause and imagine what it must have felt like.

Untitled, Claire Astra Mackenzie https://www.claireastra.com/

I imagine Jesus’ followers felt as entombed as him on that long Sabbath day.

Today, another Columbia Bible College graduating class stands on a threshold between two rooms. And we all stand on a sort of threshold together: life before this virus feels very far away; and life after it is unclear, unsettled. Everything is up in the air. We wonder when it will land—and how we will cope when it does.

Like the tomb, like that long Sabbath rest, it’s a liminal space. And it won’t be the only in-between space in our lives.

There will be waiting rooms: literal and figurative. There will be changing of seasons: literal and figurative. There will be days, weeks, months of uncertainty with decisions to be made, transitions from one place to another, from one job to another; there will be relationships lost and gained.

You will face them. As you face this moment now.

But you will not face them—or this current moment—in the same way that Mary did, or Peter, or Joseph of Arimathea. Because you know something they did not.

Holy Saturday is the threshold between the terror and pain and trauma of Good Friday, and the explosive, unexpected joy of Easter Sunday—just a step across, from one to the other. Just one day.

Poet John Donne used just one small comma to express Holy Saturday: “Death, thou shalt die.”

When you move from one city to another, you do so knowing that the Living God has gone ahead of you.

When you stand between relationships lost and gained, you do so with the promise of Jesus that he will never leave you, never forsake you.

And in those moments—like now—when there seems to be nothing you can do but wait… you do so knowing that you serve a God who waits with you. A God who knows what it means to be entombed. A God who has been to the in-between spaces.

Untitled, by Claire Astra Mckenzie https://www.claireastra.com/

Just last week, one of my favourite artists (who I also have the privilege to name as a friend—and who gave me permission to include some of her work here), Claire Astra Mackenzie, posted some new work on her facebook page: Claire Astra Studios. Working in India Ink and Gold Leaf—she described her new work as “Unfocused. Frenetic. Still believing there is beauty. Taking a moment to breathe.” Allowing the darkness of India Ink to bleed on the page, she picked out some of the liminal spaces with gold—it’s the work you’ve been looking at as you’ve read this blog post. I find it incredibly hopeful! To me, these seem like Holy Saturday paintings: the darkness is still there. There’s stillness, there’s messiness, there’s a sense of waiting, even grief—but the light is there. Glimmering in the liminal space.

My childhood piano teacher, Mrs. Johnson, always told me to pay attention to the space between the notes. The rests—the liminal space between the notes—are really what create the music and give it shape. The silence is just as important as the sound.

In the light of the resurrection, we can begin to see our liminal spaces—even this moment now—as a location for transformation.

Because God is not in the habit of wasting things.

He did not waste Jonah’s time in the whale—but used it to convince Jonah to preach to a bloodthirsty people and turn them toward repentance. He changed the Ninevites, but he also changed Jonah… even if it took awhile.

God did not waste the Israelite wanderings in the desert, but used their wandering to cause them to follow him more closely.

God did not waste Peter’s denial, but used it to make the foundation of his church stronger.

God did not waste Job’s trials, or Gideon’s doubt, or Elijah’s breakdown, or Barnabas and Paul’s argument over John Mark.

He has not wasted my liminal spaces; and there have been many. He used those in-between, difficult times to sharpen skills, to narrow desires, to increase empathy, to build something stronger in me.

He will not waste this liminal space right now. Or any of the liminal spaces you encounter over the course of your life.

            He will not waste your waiting.

            He will not waste your isolation.

            He will not waste your grieving.

            He will not waste your doubt.

            He will not waste you.

Untitled, Claire Astra Mckenzie https://www.claireastra.com/

So right now—on this Holy Saturday—in this liminal space… get ready to sing. Sing from the tomb. Sing from the in-between. Sing the gold-leaf from between the branches. Sing suspended in mid-air as you wait to find out where everything will land… Sing like you mean it:

“Ain’t no grave that can hold this body down.”

Bottling Summer

DownloadBanner[1]At this year’s Columbia Bible College (CBC) Christmas chapel, I adapted a creative non-fiction piece I wrote awhile back to serve as a structural liturgy leading up to communion. CBC decided to offer this reflection as a gift to their constituents, and made it into a beautiful e-book. You can download it for free here (Bottling Summer) or simply click on the banner above.

Merry Christmas! May it be a season of storing up plenty. And if it feels more like a season of want this time around–may this be an encouragement to pull a few jars off the shelf and feast on the provision from richer seasons past.

Stacey

Merry Imperfect Christmas (take 2)

This morning at Columbia Bible College’s final chapel service of the semester I was given the opportunity to share a little bit, taking inspiration from a Christmas blog I wrote last year called Merry Imperfect Christmas. So this is a re-visitation of a concept that does, perhaps, need to be revisited. The permissions at the end were used as our benediction.

"Tangled Light" by Tom Cochrane, flickr creative commons

“Tangled Light” by Tom Cochrane, flickr creative commons

I hate watching TV at this time of year.

Too many perfect families (mom, dad, 2 kids, a dog) gathered around a perfect table… or in front of a perfect tree… finding each other the perfect gifts… lighting up with the prefect reactions….

And if anything does go wrong it goes adorably wrong. So the dog knocks over the Christmas tree, and everyone laughs and laughs (while looking at each other creepily)—and no one actually has to go over and clean up the mess. No one throws the dog outside and slams the door unnecessarily loudly or swears when they step on a broken ornament.

So we turn off the commercials and we head out to find that perfect gift, we buy all the perfect decorations, we try to perfect-up our families a little…

But it never really works, does it. We never get that “Christmas card” Christmas. Even if we do enjoy Christmas (and I do!), the warm fuzzies never quite live up to expectation.

Instead, we’re faced with reality: exams; papers to mark; families that are broken, falling apart, or simply not very perfect; wallets that aren’t quite as thick as they need to be to buy those perfect gifts; trips home that somehow never achieve that peace and rest we crave; Christmas pageants that involve bowling balls thundering across the stage of the church (sorry… inside Columbia Bible College joke).

But here’s the thing. We present these pageants—kids in bathrobes with tea towels on their heads, pillow-stuffed Marys, adorably grumpy inn-keepers—and, much as I love those pageants, we’re glossing over reality just like Christmas commercials do. We’re striving for our own version of perfection.

I guarantee you that no one sang the gentle strains of Silent Night as Mary sweated and strained in childbirth. And she did not receive into her arms a clean, contented, sleeping child. What baby sleeps through the birth canal? From what I’ve heard, they ALL come out crying.

And the stable—most likely a cave—would not have been as warmly and cozily straw-lined as we imagine. And there would have been poop. A LOT of poop.

And Mary was young. And her pregnancy made people stare and whisper and shun her.

This. THIS is how a king—no THE KING enters the world. Not in the perfection of a palace, with servants to wait on him and perfumed water to wash the indignity of birth-goo from his skin.

Not our God.

With noise and mess and stink—he entered our world. Screaming his little heart out. He entered our world.

And still he enters our mess and our noise. He enters our exams and the stacks of papers we have to mark. He enters our screwed-up families and our empty wallets.

Every year, quietly, without fanfare, without twinkle lights, tinsel, or gift wrap—he enters our imperfect Christmas.

He enters our imperfection and makes it his own. Takes it upon himself. And gives us instead his deeper, wider, higher vision of perfection.

“From our fears and sins release us. Let us find our rest in Thee…..”

 

So… let me give you permission for a few things:

This Christmas, you have permission to be tired sometimes, and not up for visiting with every relative and friend on the face of the planet.

You have permission to NOT buy the “perfect” gift for every family member and friend. Give coupon books of hugs. Make people use them.

You have permission to NOT look at Pinterest—not once. Not even a tiny peak to see what type of Christmas scent should be bubbling away on your stove. Nobody wants to smell your orange peels, cranberry, and vanilla anyway. In fact, forget about Facebook and Instagram too. No one is having the type of Christmas they say they are on social media. Not even you. Put it away.

You have permission to spend time with people rather than spend time getting things right. Go for walks. Let people help, rather than feeling like you have to pull everything together yourself. Some of my best memories involve visiting over a sink full of dirty dishes.

You have permission to hide away when you need to. Re-read a favourite book. Take a bath. Dig out some old music and re-enjoy it. Lock your door for an hour or two.

This Christmas, you have permission to NOT exude “Christmas Spirit.” What on earth IS that, anyway? Instead, pay attention to the Spirit. Notice the moments in which the kingdom of God breaks in—they will be small—and they will not look like our version of perfect.

This Christmas, you have permission to not be perfect. Or to have a perfect Christmas. Find a quiet space. Light a candle. And take time to read again the story of the God-baby. Who came to earth in dirt, and pain, and noise. Close your eyes and give Christ permission to enter the imperfection—to enter your mess and teach you a new way of being fully human.

Have yourself a merry, imperfect Christmas!

The Fruit of Lent (Easter Sunday): Joy

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace

Week 2: Forbearance
Week 3: Goodness
Week 4: Faithfulness
Week 5: Gentleness
Week 6: Self-Control
Good Friday: Love
JOY

You are a joyful God, and you invite us to share in your joy.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have preferred sorrow to joy. Forgive us for focusing on our failures, on the things we don’t have, on the things that have not gone as we wanted or expected – and so failing to recognize your blessing. Forgive us for seeking individual happiness over and above the joy we find only in you, and in the community you have formed for us. Thank you for the great gift of your Son, for his life, for his offer to share in his joy through the power of the Spirit and in concert with his church. Spirit, teach us how to live fully within the joy of Christ. Help us to enjoy each other, and your good creation, as you intended us to. Thank you, once again, for your wonderful, sacrificial gift that fuels our everlasting joy.

Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God. You are raised, with Christ, to eternal life!

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

The Fruit of Lent (Good Friday): Love

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace

Week 2: Forbearance
Week 3: Goodness
Week 4: Faithfulness
Week 5: Gentleness
Week 6: Self-Control
LOVE

You are a loving God, and you ask us to love one another.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have forgotten what it means to love. We so often forget your great gift of love to us. We so often forget that love gives without asking anything in return; so often we pursue the return rather than love itself. Forgive us for failing to love you with our whole hearts. Forgive us for turning our backs upon those we have deemed unworthy of our love. Forgive us for the many times we fail to pursue your example of sacrificial love, choosing the easy road instead. Spirit, teach us how to chase after this difficult love. Help us to understand the fullness of Christ’s gift to us, and thereby gain the strength to extend that gift to each other, to our family, our friends, and especially to those who seem unlovable, who give us nothing in return.

Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Page CXVI: Good Friday to Easter

cxvi_friday_1600Dear Readers,

Next week (April 15th, to be exact) Page CXVI releases their final album in their Church Calendar series. They have graciously given me an advance copy to review (and have given me a link to share with you as a sneak peak preview! – see below). This is a beautiful, rich album. Stronger, I think, than their previous release (Lent to Maundy Thursday). It’s an album that lends itself to the necessary contemplative waiting of Good Friday and Holy Saturday – and then enters with weighty joy into Easter Sunday.

As I generally find the music of Page CXVI to be useful for contemplative listening/prayer (consider buying a few of their hymn albums if you’re planning a personal retreat some time in the future), I would recommend listening to the album this way: make a playlist of tracks 1-3 and play it on repeat as you have time for contemplation on Good Friday and especially on Holy Saturday; then, start your Sunday morning with tracks 4-8. Tracks 4-8 are not jumping-up-and-down-joyful. They are, as I expressed to a friend recently, a celebration of Christ’s resurrection – and of what the cross accomplished – but they celebrate the gain without dismissing the cost.

Listen here, for a sneak peak – The record will be available on pagecxvi.com, iTunes, and other digital media stores on April 15th!

 

The Fruit of Lent (week 6): Self-Control

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace
Week 2: Forbearance
Week 3: Goodness
Week 4: Faithfulness
Week 5: Gentleness
SELF-CONTROL

You are a righteous God, and you ask us to live according to your word and character.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we struggle to control ourselves in the midst of a world filled with temptation. Forgive us for giving into our impulses without considering the consequences, without considering the order you have established in this world. Forgive us for bowing down to our own desires. Spirit, teach us to resist that which will harm us. Help us to understand our bodies and our own desires so that we can make good decisions.

Sung Response:  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.