The Sabbath of Waiting (Sermon)

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this afternoon, at a “Holy Saturday Healing Service.” The texts I used were Ezekiel 37:1-14; Zephaniah 3:14-20; and Isaiah 61:1-4, 9-11.

A man went to his doctor because of an unusual ache, and she ordered a test to see if it might be cancer. The doctor said she’d call in a week with the results. It’s now been two days, and he’s waiting.

A woman enlisted in the army, and just completed her training. She’s now waiting to find out her assignment. Will she be sent to a combat zone?

A family lives in a rural area, and the power went out two days ago during a windstorm. They’re still waiting for it to come back on. Will it be today? Tomorrow? Next week?

A first-time writer poured his heart into the manuscript of his book, and sent it out to a publishing house. Their website said he’d hear from them within three months. It’s now been two and a half months, and he’s heard nothing yet.

A teenager borrowed her parents’ car to go out for the evening. She promised to be home by 11:00 pm. Her father is now sitting up in the living room waiting for her, staring at the clock, as it changes from 10:58 to 10:59.

In all of these situations, people are waiting. Waiting. Not sure what’s coming next. In that waiting, worry often comes. We wait, and worry, in hospital waiting rooms. We wait, and worry, by the phone. We wait and worry, checking our text messages and emails over and over. We wait, and worry, and we can’t think about anything else.

This is Holy Saturday. Christ was buried on Friday, and will rise on Sunday. But this is Saturday. This is the waiting. The waiting that feels so barren, like dry bones across a valley. We just heard three readings from the prophets, three readings originally written to people who knew very well about waiting. Zephaniah wrote to the Israelites at a time when they endured the reign of a terrible king, wondering if his rule would ever end. Ezekiel wrote to the Israelites at a time when they were living in exile, hundreds of miles away from home, wondering if they’d ever return. This section of Isaiah was written to Israelites who had returned from exile, but found things so different and so difficult, and wondered if they’d ever feel welcome at home again. Painful, dry waitings occur throughout the story of Israel. These stories connect with us because painful, dry waitings occur throughout our lives.

This is Holy Saturday, the day the women waited. The day the disciples waited. They waited because it was the Sabbath day, the day of rest. Jesus himself rested on that Sabbath. Jesus was active on Friday, standing before Pilate and Herod, walking to Golgotha, and saying his last words. Jesus will be active on Sunday, rising from the dead and appearing to Mary Magdalene and others. But on Saturday, on the Sabbath, Jesus rests. Just as God rested on the seventh day in Genesis. Just as all faithful Israelites rested on the seventh day. The Son of Man, the Son of God, rests on the Sabbath.

But resting doesn’t mean doing nothing. A seed, once planted, rests in the ground for days or weeks. But during that time of rest, it is germinating, changing, growing. It will shoot through the ground in its time. It will sprout leaves in its time. Fruit, or grain, or shade will come, in its time.

Why did Jesus stay in the tomb for the whole Sabbath? Why not come back immediately on Saturday morning? I don’t know. God’s time is not our own. And why do we have to wait so often in our lives today? I don’t know. God’s time is not our own. But in the waiting, we can take some comfort.

God is waiting with us. God waited with Israel through their exile. God waited with the disciples on that Sabbath so long ago. God waits with that parent, that writer, that family, that soldier, that patient. God waits with them, giving them strength to persevere. God waits with them, and makes promises as they listen. The promises we heard today:

  • I will bring all of you back from exile, and restore your possessions.
  • I will open your graves, and raise you up from your graves, and put my breath in you, and you will live.
  • You will rebuild the ancient ruins, you will restore formerly deserted places, you will renew ruined cities.

On a day when all we can do is wait, a day like Holy Saturday, there is nonetheless hope. God may be resting, but God will not rest forever. God may be working on God’s own timeline, but God is working.

For today, on this day of waiting, hear the promise of healing. The hands that I lay on you, and the oil which Marlene will anoint you with, will not solve your problems. You know that. But they are a tangible sign of the hope God promises today. The hope that the waiting will end. The path will be clear. The love will be visible. You will be healed. You will be comforted. You will be whole.

Tomorrow we rejoice. Today we wait. Wait, and experience the promise that tomorrow is coming. Hope is coming. Light is coming. Come, Lord Jesus!

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