Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
From Matthew 27:57-66
I’m not good at waiting. My spouse can confirm this character flaw. But since I take the bus to and from work everyday I tend to do quite a bit of waiting at the bus stop. I busy myself with listening to a podcast or checking email on my phone or reading a book while I’m waiting for the #1 Pacific Ave bus each morning and evening. I don’t want the waiting time to feel wasted, so I maintain the illusion of productivity.
It’s Holy Saturday. Jesus has been crucified, enduring a brutal death. Part of the Roman ritual of crucifixion was abandoning the corpse—dumping it for the dogs and birds to eat. It was a way of continuing the dehumanization to have no one claim your body, therefore extending the brutality and solidifying the threatening power of Rome for those left behind. So Joseph of Arimathea coming to claim the body of Jesus would have been a potentially dangerous ask. His request was an admission of his connection to this crucified criminal and a disruption of this gruesome ritual. Pilate grants the body. And with care Joseph places the body in the tomb and then goes away.
But two women stay behind. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sit opposite the tomb and wait. They, too, are now implicated. Their sitting and waiting outside this tomb is not insignificant. To be associated with this crucified one was risky. As the text tells us, the powers were keenly aware of where Jesus’ body was laid and were keeping an eye on things.
And yet, the women wait. We know what’s coming. We enter into Holy Saturday knowing that Easter is just on the horizon. But these women wait without knowing (at least for certain) that resurrection is coming. How long were they planning on waiting?
The word wait comes from a root word meaning to watch. These women wait and watch. Holy Saturday is about waiting and watching. Even though I know what’s coming, I still don’t want to wait. I want to rush the story to Easter to get to all the drama of earthquakes and angels, the proclamations of life conquering death.
In the story we know Easter is coming. But in life often our waiting is not on a timeline with the certain promise of Easter the next morning. We wait for healing that may or may not come, we wait for answers but only find more questions, we wait for affirmation that we made the right choice, we wait for hope in the midst of despair, we wait for God to show up and change things.
We are more like the Marys, waiting indefinitely, unsure if waiting will actually transform anything. And so, if you’re like me, you tire quickly of waiting and get busy trying to make things happen. Perhaps that is why Joseph went away. Nothing productive left to do here. I can understand the feeling.
But the women wait. Their waiting is not distracted waiting. It is attentive watching. Their faith had taught them that even if they can’t see it, God might just be up to something. Eugene Petersen says, “the assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it. So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it” (Clapp, Rodney, “Eugene Peterson: A Monk Out of Habit,” Christianity Today, Apr. 3, 1987, 25).
Holy Saturday is not just about passively waiting. It’s about watching for God to show up, both as the resurrected Jesus in this ancient story, and the living Christ in our lives, our communities, and in our city. Watchful waiting is about paying attention with an open heart like the Marys. Holy Saturday reminds me that waiting is a holy practice, and that if I put down my book and phone and watch in this waiting, God might just show up, maybe even the next time I’m waiting for the #1 Pac Ave bus.
Dwelling Among Us
Is there a word or phrase that stands out to you? What is it calling forth?
What are you waiting for? When is waiting the hardest for you?
When you find yourself waiting today—for the bus, for the light to change, to check out at the grocery store—try to be attentive. What do you notice? What is God already doing in our city?