One of the first Christian books I ever read (once I started reading books on my own, simply for pleasure, in high school) was Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew. It ends like this:
The other two days [besides Holy Saturday] have earned names on the church calendar: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet in a real sense we live on Saturday, the day with no name. What the disciples experienced on a small scale—three days, in grief over one man who had died on a cross—we now live through on a cosmic scale. Human history grinds on, between the time of promise and fulfillment. Can we trust that God can make something holy and beautiful and good out of a world that includes Bosnia and Rwanda, and inner-city ghettoes and jammed prisons in the richest nation on earth? It’s Saturday on planet earth; will Sunday ever come?
That dark, Golgothan Friday can only be called Good because of what happened on Easter Sunday, a day which gives a tantalizing clue to the riddle of the universe. Easter opened up a crack in a universe winding down toward entropy and decay, sealing the promise that someday God will enlarge the miracle of Easter to cosmic scale.
It is a good thing to remember that in the cosmic drama, we live out our days on Saturday, the in-between day with no name. I know a woman whose grandmother lies buried under 150-year-old live oak trees in the cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana. In accordance with the grandmother’s instructions, only one word is carved on the tombstone: “Waiting.”
Longtime readers of this blog will know that my entire framework for thinking about my life as a gay, celibate believer is built around that idea of “waiting.” In the midst of ongoing loneliness and struggle, I am “wait[ing]… for the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). And that’s been true for several years now, ever since my early twenties when I was just beginning to work through what my Christian faith meant for my homosexuality.
At that juncture of my life, I stumbled across the kind of thing Philip Yancey was gesturing towards—an actual theology of waiting, a theology of Holy Saturday. Just after I finished college, I read this passage from Richard Hays—which is, essentially, a theology of “waiting” specifically for celibate gay Christians—and I more or less immediately committed it to memory:
While Paul regarded celibacy as a charisma, he did not therefore suppose that those lacking the charisma were free to indulge their sexual desires outside marriage. Heterosexually oriented persons are also called to abstinence from sex unless they marry (1 Cor. 7:8-9). The only difference—admittedly a salient one—in the case of homosexually oriented persons is that they do not have the option of homosexual “marriage” [Hays writes before Obergefell, but in any case, his judgment here is theological rather than political/legislative; i.e., same-sex marriage is ruled out by the teaching of Scripture]. So where does that leave them? It leaves them in precisely the same situation as the heterosexual who would like to marry but cannot find an appropriate partner (and there are many such): summoned to a difficult, costly obedience, while “groaning” for the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). Anyone who does not recognize this as a description of authentic Christian existence has never struggled seriously with the imperatives of the gospel, which challenge and frustrate our “natural” impusles in countless ways. (Emphasis added)
I know some gay or same-sex attracted Christians would want to put things differently. Not all of us pine for marriage or feel “broken” without it, and some of us are married to spouses of the opposite sex. Not all of us would say that loneliness or sexual temptation are our biggest challenges. But for me, at least, this passage rings true. So much of my Christian life feels like what St. Paul describes as “groaning” (Romans 8:23), as waiting, as living out my days on Holy Saturday, straining forward in hopes that Easter Sunday—the cosmic Easter Sunday, the great Resurrection of the dead—will come sooner than I might have hoped. As one gay friend of mine has put it, “In the ‘already/not-yet’ tension of Christianity, I invariably find the ‘not-yet’ aspect more resonant.”
On this Holy Saturday, it’s good for me to remember once again what Hays wrote: that this groaning, this eager waiting-tinged-with-aching, is an authentically Christian way to live. It’s not necessarily a sign of failure or defeatism or depression. Really, it’s where we all live, strung like a tension wire between our sharing in Christ’s death in our baptism and our future sharing in his resurrection after we take our final breath. We’re all sort of like that tombstone Yancey’s friend described: planted in “the now” and looking forward to what’s still to come.
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so may we await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.