Hiding in Fear on Holy Saturday

[Image: “Appearance Behind Locked Doors,” Panel from Maesta, Duccio di Buoninsegna]

All the disciples deserted him and fled.
Matthew 26:56

When it was evening on . . . the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.
John 20:19

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Where would you have been on Holy Saturday? Count me among the disciples–hiding in fear and wondering (or dreading) what comes next.

It’s impossible to appreciate fully what Holy Week must have been like for Jesus’s closest followers, but I find myself trying to imagine life in their shoes at that critical time. After three years of wandering Roman-era Galilee, Judea, and Samaria, and hearing and seeing all that Jesus of Nazareth had said and done, Palm Sunday must have felt like vindication. “Finally! Victory is near – Jesus will now set up his kingdom in Jerusalem!”

Then, just a few days later, in what must’ve felt like an instant, everything fell apart. Jesus is arrested in the middle of the night, betrayed by one of the Twelve. The disciples knew Jesus was a target, but surely God’s Messiah would not be captured by the corrupt religious leaders whom Jesus would defeat and replace? Surely He wouldn’t be crushed by the Romans, the very oppressors Jesus would vanquish? Yet there they were, in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the Temple in view, seeing their hopes and dreams dashed before their very eyes.

Was everything a lie? Had they abandoned their quiet lives in rural Galilee to follow a man who, quite clearly in that moment it would seem, was not who He said He was? Had they been led into a trap by this Nazarene who was obviously not the Messiah, but merely a man suffering from delusions of grandeur? It must’ve felt that way when the large crowd, armed with swords and clubs, confronted them in the darkness to arrest Jesus. All had been for naught. The mission was a failure. Outmanned and outgunned, and confronted suddenly with the reality that their leader was not who they thought He was, the disciples did what any rational person would do–they fled for their lives. 

Within twelve hours or so, Jesus would be dead. The women who had followed Him proved their mettle, staying close to Jesus in those final hours as He would be tried, convicted, beaten, sentenced to death, and crucified. Not the Eleven, though. After all, given their prior allegiance to and work on behalf of the purported “King of the Jews,” the disciples were guilty of sedition and treason, prone to the same fate as He. After Jesus, they were next.

So, they hid. They had abandoned Jesus in his darkest hour, and now they were laying low in hopes of saving their own skin.

What betrayal. What cowardice. What lack of conviction. What faithlessness.

No doubt I would’ve been with them, had I been there. It’s a perfectly explicable reaction, an all-too-human one. Is it a failure of character, of faith? Of course. But, if I were a marked man potentially liable for a capital crime based on actions that seemed completely meaningless and erroneous in hindsight, I’d likely be doing the rational thing and hiding to save my own skin as well.

Which makes tomorrow, Easter Sunday, compelling all the more. Though the Eleven had abandoned their leader and proved faithless when the chips were down, Jesus did not abandon them. No, he appears to them while they are in hiding, and, in their frightened, cowardly state, He comforts and empowers them:

Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. . . . These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled. . . . Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

Amazing grace indeed. Thank God that, though we are faithless–even on Holy Saturday–he remains faithful.

Here’s to tomorrow–“the first day of the week,” and not only a new week but a New Creation beginning. The New Adam has entered this old, broken world, offering repentance and forgiveness for all, even faithless ones like me.

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