Today is Holy Saturday, the day of anxious waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The disciples waited in fear but, on this side of the resurrection, we wait with anticipation.
But this Saturday, things feel different. Instead of gathering together for a pancake breakfast, lively worship, and the warm company of friends and family, we will turn on your computers, watch a sermon, and maybe have a Zoom call. It will still be a celebration, but a muted one. This is a reason to grieve.
On this Saturday we find ourselves, again, in a period of anxious waiting, not only for 24 hour hours, but for who knows how long (at least through the end of April) when we can once again gather together as the body of Christ.
I’ve been thinking all week – and actually the week before that, too – about Romans 8:18-25. It contains within it the lens by which we can view this period of waiting, and not just this short period, but the whole of where we stand in history.
As I read over the text, I made four observations:
First, all of creation is groaning: “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For creation was subjected to frustration” and “We know that the whole of creation has been groaning.”
Why is creation groaning? Why has it been subjected to frustration? Because of Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the garden. Their rebellion led to a curse upon the ground. The world, once perfectly suited to the well-being of mankind, was corrupted. While it retains much of what makes it hospitable, it is now also decidedly hostile.
We may ask, “why is the Coronavirus here?” And, while there might be more than one correct answer, at least one of the answers is this: We live in a created world that has been “subjected to frustration” because of the sin of humanity. This is part of what it means to live in a fallen and groaning world.
Second, we, too, groan: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firsfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly.”
The “we” in this passage is those who have the Spirit, who believe in and have been saved by Jesus. Christians are not immune from the sorrow, suffering, and sickness of this world.
I saw an interview where a woman was attending a large church service that was still being held despite calls to avoid social contact. When asked if she was worried about contracting the virus or giving it to others she said, “No. I’m covered in the blood of Jesus.” I love the atonement as much as anyone, but that’s not how the atonement works. Christians do not get a special immunity from disease. We live in the same fallen world.
In fact, being a Christian will open you up to another sort of suffering; suffering for the sake of Christ. When Paul talks about his “present sufferings” in 8:18, he’s probably talking about the troubles and persecutions he has had to deal with on his missionary journeys.
Third, we have hope in the redemption of our bodies: “We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved.”
We mourn and wait, but not as those who have no hope. We hope for the redemption of our bodies, an event described in 1 Corinthians 15, when our mortal bodies will be clothed with immortality, our corruptible flesh with that which is incorruptible. We hope for the resurrection when Christ returns. Our new bodies will not be subject to disease or decay.
How can we have this incredible hope? Because we have the firsfruits of the Spirit. That is, we have the immortal and incorruptible life of Jesus present with us through the Spirit already. Paul elsewhere describes Jesus as the firsfruits, the first among many who will be raised from the dead. Because we believe in the resurrection, and because we have the seal of the Spirit producing evidence of that resurrection life, we wait in hope.
Fourth, all creation, too, will be liberated: “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
The God who makes us new will make all things new. He will redeem, restore, and remake this fallen and decaying world. When he brings us who are his children into glory, he will set free his creation from the curse. The old will be swept away. If you think the present creation is beautiful – which it is – just imagine what is to come!
So, this Saturday, wait. Mourn if you must. That inward groaning that comes from seeing that things are not the way they are supposed to be, is both natural and appropriate. But wait in hope.
That sense of anxious waiting you feel right now is but a microcosm of where we have stood in history for over 2000 years. We have the firstfruits of the Spirit through the resurrection. Easter is not canceled because it has already occurred. But, we do not have the full experience of the adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For that, we continue to wait.
Do you long for the time when we can gather again for worship? Good. I certainly do. Now long – and wait expectantly – for the day when we will be gathered on the New Earth when Christ returns.