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Holy Saturday A 2nd Reading

1 Peter 4:1-8

Scott Savage

On Holy Saturday we are in the middle of the three days at the center of the Christian faith. Our confession that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again assume Holy Saturday but betray a certain negligence. It’s understandable that Holy Saturday remain difficult to speak of. But that 1 Peter 4:6 states that Christ preached to the dead, assumes a Holy Saturday theology at work. The Christian life is Holy Saturday.[1] Having died and risen with Christ in baptism, we live suspended in between the ascension and return of Christ. Though it is conquered through the resurrection of Jesus, death persists. Holy Saturday keeps us tethered to the cruciform life of discipleship and the hope of resurrection and new creation to come. Holy Saturday reminds us that we are in between, still reeling from the powers of Sin and death.

In this sense, we are resident aliens, as Peter says (1 Peter 1:1). Because Christ suffered in the flesh, so should we. The call to take up arms should make us pause, especially in light of the call to suffer. I can’t help but think about that scene in Fight Club where Tyler Durden gives them all homework to start a fight with a total stranger and lose intentionally. Arming ourselves with the life of the spirit is for the sake of a patient love that bears much, covering a multitude of sins. The end (telos) may be near and judgment next, but the fights we pick, so to speak, will leave us, for all practice purpose, on the losing end as we bear the desires of the gentiles at our own expense, perhaps covering their sins in our bodies, letting them run to exhaustion in our flesh just like Jesus. Harink says, again, “In the very act of refusing to give our bodies to the rulers of this arm, we arm ourselves with the intent to suffer.”

Peter reveals what this countercultural life looks like in contradiction to the Gentiles. The church should desire, or will the life of the spirit marked, as Peter says, by sound judgement (sōphroneō) and a sober spirit (nēphō). The former having to do with the mind and the latter with the emotions. It’s a holistic way of being present, unlike the gentiles who will an instant gratification of pleasure and carrying on without regard for the other and selling out to whoever can get them what they want in the moment no matter the collateral damage.

Doug Harink says, “In Christ the messianic community is delivered from consuming without end, from dead time, by first being consumed by an end beyond itself, by being interrupted, arrested, and taken up into God’s judgment and reconciliation in the cross, and by receiving in Christ the living food and water that fills our hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. Thus delivered, the messianic community becomes a stranger to greed and violence.” [2]

It is, of course, not just any kind of suffering that matters. It is a suffering that results when the powers of this age are called into question. Lest we jump too quickly to 1 Peter 2:13, which says to submit yourselves to ever human institution, we cannot forget 2:4, which refers to Christ as the living stone that was rejected. Hauerwas and Willimon say, “The overriding political task of the church is to be the community of the cross.” [3] Holy Saturday makes us remember that after the crucifixion and before the resurrection, Jesus really was dead and that there was a reason his own people rejected him and Rome saw fit to have him die a capital punishment. There was something truly offensive about kingdom of God revealed in Jesus, enough for him to suffer for it. It is to that form of offensive to which we are called.

It is also notoriously difficult for Christians in North America to agree on what that means. What, then, can we about what the will of the Gentiles look like in North America? Hauerwas and Willimon say, “The church exists today as resident aliens, an adventurous colony in a society of unbelief. As a society of unbelief, Western culture is devoid of a sense of journey, of adventure, because it lacks belief in much more than the cultivation of an ever-shrinking horizon of self-preservation and self-expression” (49). This comes with in a longer section on the American project, rooted in the liberalism of the Enlightenment and its take on freedom, i.e. equality, rights, detached from external constraints save one’s own individualistic desire. “It was an adventure” they say, “that held the seeds of its own destruction … What we got was not self-freedom but self-centeredness, loneliness, superficiality, and harried consumerism” (50).

This passage in 1 Peter, within the larger argument of the letter, speaks to the possibility that the church, in light of the cross and resurrection of Christ, are those who live free from the need to substantiate or invent their own lives with their own desires. Indeed, their purpose and will belong to the God revealed in Jesus. Free from the will of the Gentiles— free for obedience to God in the way of the cross.

One last thought returns us to the Holy Saturday theme that God in Christ really was dead and this notion that he preached to those who are dead. This provides an opportunity to draw attention to the rejection and loneliness of Jesus in Gethsemane and on the cross and in the lives of the saints who bear the same witness. Some may find solidarity with the man of sorrows, here. One should consider who in our North American society, in particular, is already deemed to be in the grave. Many are still lynched to modern crosses. Who are the walking dead (both on the streets and in the prisons and in board rooms) and what is good about crucified and dead Jesus for them?

[1] Alan E. Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday, 2004.

[2] Doug Harink, 1 & 2 Peter, 2009, 109.

[3] Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, 1989, 47.

About the Contributor

Lead Pastor at Santa Monica Church of the Nazarene

Scott Savage

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