Two Personal Reflections on Despair and Faith


This post comes in two parts. The first was written Holy Saturday (the day between Good Friday and Easter); the second was written yesterday, the second Sunday of Easter.

The Silence of Holy Saturday

Everything falls into silence today. Jesus is crucified, dead, and buried behind the heavy rock of a borrowed tomb. Armed guards stand on either side of the stone that secures the tomb; the governor’s seal — the occupying empire’s official seal —warns against tampering with this tomb. The seal is unbroken; everything else is broken.

Holy Saturday is the day after the victory of death on the Hill of Skulls. There is no Easter. No reason to trust that the clouds will blow over, the sun shine through, the shivering stop. Life is frozen stiff. Only the loneliness within my frozen self remains.

To protect themselves against the fear of death, two bullies twist truth into lies, and station their guards to keep the rock in place and the seal unbroken. The piercing of his side; thorns cutting into his skull; the ridicule of vision; the soldiers’ taunts to come down to prove he is the king he never claimed to be; the cynic-sneer that takes the place of innocence; the barren blindness to what was once my sense of beauty; the indictment of hope and trust; the gnarling of beauty, truth, and goodness into tangled knots that are neither truthful nor social, hammer in my head from Moscow, Mar-a-Lago, and now from the state house of Tennessee.

My soul is not still today. The stone has not been moved. The seal stays put. Only Pilate’s questions and sneer remain:”So you’re a king!” “What is truth?”

Thomas and his Twin

I’m a lot like Thomas. Neither of us was there to verify what others told us. We were not in the room when the others reported that the crucified Jesus had come through their locked door. Thomas wasn’t into ghosts. Neither am I. Although my grandmother claimed the old house on Church Lane was haunted by a previous resident named ‘Gus’, and although I often heard the creaking steps outside my bedroom, I’ve always been like Thomas. I’ve never believed in Gus or the Jesus-ghost other apostles say they’d seen and heard.

My Holy Saturday experience this year was just my latest recurring argument with my grandmother and with the surviving apostles who made up fairytales to keep us from doing what Judas did when despair and guilt overwhelmed him.

I like fairytales. I love Wendy, Peter Pan, and Tinker Bell, but I don’t confuse them with the way things are. Neither Wendy’s wand or Jiminy Cricket could wish upon a star and make the Pied Piper drop by Gus’s house to rid the rats that scampered through the walls at night.
This year reminded me of that; it’s the year of the rats, another year of the plague with no Pied Piper to lead the rats out of town. In 2023, there is no longer anywhere that is out of town.

Thomas is called ‘The Twin’ with no further explanation or elaboration. People of my ilk carry Thomas’ DNA! We’re Thomas’ identical twin. When Thomas arrives at the upper room to join the other surviving apostles, a week has passed. The difference between Thomas and Judas is that despair has not yet severed Thomas’ sense of connection. Loneliness, not belief, drives him back to what remains of his circle of friends. All hope is gone for Thomas. There is only the grieving: the sounds of nails being driven into Jesus’ hands, the horror of a soldier thrusting a spear into his side, the shouts of mockery and insult, his final declaration that it was over. His Lord is dead and buried, never to return. His friends have told him that things are not as they seem. The rock, they said, had been rolled back, the imperial seal broken, the guards lay on the ground like dead men, an encounter with Mary as a gardener, instruction to meet him in Galilee. All of it a fairytale!

The Incredulity of Thomas – Carravagio

“Put your finger here; reach out your hand”

What happens to Thomas and others like him is more tangible than magic wands and pixie dust. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and throw it into my side” is not an ethereal invitation. To be a disciple of Jesus means not only to see and hear, but to touch his physical wounds. The new community is born of his wounds and their transformation, commanded to throw ourselves into the sufferings and open wounds from which blood and water still flow. Resurrection is not pixie dust.

In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair…the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.

Dorothy Sayers

Gordon C. Stewart, Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), 49 short meditations on faith and the news; Brooklyn Park, MN, Second Sunday of Easter, April 16, 2023