Christianity has an odd sort of experienced atheism built into it, both in the Christ’s moment of god-forsakenness on the cross as well as the day that God was dead. In fact, to fend of your suspicion that there may be no God is not only dishonest with yourself- it also disconnects you from the pivotal moment of the Christian narrative. This Sunday, every pastor in the world will preach about Resurrection, and every person in every church (every pastor included) will ask the same questions: is any of this true? And what would it matter if it were not?
Holy Saturday is the day between Good Friday and Easter. In the Christian tradition, Holy Saturday commemorates the day that God was dead. This parable asks us to consider what would or wouldn’t change if Holy Saturday (or Nietzsche’s parable of the Mad Man in The Gay Science) were truly the case. Scholars have noted that the earliest copies of the first Gospel account, Mark, originally ended without a resurrection account. This parable asks what it would be like if original Mark was right. Would a certain way of living be worth it if there was no transcendental reward?
This is a parable written by Peter Rollins in his book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales. It is a short and challenging book that I highly recommend purchasing.
LATE THAT EVENING A GROUP OF UNKNOWN DISCIPLES PACKED THEIR FEW BELONGINGS AND LEFT FOR A DISTANT SHORE, for they could not bear to stay another moment in the place where their Messiah had just been crucified. Weighed down with sorrow, they left that place, never to return. Instead they traveled a great distance in search of a land that they could call home. After months of difficult travel, they finally happened upon an isolated area that was ideal for setting up a new community. Here they found fertile ground, clean water, and a nearby forest from which to harvest material needed to build shelter. So they settled there, founding a community far from Jerusalem, a community where they vowed to keep the memory of Christ alive and live in simplicity, love, and forgiveness, just as he had taught them.
The members of this community lived in great solitude for over a hundred years, spending their days reflecting on the life of Jesus and attempting to remain faithful to his ways. And they did all this despite
overwhelming sorrow in their heart.
But their isolation was eventually broken when, early one morning, a small band of missionaries reached the settlement. These missionaries were amazed at the community they found. What was most startling to them was that these people had no knowledge of the resurrection and the ascension of Christ, for they had left Jerusalem before his return from the dead on the third day. Without hesitation, the missionaries gathered together all the community members and recounted what had occurred after the imprisonment and bloody crucifixion of their Lord.
That evening there was a great festival in the camp as people celebrated the news of the missionaries. Yet, as the night progressed, one of the missionaries noticed that the leader of the community was absent. This bothered the young man, so he set out to look for this respected elder. Eventually he found the community’s leader crouched low in a small hut on the fringe of the village, praying and weeping. “Why are you in such sorrow?” asked the missionary in amazement. “Today is a time for great celebration.”
“It may indeed be a day for great celebration, but this is also a day of sorrow,” replied the elder, who remained crouched on the floor. “Since the founding of this community we have followed the ways taught to us by Christ. We pursued his ways faithfully even though it cost us dearly, and we remained resolute despite the belief that death had defeated and would one day defeat us also.”
The elder slowly got to his feet and looked the missionary compassionately in the eyes.
“Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judged him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now, following your news, I am concerned that my children and my children’s children may follow him, not because of his radical life and supreme sacrifice, but selfishly, because his sacrifice will ensure their personal salvation and eternal life.”
With this the elder turned and left the hut, making his way to the celebrations that could be heard dimly in the distance, leaving the missionary.