The longest Sabbath endured, through the eyes of the Belovéd Disciple.
…I was grateful that the guards allowed me an hour’s walk along the beach. These opportunities do not come nearly as often as I would like, but when they do, they are certainly more welcomed in their scarcity than they would be in abundance. This time I did not even have to ask for permission—Atticus, the centurion in charge of our prison, approached me with the offer shortly after we concluded our small service late this afternoon. He is no stranger to the news of the Christ, though he has alternated interest and apathy over the course of these last months. Indeed, it has been frustrating to ride the waves of hope and hope deferred for the conversion of a man in such close proximity to our lives here on the island. But today…today gives me more hope for him than I have had in a long time. Perhaps by extending an hour of freedom, he was also communicating that he was beginning to grasp this day’s importance to me.
It is nigh sixty years since that first bright morning—the brightest morning—and even as I have been wonderfully sustained in both body and spirit, I find my strength flagging a little more with each passing day. I have not been the same man since receiving the Revelation last year, though I wager no man could remain unchanged after having witnessed the end of the world and those first precious moments of the Life Everlasting. I wonder that I did not give up the ghost upon the last stroke of the pen. The burden is heavy.
Today is the first time I have celebrated the Resurrection since the vision, and though of course my thoughts have dwelt on the Resurrection’s specific memories, they have also wandered back to the day before he arose. It was that most interminable of Sabbaths when we did not know what to think or how to hope. It was that Sabbath when grief and expectation and doubt were all commingled beyond distinction, leaving me—leaving us all—in a state of horrid suspension.
Surely no man could master death. Surely this flood of nightmares would continue. Yet, surely if anyone could turn this most evil of tides, it would be the Master himself.
That Sabbath was the longest day of my life. I do not know which rang louder in my head—the memory of what he had said at the table mere nights before, or the memory of the crowd’s hysteria, the darkness of the air we breathed, and the bite of hammer upon nail upon flesh. I am afraid that the latter memories won the day. The cross seemed too much to bear, too cruel to have actually happened in even the cruelest of worlds.
Then morning came, the tide did turn, and the miracle for which we had hardly dared to hope actually happened. Our shame for not believing him was profound, but brief; he refused to allow us to wallow in our unfaithfulness, instead heaping upon us loads of the most incomprehensible joy. Whatever the agony of waiting had been, it was soon lost in the astonishment that death was no longer the worst reality we would ever face—a truth which every one of us has since affirmed in our own deaths…every one of us but me.
I have often wondered why I have been the only one spared the privilege of dying for Christ’s sake. I say “spared” and “privilege” intentionally; most days I am thankful, but on some, I find myself questioning why my brothers were given the double blessing of both martyrdom and the chance to more quickly reunite with the Master. The latter lies heaviest on my heart, I think, and perhaps that is why I have re-lived the severe expectancy of that Sabbath with greater intensity on this day.
It occurs to me that this lifetime of waiting for that reunion is not altogether unlike that seeming lifetime we lived on the day before the Resurrection. In truth, life since he arose has often felt like reliving that Sabbath a thousand times over. His words still ring in my memory, as do all the horrors and triumphs of the decades that have passed since. Grief, expectation, and yes, even doubt are still tightly knotted together as I long to behold in all its glorious fullness this first day of the Eternal Week. Almost any of these things considered by itself would be enough to quicken my heart, but considered together and alongside the Revelation, I marvel that I have not simply expired from the sheer longing to be quit of this world and united with him.
But now, as I watch the sun softly sink below the horizon and feel the waves lap their ceaseless rhythm at my feet, I am reminded that men like Atticus still wait to hope as I do—a fact which might explain quite a bit about why my own hopes have been so long deferred. Moreover, I cannot escape the fact that the joy of resurrection was only made possible by the agony of the Sabbath’s waiting, and that the waiting, however severe, seemed but a passing thing when we laid eyes upon him again. That day was actually only a single stanza in the beginning of the Divine drama, though it felt at the time like it might well be the concluding act. Perhaps when I am with him again I will reflect on this whole life in a similar way, seeing this seemingly interminable Sabbath of waiting as but the quick breath before the great trumpet blast. God grant that it may be so…
Stephen Williams was raised in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and received a B.A. in Government from Patrick Henry College in 2012. Stephen lives in Phoenix, Arizona, teaching fifth-graders and pursuing his lifelong dream of living in the American West. In his spare time, you’ll likely find him reading, chasing the sunset with his camera in tow, or enjoying the beautiful game of baseball.