Friday, April 06, 2012

Resurrection Without the Cross is Dead

Yesterday morning, when I opened my inbox, one email jumped out at me. It was from YouVersion, an online Bible service that I am using to read the One Year Bible on my smartphone. The subject line declared in large, bold letters: "He Is Risen!"

This struck me as a bit premature. It was Maundy Thursday, the day when the Christian community remembers the Last Supper, Jesus' anguished hours praying in the garden of Gesthemane, and his midnight betrayal by Judas and arrest by the religious authorities. On Maundy Thursday, we remember that the Way of Jesus exposes us to persecution and betrayal.

Of course, that is not the part of the story that motivates me. I am not seeking to be abused and betrayed, let down by my best friends and hunted by those in power. I may recognize the necessity of suffering, but by no means do I seek it out. I think most of us gravitate towards the triumphant victory and joy of Jesus' resurrection. Victory is energizing, and we want to be victorious people.

Without the resurrection, of course, the suffering and death of Jesus would lose its meaning. If Jesus was only crucified, but not raised, then we have no hope. The resurrection gives meaning to everything that comes before and goes after it. The resurrection is a resounding statement of God's love for and solidarity with the human family. It represents God's ultimate "Yes" to humanity, bearing our burdens and overcoming them through love.

And yet, without Jesus' ministry and prophetic witness, without his suffering and death, the resurrection is stripped of its power. The joy of Easter without the tears of betrayal and the agony of the cross is a perversion of the Good News. The heart of the gospel is that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, has fully identified with humanity, taking on our suffering, our burdens, our sin. By becoming a human being, by teaching and healing us, and by taking all our hate and violence upon himself, Jesus shows us how much God loves us - enough to suffer and die for those who hate him.

There is a temptation to ignore the incredible love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross. The cross is painful, it is messy, it convicts us of the ways that we continue to crucify Jesus through our participation in a corrupt economic and social order. The cross reminds us that we ourselves are responsible.

If we celebrate the resurrection without remembering the cross, we deny the incarnation. The greatest mystery and joy of the Christian faith is not the mere fact that Jesus rose from the dead. It is that he became one of us, experienced our suffering and died for us - at our hands, no less - so that we might be transformed and healed.

Today is Good Friday, the day when the Christian community remembers Jesus' torture and execution at the hands of the imperial and religious authorities. As we remember the price that Jesus paid to liberate us from bondage, let us also remember that we continue to live in a world where the innocent are crushed by the religious and imperial authorities. Let us examine our own hearts to see where our responsibility lies. Are we like the crowd that screamed, "crucify, crucify!"? Or perhaps we are like the disciples, who scattered and hid when persecution came.

This Good Friday, can we resist the temptation to fast-foward to Easter? Will we choose to see the suffering of the world, and the way that God suffers with us? Can we witness God's love for us in the cross? Let us make the time to remember the agony of the cross, and to reflect on the consequences of love in a broken world. When we embrace the work of the cross, walking with Jesus in his work of reconciliation, we will be able to say with all our hearts, "He is risen indeed!"

3 comments:

Sea Change said...

amen.

David H. Finke said...

This is very helpful ministry, Friend. My heart is with you and your travel-mates as you sojourn out to Barnesville today. I will think of it as a moving worship service you are having in the car together (you checking into your smartphone from time to time!)

Seeing the whole flow of the drama of "Holy Week" -- "the Passion of Christ" -- is vital. You have highlighted those connections, and I am grateful. There is no sugar-coating the brutality and obscenity of crucifixion, or any death-by-torture. While I value that Protestants have an empty cross rather than showing a writhing Jesus, it may make it too easy for us to simply affirm that "He is Risen" without the abysmal loss that his friends and family experienced, in seeing him die. Is it any wonder that they went into hiding?

My mind does, however, jump ahead to the delightful story of how the women were the first to bring the good news on Sunday to the demoralized and skeptical small band of men. It speaks to the incredulity which all of us may have, when looking at the dynamics of death, and how difficult it may be to accept that, in God's Economy, Life may yet triumph over Death.

While I share in the general Quaker reluctance to have an "observance of days," I also think it is fitting for us to join with the rest of the Christian world in pondering these elemental motifs -- premature triumph (Palm Sunday), fellowship and instruction around The Table (Last Supper-Seder), abandonment and betrayal (Gethsemani), witness to Truth in the face of seemingly all-powerful secular authority (trial before Pilate), deliberate and sadistic infliction of lethal punishment ("Good Friday"), an indeterminate time of unknowing (Saturday), and then the mystery of something fundamentally New breaking forth, overcoming the bonds of death -- however we experience that: historically or existentially.

In the history of the Church, however, it doesn't all end with the Resurrection or Ascension -- events on which there is no historical evidence. It does, however, really start to come together and take off and form a New Beginning in the event of Pentecost, when a variety of people experience an inbreaking of a Power that is still with us, and overcomes our demographic/sociological distinctions. That reality of a Church Universal is tangible and still with us.

I delight in saying that the miracle of Pentecost isn't that people spoke in tongues, but that they understood other tongues. May that be our current testimony as well -- alive with God's Spirit, understood in Jesus as our Messiah.

Love to all who read this, -DHF

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that there is an overemphasis on the execution and an indifference to the resurrection in most Christian churches. I guess this is because of the importance many place on their theories of the atonement, which to me is of much lesser importance than believing 'He IS Alive!'.

The crucifixion was not a unique event. It wasn't even (sadly) the worst way humans have invented to kill others. The power is not in thinking too deeply about the Passion (in my view) but in thinking that this was the inevitable encapsulation of the incarnation. If we want to be close to God, The Way is sacrifice not power and 'winning'. Here is a man who was closer to God than anyone has ever been (because he actually was God..) and that sacrifice led to his death. To be overcome by the importance of his death seems to miss the point if it does not also lead us to sacrifice ourselves.

I believe in Jesus Christ: his life, death and resurrection.