Christians everywhere celebrate the whole enchilada this weekend—the heart of the Gospel is about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection, in particular, has been viewed by the church-historical as the most important aspect of the Christian faith. Paul said if there is no resurrection then we are “to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:18). The resurrection of Jesus is not just seen as a historical event that we celebrate; it is a critical dimension of our very existence as Christians.
The resurrection opened the door for Jesus to enter fully into God’s presence and power representing the human race. It was here that He was elevated to “the right hand” of God as Lord (kyrios). Consequently, He is now the “life-giving Spirit” (pneuma soopoioun) and, as such, is powerfully present among us, His followers. Jesus is the living Lord and the one who is the source of the Spirit who changes us as persons and makes us new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This is the basis of the Christian claim that death cannot hold us; that sin cannot destroy us. In Christ we are linked to a personal, transcendent, transforming power that sets us “free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2). Somehow the power released at the moment of resurrection (a power that continues to be “present” in Christ), continues to triumph over evil and overcomes what would have otherwise conquered us in this world. The resurrection affords us the opportunity to become participants in a “new age” and a “new creation.” The essence of Christianity is rooted in the resurrection. This is why Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
A CROSS-LESS CHRISTIANITY
Though the resurrection speaks of victory and conquest, the road to resurrection was paved with suffering. This is problematic because the concept of suffering has all but disappeared from the horizon of faith for today’s church. One major reason is the advent of modern technology.
It is hard for we moderns to appreciate the harshness of the world before modern technology. Life was cruel. No indoor plumbing or central heating; no Tylenol or antibiotics. One of the most common ways to die was from an abscessed tooth. Even with Herculean effort, simple things like shelter and daily food were beyond the grasp of the average person. Suffering was part of everyone’s story. In this kind of world, simply “holding up” through one’s suffering was an amazing feat. Survival from one day (or hour) to the next was the focus for most. As a result, most lived with the idea that suffering was a part of life.
Today our expectations are very different. Technology has pushed suffering into the backdrop to the point that we see it as the exception rather than the norm. And, honestly, suffering shocks us. Moderns are not really grateful for the comforts of modern life; we expect it—demand it, really. If our expectations are interrupted by tragedy or illness, we feel ripped off; we see it as unfair. A hundred years ago, this mindset would have been considered a little crazy and completely unreasonable.
This modern mindset informs our spiritual lives as well. Modern saints have, by and large, been spiritually nursed on the tenets of a theology of conquering—a theology that only knows comfort and victory. Thank God for those, but many are so focused on comfort and victory that they miss the raw, candid and abrasive road that made those graces possible. Theirs is a cross-less, agony-free, Gethsemane-free faith, which domesticates the Jesus-story, making it nice, clean and G-rated.
But it was Paul who claimed that we can only “know Christ and the power of his resurrection” if we are willing to enter “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). This text suggests that if we want to enter into the power of the resurrection, we need to pause and let the suffering of Jesus touch us. Remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)? But we don’t want to mourn. We want to move directly to victory. We want the “fix,” the “solution.” We don’t want to face Christ’s suffering head-on in order to taste and experience that suffering.
Sadly, one of the least attended services on the Christian calendar is Good Friday. We Christians in the West avoid the pain and horror of that day. We are so oriented to triumphalism as a culture that we tacitly think that the power of Easter Sunday effectively annihilated Golgotha. But there is no victory without the horrible suffering that happened from Gethsemane to the cross. The resurrection does not obliterate our need to face the cross. To imagine otherwise is both heartless and dangerous. It effectively trivializes the wounds of Christ-crucified.
Walter Brueggemann wrote: “Only those who embrace the reality of death will receive the new life … I used to think it curious that, when having to quote Scripture on demand, someone would inevitably say, ‘Jesus wept.’ It is usually done as a gimmick to avoid having to quote a longer passage. But now I understand the depth of that verse. Jesus knew what we numb ones must always learn again: (a) that weeping must be real because endings are real; and (b) that weeping permits newness. His weeping permits the Kingdom to come. Such weeping is a fearful dismantling because it means the end of all machismo; weeping is something kings rarely do without losing their thrones. Yet the loss of thrones is precisely what is called for …”
We must not try to sanitize what Jesus did. We need to enter into His Passion along with its pain and ravaging; its unfairness and cruelty; its bitterness and loss. Here we embrace the whole story (not just the good parts). And embracing the whole story makes redemption richer.
May you experience both the joy and sorrow of Easter this year.