A Word to Good Friday and Easter
Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Cross and Resurrection, the bad news that Jesus died and the good news that Jesus rose from the dead, right? Almost, but not quite. There is bad news and good news in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, but let’s get the nuances right.
We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of humanity, but God, who is rich in mercy, loving us with great love, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive in Christ… Now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.
God shows God’s love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… We are justified by his blood.
In these times of stark polarization and division, when every internal inclination pushes us to justify “us” and to condemn “them,” it is especially tempting to avoid facing our own potential for hurting others, for selfishness and self-righteousness, for arrogance and toleration of unfair advantages over other people. Ephesians 2 hits us with the “ouch” of seeing ourselves as “children of wrath” and “dead in our trespasses.”
The bad news in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is not about the Cross; it is this “ouch” dreadful truth about us. And only the infinite mercy of God in the Cross makes it possible for us to acknowledge our dreadful truth. The Cross is good news.
In the Cross is salvation;
in the Cross is life;
in the Cross is protection against our enemies;
in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness;
in the Cross is strength of mind; in the Cross is joy of spirit;
in the Cross is excellence of virtue;
in the Cross is perfection of holiness.
—Thomas à Kempis, The Inner Life
And yet – and yet – the Cross is not the complete good news. There is the Resurrection. And necessarily so.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep have perished… But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
—1 Corinthians 15
The Gospel of John does not say why Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb, while it was still dark, presumably by herself (John 20:1). There are various reasons to walk through a cemetery. Sometimes, I will go to where a relative or friend is buried, to remember, and in a curious way to connect again. Sometimes, I will walk through the cemetery next to one of our churches, to get a feel for the history of the congregation. On occasion, I have meandered through a cemetery to read the inscriptions and imagine the lives of those buried there. None of these reasons presume anything about resurrection; and Mary Magdalene could have had these reasons, because certainly she thought that Jesus, crucified and entombed, would stay dead.
However, Jesus did not stay dead, and that makes all the difference for Mary and for us. There is one more reason to walk through a cemetery, namely anticipation – grateful anticipation that “all the injustices and wrongs of human history will be made right in a new heaven and a new earth” (Fleming Rutledge, The Undoing of Death). Anticipation: that for you along with all those laid to rest under those headstones, “then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15). And the story of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection never ends.
Blessed Good Friday and Easter Sunday to you. Maybe you will have a chance to walk through a cemetery.