Don't Skip the Cross on the Way to the Resurrection

I remember waking early to go with my dad to the sunrise service. The sky would be gray and dim as we drove into town to the park. I’d be bundled in a sweatshirt and a jacket, trying to ward off the crisp morning air. He’d be concerned about his fingers being cold and numb while trying to play the guitar as we led the songs. The few dozen who gathered with us would be grouped together on the wooden picnic tables, some with blankets draped over their legs. 

“He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed.” This is what we gathered in the early morning to celebrate. 

This Sunday, Easter Sunday, millions around the world will rejoice in and commemorate the resurrection of Christ. There will be special services and perhaps musical and theatrical productions. We host feasts with families and friends, and for those who have been fasting throughout the Lenten season, those fasts are broken with celebration. 

We should rejoice as we remember the resurrection. It is one of the central realities of our faith and of the Gospel. Christ is Risen. He conquered death itself and destroyed its power. His life proves that his death was not in vain and declares Him victorious. Praise be to God!

We love to celebrate the resurrection and its bursting new life. We love the happy ending. We love the victory part of the story, with its rousing chorus of hallelujah. 

But we cannot sidestep the Cross. We cannot gloss over the raw, bloody, horrifying pain of it all. We cannot flip through these pages to skip ahead to happy ending of a conquering hero. We must enter into the death of Christ in order to better understand his resurrection. Christ’s victory is all the more precious because of his apparent defeat. The light is made brighter by the darkness, the joy richer because of the sorrow.

So, we sit with the sorrow and the pain. We remember Jesus’ pleading in the Garden, his sweat drops of blood in agony. We remember Him asking for the cup to pass. We remember the ache of the betrayal of one of his closest friends and  of the abandonment of the others who ran away in his time of greatest need. We remember the scorn and derision of the authorities and the apathy of the fickle crowds who a week before had been cheering him. We remember the physical torture of beatings and whippings. We remember the cold metal nails in soft flesh, the slow painful suffocation of death. We remember the darkness and the desperate cry “Why have you forsaken me?”

We sit with the silence of Holy Saturday. We remember Jesus Christ laid out in the tomb, his body still and pale with death. We remember the disciples hiding with their unanswered questions and confusion. They had seen their Lord killed—the One who was to be King. They had seen their friend die a horrific death. Where were they to go from here?

I invite you over these next few days of Holy Week to mentally and imaginatively enter into the story of Jesus Christ crucified. Put yourself there. Stand watch to Jesus' pain. Understand the disciples' grief and doubt. It is from this place - from the place of darkness, defeat, and questions - that the Resurrection appears with such blinding force and power.