“The death of the Cross” – death’s triumph hour – that was the point where God’s gate opened; and to that gate we come again and again, as our lives unfold, and through it pass even on earth to our joyful resurrection, to a life each time more abundant, for each time the dying is a deeper dying. The Christian life is a process of deliverance out of one world into another and “death” as has been truly said,”is the only way out of any world in which we are.” Parables of the Cross
Today is Good Friday. But even while I train my mind to reflect on this darkest and most shameful of days, I anticipate Resurrection Day. I know “the end of the story.” I’m already planning to celebrate, this Sunday, in music and worship with our local community of faith followed by, yes, food and table fellowship. Boxes have been sent off to grandchildren with contents worth less than the cost of mailing. (Can they truly experience Easter without marshmallow Peeps?!)
Have I, in the midst of my preparations, become immune to amazement? Caught up in the cost of mailings, have I become ho-hum about the cost of what was required to achieve amazing grace?
Alister McGrath in his little gem, Redemption, writes: “After three hours of agony on the cross, Christ died. It is so easy, so very easy, for us to smile knowingly to ourselves. We know what happens next! The situation will soon be transformed! Or, to use the wonderful term invented by J.R.R. Tolkien, there will be a eucatastrophe, a moment of joy at deliverance from evil just at the point when all seemed to be lost. For Tolkien, the peculiar quality of the ‘joy’ in question concerns more than a sudden, unexpected turn of events; it is about ‘a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth’ that moves readers to tears of joy.”
Those present at the crucifixion – the disciples and followers of Christ – shed tears, but not of joy. They were fast seeing their hopes killed in the body of their beloved friend and master. They hadn’t yet witnessed the Resurrection!
What would it be like to hear this amazing story for the first time? A friend had the privilege of showing the Jesus film to a group of people in Pakistan who had never heard the account of Christ’s death and resurrection. He tells how when Jesus was condemned to death they jeered His accusers. When He hung on the Cross they wept. And then! When the empty tomb revealed a risen Jesus they jumped to their feet and cheered.
It is impossible, I suppose, for us “in the know” to fully experience the story of Good Friday without anticipating the “radical inversion of affairs brought by the events of Easter Day.” As McGrath goes on to say: “Yet to grasp the joy of that transformation we must first enter into the bleak experience of that first Good Friday, experiencing it as pure cross not as cross-leading-to-resurrection. We must share that sense of despair, hopelessness and helplessness that led those first disciple to abandon their Lord, as they seem to have believed him abandoned by his Lord.” (p.79)
So we try. There are countless way in which the Christian Church has attempted, through the ages, to remember. Some set aside the 40 days of what we call “Lent” to commemorate the priceless gift of our redemption, giving up something, perhaps, or doing something to acknowledge Christ’s suffering or servanthood, respectively. There are public services and private rites and rituals we may observe as we walk through that last week – Holy Week – leading up to the death of Christ beginning with the joyful hosannas’s of what we call Palm Sunday. The drama increases as we walk, in our collective imaginations, the Way of the Cross with Jesus: His last supper with His disciples, His betrayal in the Garden, His trial and conviction.
Yet even while the sky is black – literally and physically – and Christ’s final words pierce the very darkness, we know what follows. As we bake our sweet rolls and sing our somber hymns we are living in the light! “It is finished.” God’s Redemptive work is complete.
Immune to amazement. We can’t go back and pretend we don’t know what we already know – and experience. (Like faking surprise at a “surprise” birthday party.) But we can stop. . . reflect. . . wonder. . . . And be amazed at the amazing grace of our Amazing Savior: The Lamb of God. We can share the pain of His sufferings as we walk with Him in our hearts to the Cross and kneel beneath it in awe and wonder. We can descend with Him into the darkness of Holy Saturday and ascend with Him into the blazing light of Sunday. We can lift high the Cross!
This Sunday – and all the days of the weeks to follow – let us lift high the empty cross and proclaim His glorious victory! He is risen. He is risen indeed!
O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
Your death has brought us life eternally.
Lift high the Cross the love of Christ proclaim
Till all the world adore His sacred name.
(G. W. Kitchin; M. R. Newbolt)