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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!”