On Wednesday of Holy Week, I drove by a local church and on their electronic sign I read: “He Is Risen!” “Not yet!” I said as I drove by. “Give him a few more days.” After all, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. We still had Good Friday before us—the commemoration of Christ’s crucifixion. How can we celebrate Christ’s resurrection until we have faced his death?
In my previous congregation, there was a mega-church in that community who offered Easter worship services on Good Friday. Apparently, their services on Easter Sunday were so packed that they had to schedule extra ones: two on Good Friday, three on Holy Saturday and four on Easter Sunday. Obviously, this church did not even recognize Good Friday as a Holy Day worth remembering! Again: how can we celebrate resurrection until we have faced death?
There is no resurrection—no new life—without death and loss. We see this in nature all the time. A plant grows and flowers and then loses its beauty and leaves and it either dies or goes into a sort of hibernation, mimicking death. Often, as the plant is dying, it releases seeds. And then when the conditions are right, it comes back to life, or the seeds grow, and the cycle is repeated. So, too, with living creatures. They are born, grow, flourish, and then die and their remains become part of the earth, nourishing other creatures and plants into new life. Jesus used the plant life-cycle as an example of this important process of death-into-resurrection: Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
We cannot truly appreciate and celebrate the resurrection of Christ and all it means without facing the suffering and death that came first. Mind you, I am not one of those theologians who believe that it was necessary for Jesus to undergo a painful death or that the amount of pain he suffered was necessary for salvation. That’s all nonsense. The amount of suffering and pain that Jesus endured was not a God-requirement for salvation: Jesus’ suffering is a direct result of human sinfulness and hate. People caused Jesus to suffer, not God.
If Jesus had been mercifully beheaded or had died of old age or disease, it would not have mattered. What mattered was the resurrection—the restoration of life and the promise of eternal life. The resurrection made Jesus’ death different from all other deaths.
And we cannot have resurrection without death. So while we may prefer not to dwell on the death part, it is Jesus’ death that made the resurrection possible and which defined the meaning of the resurrection for us. Life is stronger than death. Love is stronger than hate. God is strongest of all.
So if you are in a Good Friday time in your life—a time of loss or uncertainty or fear or abandonment—trust in the strength of God to bring you out of Good Friday and into resurrection and new life. We might prefer to skip the Good Friday’s of our lives, but without those Good Friday’s, we will never know the true promise and power of resurrection.