Because He Died

Crucifixion painting by Anthony van Dyck circa 1622

We don't, in the end, love Jesus because he was resurrected.  We love Jesus because he died.

As I wrote my new book, Introducing the New Testament, one thing became increasingly clear to me.   As I wrote about Jesus the man, Jesus the Jewish rabbi, and Jesus the Christ I realized that although we Christians revere Jesus as the Christ and learn to live our lives through the teaching of Jesus the rabbi, we sing songs like "Oh, How I Love Jesus" because of Jesus the man.  And that emotion is thoroughly rooted in Good Friday.

While Good Friday church attendance makes clear that most people would like to avoid the dark and horror of crucifixion and go straight to the Hallelujah's of Easter morning, we don't, in the end, love Jesus becaues he was resurrected.  We love Jesus because he died. 

Jesus knew mocking and scorn, a rigged trial, flogging, torture, and death, all endured as an innocent man because of the political fears and intrigues of others.  Jesus knew what it was like to have one of his closest friends betray him.  He watched all but a handful of his followers turn tail and run when the going got rough.  He knew the feeling of being abandoned even by God. 

In short, Jesus knew life at its darkest and worst, which is exactly what we need when our own lives become unbearably dark.  When life has handed us not just lemons but poisoned lemons and we are gasping for breath in our pain, grief, and despair, we do not want a Pollyanna singing Hallelujahs or blithely saying, "Everything happens for a reason."  What our souls need in that moment is someone else who has cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  We need someone who has been there.  Someone who knows what it's like because they have lived it. 

Christians find that someone in Jesus and cling to him like he is the only one who understands.  In most cases, he is.  "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" resonates with those who have spent time in the dark.  It is no accident that this gut-wrenching spiritual was born in the horrors of slavery.  Every slave was indeed "there."

Certainly we are thankful for the resurrection of Jesus and the hope that it brings to each of us.  It is the central event of Christian faith and I honestly don't know how anyone gets through the death of a loved one without that hope.  The grief can be so overwhelming that I find the promise of resurrection is sometimes the only way I have gotten out of bed in the morning. 

But in our rush to affirm that hope and claim it for ourselves and those we love, we easily forget that resurrection is impossible without there first being a death.  Bringing that hope of resurrection to us cost something.  It cost a life.  It cost the life of Jesus and we will only wing our way to that hope in the moment we are willing to lay down our own lives as well. 

The only path to Easter is through Good Friday.  The only way to real life is through death--a spiritual truth that is taught by Creation every year in the turning of the seasons.  That is not a call to suicide, which is simply a darker way of avoiding the trip to Mt. Calvary.  It is merely to say that either literally or figuratively, the deaths of our lives come to make way for the new life that is promised.  Those deaths come to us in many ways--the loss of a job, a relationship, our health, our home as well as the actual passing of friends, loved ones and, eventually, ourselves.

One of the hymns my mother picked for her own funeral is a favorite of mine as well.  "Hymn of Promise" reminds us,

In our end is our beginning; in our time infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

It's the whole package--death and resurrection together and intertwined.  It is what the death of Jesus on Good Friday teaches us.  And our love for the one who suffered as we do gives us the courage to follow.


Share this
Your rating: None