As Easter draws near, I’ve noticed a trend and one that I’ve fallen comfortably into myself. On Good Friday, it is not uncommon to hear some brief reflection on the Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross followed by these words, “but Sunday is coming.” Of course, the sentiment strikes at the heart of the culmination of this Lenten season, the anchor of the Christian faith – not just the death of Christ, but his resurrection. That is where our hope resides. As Paul indicated, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:13-14).
To be sure, the resurrection cannot be undermined. I confess that for much of my Christian life, I treated Easter Sunday as kind of a resurrection birthday only to downplay it’s significance the remaining of the year. The cross of Christ is nothing without the resurrection. At the cross, Jesus final sacrifice of atonement, where he bore the penalty for our sin, is not complete unless he rose from the dead. In his resurrection, is where we find life in him. The resurrection is where we can anchor our hope.
We have the advantage of hindsight. Imagine what his disciples felt at that time. This person they followed and believed to be the Messiah, the promised Savior, who would come and rescue the God’s elect from the oppression of Gentile rule, was now seemingly defeated by it in the cruelest manner. But they would come to realize that in God’s paradox, he would use an instrument of death to bring life and nailed at his resurrection.
And so living on the other side of this revelation in Christ, we want to celebrate in the victory that secures eternal hope for those found in Christ. To put in more simply, we want to skip to the good part.
But I wonder if this zeal prematurely accelerates and curtails a healthy reflection on the significance of this transaction, where the perfect, sinless Son of God condescended to death upon a tree.
In the Maundy Thursday service yesterday, the focus on the sermon on Luke 22 really struck me. Entitled “Don’t Underestimate the Power of Sin” at first I thought it was a curious focus on a day that is designed to celebrate the command of Jesus for his disciples to love one another as he demonstrated the apex of this love, to lay down your life for your friends. Why would we need this admonishment to be on guard for sin?
As the pastor highlighted the actions of his disciples during this paradoxical demonstration of love, that it became clearer. In spite of how much the disciples professed their love for Jesus and placed their faith in him, the sin that runs through Adam’s veins afflicted them. He washed their dirty feet. They argued among themselves and groped at the quest for greatness. He told them he was humbling himself to obedience to the Father. Peter stuck out his chest with self-assured pride and self-justification. When confronted with his betrayal, he lied. And they all deserted him to save themselves.
They are us. Yes us, who have been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ, who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and baptized into the kingdom of God, adopted as sons and daughters. Yet an undeniable fact that undergirds the New Testament admonishment regarding our Christian life is quite obvious in every Nt letter: we are still confronted with the root of our sin condition in Adam. We are prone to follow these early disciples’ footsteps. I know my own tendencies. Yes, I love the Lord and desire to submit to his rule in my life. But at the same time, I can be a rebel who wants my own way, who can anchor my security in my own sense of self-assuredness and righteousness. I minimize my own transgressions but can maximize the fault of others. I am not alone. We do this. We blame. We obfuscate reality for self-protection. We deflect to to hide our own shame. We lie. We self-justify. We are not beyond any sinful act.
We need to confront our own propensity for sin James reminds us, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14). Let’s be clear, James is talking to Christians. We sin when the buttons on our own lust presses and entices and we say yes. No Christian is beyond that as I’ve been painfully reminded of this past week with public disclosures of moral failures, public displays of unChristianly behavior from Christian ministers, and so more.
But it is this sin for which the eternal Son of God voluntarily condescended to our broken level, lived a life of perfect righteousness to fulfill the law of God and humbled himself to obedience unto death on a cross. As the hymn goes, “it was my sin that held him there.” But as Paul reminds us in Colossians 2:13-15, by “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands,” he secured forgiveness of sins by nailing everyone to the cross and triumphed over the rulers and authorities.
The sorrows of the events of that Friday must confront our own sin. For it is in this confrontation that we come face to face with our need for the man of sorrow, the lamb of God, the Savior who exchanged our debt for his life, the one in whom all the promises of God are yes and amen (2 Cor. 1:20). It is in this reflection that we develop a healthy distrust of ourselves and instead, place that trust on the Him, in whom is found redemption and the forgiveness of sins. (On a side note, I greatly appreciate this aspect of Presbyterian liturgy-the public and private confession of sin.)
I believe that even our desire to skip to the victory of Sunday is but an indication of an unwillingness to confront our own sinful propensity for rebellion of various sorts. So let’s not be so quick to rush past this day. Let’s be willing to own our own sinfulness and propensity to rebel. Let’s be willing to look at the man upon a cross who propitiated our sin. Let’s be willing to allow the weight of Adam’s transgression to remind us of what it took for a life in Christ, which he himself paid for in full and be assured that he is our hope.
Yes, Sunday is coming. But for now, today is Friday.