Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Crucified Messiah?

You can't have Good Friday without Easter. We cannot proclaim the death of Jesus without also celebrating his resurrection. The world's rejection of God does not make sense as the last word. The only thing that makes our annual celebration of Good Friday bearable is our understanding that Easter will always come on the third day. But I also think we can flip that on its head and proclaim that you can't have Easter without Good Friday.

Yesterday, I read a piece on the Mockingbird website that quoted an article from Christianity Today by Wesley Hill about the "confluence of Easter and April Fools' Day." (It is the third part of the post that you can find here.) In it, Hill remarks that the real April Fools' joke isn't found in the fanciful story of the resurrection but in the unbelievable tragedy of the cross. How can God be at work in the death of Jesus? Hill shakes me to my core when he writes,
For instance, if someone tried to prank me by claiming that my deceased friend Chris had turned up at his favorite pub, I’d laugh and wink, but it wouldn’t necessarily undermine my fundamental convictions about how the world works if it turned out to be true. I’m prepared to meet God in the miraculous, in the glitter of the supernatural and in the joy of favors I’ve repeatedly prayed for. If, however, someone tried to convince me that God was “hiddenly” at work in the year that I collapsed in depression and had to take a hiatus from grad school or in the moment when I got the news that a beloved colleague was given six weeks to live, I’d frown in skepticism. “I don’t think you realize just how painful that was,” I’d say. “God couldn’t have been connected with those heartaches.”
There it is. That's the real miracle of Easter--not that someone should cheat death by rising from the tomb after three days but that God's Son would be utterly rejected and defeated by the powers of evil and then be vindicated by God's complete and total reversal of events. The miracle of Easter is that the cross doesn't represent the failure of God but God's greatest triumph.

Lots of people have been raised from the dead. Through the intercessions of Elijah, God raises the son of the widow of Zarephath. Similarly, Elisha raised the Shunnamite woman's son back from death. Jesus brings back the son of the widow of Cain, the daughter of Jairus, and, of course, his friend Lazarus. Peter brings back Dorcas. Paul brings back Eutychus. And I'm sure that other followers of Jesus in times ancient and modern have brought a surely-dead person back to life. As Hill writes, it isn't that far-fetched to think that God would show up in miraculous ways. But the cross? The shameful, tortuous execution of a rabbi who had crossed the powers of this world? Where is God in that?

In today's reading from Acts 2, Peter said to the multitude, "Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified." We are told that, "when they heard this, they were cut to the heart." Compare that with the crowd's reaction whenever Jesus brought someone back from the dead. People were impressed. Some even became his followers. But the response is never described as the full conviction-repentance-belief cycle that we see here. That's what the cross and empty tomb together represent. This is not God's rejection of our failures but God's transformation of them. God is not absent in our worst. God is deeply present in a redemptive way.

Easter is not victory for the few--a miraculous gift for those who were personally touched by a resuscitation. It is God's vindication of all of our suffering, pain, and loss. The unfathomable consequence of Easter is God's transformational presence with those who are in their darkest hour. Just as Jesus proclaimed during his lifetime, God is not found with those who are blessed in the world's eyes. He is found with those on whom the world has turned its back. That is victory for us. Hallelujah! 

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