An Occupied Cross Before an Empty Tomb
I used to hate Good Friday. Jesus dying a gruesome and unjust death didn’t seem particularly “good” to me. Even now, when I watch a Jesus movie like The Greatest Story Ever Told (or let’s be real: Jesus Christ Superstar), I find myself secretly hoping that someone in the crowd will say “wait a second! Just four days ago we really liked this guy. Crucifixion is a terrible idea, let’s go have Passover.” Mic drop.
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The idealist and optimist in me would prefer to be reminded that the cross was empty, that Jesus was alive, to focus less on Good Friday and more on Easter Sunday. But I have come to appreciate the image of Christ on the cross much more now that I’m an adult and there are things that I have said and done in my life that deserve a reckoning. Jesus is there, gladly bearing my sin on the cross.
I’ve come to appreciate that there are so many broken and twisted places in this world that need a Redeemer. And Jesus is there, undoing the power of sin and evil on the cross.
I’ve come to appreciate that you cannot have the joy of resurrection, without the pain of crushing disappointment and death. And that Jesus was there. You can’t delight in an empty cross and an empty grave without first being humbled by the fact that God was present in the two places we shouldn’t expect to find the Divine.
As an idealistic person, one of my most besetting sins is cynicism. Cynicism in some ways is the other side of idealism. Idealism says “life should be a certain way and I’m just the person for the job.” Cynicism says “life will always be this way and nobody cares but me.” For a Christian, cynicism is the temptation to believe that nothing is possible with God, and that all that is left is to glory in the misery of the moment.
It’s all so delightfully morbid and Chekovian, isn’t it?
But here’s the truth of what I’ve learned about cynicism and what I know about the cross. Cynicism is often masked as wisdom. “I’ve been here,” it says. “I know how things go. They don’t ever change.” It proclaims that our wisdom and discernment about the particular situation is wholly reliable.
For Christians though, that can’t be enough. The cross is
“foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-20, 25
Cynicism sees the cross and says “I was right. There’s no hope.” But cynicism sees the cross and death only — it misses the Christ who is crucified upon it, the One who uses his last words to forgive, to cry out to God, to finish the job. Cynicism is nearsighted.
For Jesus it was the cross that was his moment of glory. That was the moment the hard work of salvation, liberation, and redemption was done — by the Divine. And in God’s particular brand of plot twists and irony, the method of this agony, injustice, and suffering becomes the means through which hope and healing can work and things are made right.
On the cross, it’s Jesus who is present and real and communicating through his agony. It’s Jesus sharing in our thirst for something living and pure and experiencing the sour taste of vinegar instead. It’s God made flesh, tasting death though God didn’t have to — for us. It’s God entering into our cynicism and doubt, our nightmares and fears about the future, our inability to believe, to hope, or even to love.
And it’s Jesus present in our brokenness, in our despair, in every situation that seems untenable and intractable. It’s Jesus partaking in our human misery and instead of glorying in the misery, he glories in the victory. It is finished! When God invites us to partake in his sufferings, so we can share in his glory, it’s after the crucified Christ on his cross has nullified the power of our sins and failures, our cynicism and doubt, the injustice and brokenness, the evil in this world.
This Good Friday, like many of you, I looked at the cross. And while I eagerly look for the empty tomb that will remind me that death could not hold God, I first needed to remember that for a day Jesus embraced the intractability of death so that the fullness of God could embrace me. Like the old hymn proclaims, our sin — my cynicism — not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and we bear them no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.
Juliet Vedral is Press Secretary for Sojourners.
Image: Crucified christ image, robodread / Shuttestock.com