WARNING: This post is intended for a certain audience… Christian believers. More specifically, Christian believers who consider themselves ‘Evangelical’ (whatever that now means). If you do not fall within this category, please feel free to eavesdrop a bit, but please know that my thoughts are directed toward those folks (typically within the Western Church) who pride themselves in “Bible-believing” and “Gospel-preaching” — which is to insinuate absolutely nothing about those who do not consider themselves to be ‘Evangelical’. Seriously. Put plainly in another way, this is not directed toward ‘Mainline Protestant’ folks, ‘Roman Catholic’ folks, or ‘Eastern Orthodox’ folks… or, for that matter, any hybrids of these branches of our great Tree. Furthermore, if you’re easily offended, please do not read what follows. Seriously. You probably will be offended… not because I’m aiming to be offensive or hoping to offend anyone but simply because I think this desperately needs to be said, and we often don’t like to hear things that need to be said. Case in point, “Sir, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re dying.” How many of us have the gall to say such a thing to a home-going loved-one? How many of us want to one day be told this by a loved one? Some things, though hard to both say and hear, need to be said. And in light of the subject matter which follows, how many of us think that Ash Wednesday is silly ritualism? “To dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.” [But I digress, so without further hesitation, please consider yourself warned.]
Easter is not about Jesus’ death on the Cross. That’s Good Friday. That’s right: there is such a thing as Good Friday. Most of us have all but forgotten about this remarkable Holy Day in the life of the Church, but nonetheless, it’s still there. Yep, Good Friday. It hasn’t gone away. Though we’ve neglected it, profaned it, and nearly lost it in our culture, it’s still there. It hasn’t left us, though we’ve treated it quite poorly, perhaps most poorly by simply ignoring it. [Be honest, you HATE to be ignored. Other sins you can bear within yourself, but to be plainly ignored…? That hurts.]
It was on Friday that Jesus died upon the Cross. It was on Sunday that He rose from the grave. Aha! Hopefully, now we’re starting to see the importance of Easter. Friday: the death of Jesus. Sunday: His resurrection.
Why does this ever-so-important distinction even matter? Well, for a number of reasons…
For starters, truth matters. Amen? If I went to Kroger rather than Publix, I went to Kroger, not Publix. There is a difference. The simple fact that there is truth to the matter (and the potential for falsehood) should suggest –or scream– to us that the truth does indeed matter. What happened? When did it happen? These are not mere “details” as if they were on the periphery of the greater subject at hand (i.e., that Jesus died for us); they are the reality of what God has done in Christ to redeem us.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Come on, man. No one’s saying that the events of Friday actually happened on Sunday or that the events of Sunday actually happened on Friday. Neither is anyone saying that Sunday didn’t come or that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.” I concede that this may well be the case. However, I’m concerned that our sloppy approach to proclamation & theology unveils in us a lax approach to worship & love. Could it be that we’ve betrayed ourselves? If we’ll be candid & honest with one another for but a moment, I think most of us would confess a nagging doubt we’ve found within our hearts and minds from time to time: “What does it really matter? Does it really matter?”
I know… I know… I’m losing you. Hang with me.
Why does Christmas matter? Isn’t that what the whole Gospel is about? God is with us. Why does Jesus’ death matter? Isn’t that what the whole Gospel is about? God has rescued us. […not in some sick, depraved, the-Father-taking-His-frustration-with-us-out-on-His-innocent-Son-in-divinely-gleeful-rage sort of way, but perhaps that’ll be the subject of another post at some other time.] With the acknowledgement that I may now be crossing a liturgical line, I’ll tread lightly… Why does the Ascension matter? Why does Pentecost matter? Is this annual proclamation & celebration perhaps just vain repetition? Are we any better than Celtic pagans?
The difference: The Good News of the Church is the story of what God has actually done in history, real time & space, to rescue humanity. History, ergo time, necessitates sequence. This happened; then, that happened. What the Church for centuries, even [Now I’m stretching it.] millennia, has done is summarize the Gospel into an annual pattern of proclamation & celebration, which creates for Itself a rhythm of life & worship into which It invites It’s members & those who drop eaves to participate & dance.
The fact is that there is a lot to the Gospel. While it might can be summarized in tracts [though I prefer creeds], It really demands more than just a few lines. It demands a life. It demands much more than we all-too-often regrettably offer it.
Okay, but what about the whole Friday-death-Sunday-ressurrection distinction? Here’s the sum of it… We live our lives far too fast-paced for our own good. We have instant oatmeal, instant Jello, instant pudding, and instant RICE for crying out loud! IT ONLY TAKES 15 MINUTES TO MAKE PLAIN, OLD-SCHOOL RICE!!! WHY DO WE NEED INSTANT RICE?! We love our fast food options. We expect things now, and even when we pray for patience [if we pray at all], we ask for God to give it without delay. This is not good. This is not healthy. This does not build character. This does not shape a virtuous life.
We like our Gospel like we like our preaching on Sunday mornings. We like it hard and fast. While we’ll take being preached to, we’d much more prefer being preached at. We want sweat dripping & spit slinging. We want to front row, “real-big” Christians to be nasty by the time it’s all over. We want a huge black Bible being thumped, even pounded against the top of a big oak pulpit. Composite leather, please. Hopefully, you’ve noticed my use of pronouns here… We. The world, of course, doesn’t like this, but we do. The “others” outside of ‘Evangelicalism’ might be turned off by this sort of Gospel, but it sends a chill up our legs. This chill is sometimes vocalized with a shout of “Amen!” Why? “Because people need to hear this! They need the Gospel! This church ought to be packed on Sunday mornings, because someone’s missing out.” Yep, betrayed again. We like our ‘Evangelicalism’ like we like our termites. Though they fascinate us, we’d rather them “abide” in someone else’s house.
The Gospel offers us good (in exchange for our bad). It offers us health (in order to purge our dis-ease). It seeks to build character within us (having given us a fresh start). It seeks to shape our lives through virtue (as we follow our victorious Lord). Yes, it saves, but salvation is full not partial. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. It doesn’t offer a free ticket for eternity. It offers us redemption… real redemption… complete redemption. It is the story of how the one true God has fully embraced our humanity, taken it into Himself, and rescued it through participation. We, now, are called to embrace Him (the incarnate One), invite Him into ourselves (our lives, our families, our relationships), and participate in His plan for rescue.
In making Easter Sunday into just a bigger Good Friday, we risk making the Gospel only about the forgiveness of sins, neglecting that it is also about the resurrection of the body. The Creed, anyone? When we reduce the Gospel to a mere tag-phrase (e.g., Jesus died for you.), we suspiciously offer only a fresh start, not a new life. Easter is about the shocking, other-wise impossible miracle of the Resurrection of Jesus. Friday: the Crucifixion. Sunday: the Resurrection. Friday: the blood-stained Cross. Sunday: the chillingly-empty Tomb. The Man was dead. His body was laid “to rest” in a tomb. [By whom? If I were a betting man, I’d be putting a heap of cash on you not having any clue.] As the Apostle Paul would have us believe, though, while His death affords us forgiveness of sins, His resurrection raises us to new life [victorious life!] through faith.
It’s obvious… While we’ve perhaps made the Gospel too complicated for others, we’ve surely made it far too simple for ourselves. Holy Week which has [Alas!] already passed us, invites us to walk carefully, slowly, intentionally, prayerfully.
Easter is not about Jesus dying for you. What’s crazy: today is Easter Tuesday, the first Tuesday after Easter Sunday. The season of Easter actually goes on for a few more weeks. [Ha! You’ve been snookered, haven’t you? It’s only just begun, my friend. Karen Carpenter? Hmm.]
Most of us are far too busy to worry with Good Friday… and don’t even think about Maundy Thursday! We’ll make time on Holy Saturday for our Easter egg hunts, and we’ll talk about nothing but Jesus’ death on the Cross for our sins on Easter Sunday morning, when we should be proclaiming, “He is risen! He is risen indeed!!!” Most of our churches are far too big to worry with the distinction. After all, we need a Friday evening service, a few on Saturday, and a couple on Sunday, and we can just say that they’re each our “Easter” celebration, right? Logistics, really.
This is no criticism against working on Good Friday. This is no criticism against being busy. This is no criticism against large congregations. I swear it. This is simply an anecdotal observation of what we’ve become in the Western world of ‘Evangelicalism’. My suggestion is that we slow down and walk carefully and intentionally. The liturgical calendar could help in this regard, but that might not be your sort of thing.
[I’ll probably need to clarify a few things in subsequent posts. We’ll see…]