Good Friday or Easter Christians?
- 2011 19 Apr
Text: Luke 24:11
Luke 24:11Is Christianity built on nonsense? At first the apostles seem to think so. Some devout women tell them about the empty tomb and the two men in dazzling apparel. Luke records: "But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense." For a moment let's project ourselves into the ways their brains are working: "It is preposterous to toy with such ambitious ideas . . . It is unthinkable that dead flesh and cold blood can become alive and warm . . . It is silly to believe anyone as thoroughly dead as Jesus is capable of quitting the grave."
These men do not realize how utterly inadequate their faith is. They may be questioning the reliability of such a woman as Mary Magdalene. They may be thinking the motherly inclinations of these women are playing tricks on them. Whatever they are thinking it is obvious they do not have the great faith of a grain of mustard seed which their Master spoke about. They do not comprehend the heinous possibility their doubts raise: The death upon a cross of the religion which promises mankind the most precious rewards. Their time-pieces say it is Easter Sunday. Their hearts and minds say it is Good Friday. They will not live many more days until all will discover their mistake and keep up with the times. Are you and I as fortunate?
I think we are not really acquainted with the apostles until we see their wonder-filled vision is now a frustrating memory. The gloom begins to build on Maundy Thursday and reaches its apex late on Good Friday as Jesus grimaces in pain and drops His head in stillness. As long as their Lord talks with them, counsels them, and does miracles, they are content. In Jesus they find those blessed indications of "hope springing eternal". Their expectations are so great some of them argue angrily over who will sit at His right hand in glory. The bright lights of future power, unexcelled contentment, and absolute security dance in their heads. Good Friday has the effect of wiping the slate clean.
It was fine while it lasted. A very good man filled with unmatched compassion and uncanny wisdom is now extinct. The late Jesus of Nazareth takes His place in the obituary columns. Their memories linger on and each is more sentimental than he thinks becoming the male species. They are to learn the value of a memory transformed into a vision of boundless and exciting proportions. Have you and I crossed this bridge?
Is Christianity built on an irrefutable fact? Mary Magdalene, Joana, Mary (mother of Jesus), and some other women dare to believe it is. They refuse to be tied to what is humanly attainable. They say to themselves, "If our assumptions point to human gullibility, then let then". Never have they been faced with the superhuman possibilities to which the lonely and useless burial garments point. They are adventurous enough to take that great leap of faith. Much to their amazement it is taken with comparative ease. Enough of this Good Friday stuff for them! Down with the dismal ones who accept defeat!
There's no denying what they have seen and heard. Have they not seen the stone rolled away? Have they not seen the barren slab where Jesus was placed? Have they not heard the two men ask, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" Seeing is believing and they have seen the evidence of a Christ who is not dead. What their eyes see and their ears hear is very convincing. They can personally testify to a vacated tomb. Can you and I do as much? Do we have the courage to believe and practice what we have seen and heard?
A critical and crucial transition is ours to make. It is Easter Christianity which is empowered to change the world and not the Good Friday variety. So our question is clear-cut, "Are we Good Friday or Easter Christians?" This poses some distinct choices.
In the first place, "Do we see a dying man or a living Christ?"
Good Friday watches an unusual religious reformer gasp for His final breath and pass into the way of all flesh. Have you taken time to visualize the horrors of a man put to death on a cross? Perhaps you feel an Easter Sunday is not time to mention them.
Well, there can be no Easter, unless there is a Good Friday. For many, far too many, the confusion is not over the factual happenings. It is over the spiritual transition from one to the other.
Recall, our Lord is nailed to a plain and splintery contraption between two thieves. The going is rough. The chips are down. The disciples are scattered. Who wants to follow a loser? Who wants to back noble aspirations without the man who insists they are true? Who wants to be seen with "the King of the Jews" hanging ludicrously on a cross? If He will come down and save His body, we will believe. If He stays there wincing in pain, we do not appreciate the embarrassment He is causing us. Oh well, when He dies, at least, some of His sayings will live to rank Him with Moses, Isaiah, and John the Baptist . . . or Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin. Let's go have a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer and try to forget what we have seen.
The fact we allow our mental faculties to come to a halt and our emotions the unfitting fixation of a very good but very dead man shows where we stand. "Jesus, why did you let it happen?" "Jesus with the crown of thorns, the bloody brow, the choking throat, and tearful eyes we accept you for what you are." "We accept you as a wellmeaning Teacher from Galilee whose inability to deal with the hard facts of life killed you." "Your goodness we shall never forget". "Die in peace and we shall hold You in high esteem as we talk of your death." An unresurrected and naively well-intentioned Christ is the trademark of Good Friday Christians.
Easter's focus is unmistakably upon Him who breaks the spell of death. The word "Easter" is akin to the Latin "Aurora" meaning "dawn". Easter Christians know a new day has broken. The sun is ascending and the darkness of night rapidly disappears. What is death for Christ? It is a mere two day interim before He steps out of the tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. It is a dying for the sins of mankind and springing forth to offer proof that such sinners can have eternal life with Him. It is playing the prelude of a worship service which has no closing prayer and postlude. It is the introduction to a sermon whose body and conclusion continue to be written. You and I cannot afford to worship less than an Arisen Christ.
Is your father . . . your mother . . . your husband . . . your wife . . . your son . . . your daughter a Good Friday or an Easter Christian? Perhaps the most obvious principle in life is that ceasing to grow produces all sorts of abnormalities, imagined and unimagined. Growth in the spiritual life is not exempt from this. Let's look at our second choice.
In the second place, "Do we see a shameful Cross or an empty tomb?"
Good Friday knows nothing beyond a disgraceful cross. Some of us may think we have transcended the heavy gloom of that "Black Friday", but have we? Are we powerless in our Christian relationships? Are we powerful in the dealings which can get us what we think we want? Do our lips say we disown the permanent picture of a limp Jesus who is so dead they don't even bother to break His legs? Do we say nasty and religiously-approved words about the betrayal of Judas Iscariot and his direct part in the Crucifixion? If we do, do we mean them? Do we accuse Jesus' accusers unjustly? What greater a accusation against our Lord is there than to live and die as though He has been dead — stone dead — nearly two thousand years? It is one thing to say "I believe". It is quite another to say "I believe in a Resurrected Christ". It is yet something vastly different to say and mean "I believe in a Resurrected Christ because I know Him".
Easter jubilantly looks at an ineffectual tomb. Think of it? What Jesus says is true. He does not disappoint us! Glory be to God on High, "Truly this Man is the Son of God!" How many of us get excited about our religion? Large slices of ham are enough to excite our taste buds. New clothes are enough to excite our awareness of needing to be attractive. While preaching on the Mount Jesus inquires, "Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" Lilies are enough to excite our sense of the beautiful. The Master says "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil no spin; yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Little chicks chirping away excite our sense of the innocent. One of the Beatitudes says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God". Easter Christianity is an exciting religion. It is a dynamic force.
Just as tiny tots must learn to take those first steps to walk we must make those initial movements to go from Good Friday to Easter. The Church does not exist because of the defeats, despairs, and dereliction of Good Friday. The Church exists because there was a first Easter and all other Sundays are really "little Easters". Surely mankind would never have continued to erect large and imposing edifices to a dead god. There is a final choice.
In the third place, "Do we label the Resurrection absurdity or truth?"
Good Friday calls it absurd. On Sunday morning the apostles think the women's words are "nonsense". Many who belong to the churches in America would not seriously question our Blessed Lord's emergence from the tomb. What so many, many of us never seem to learn is the unalterable fact the Resurrection is indeed absurd and nonsensical until you and I experience an arising from the grave.
There is a uniqueness in religious experience which is the only real rule whereby we define being an Easter Christian. Perhaps the best way to put it into words is simply to use the expression: "If it hasn't happened to me and for me, it hasn't happened". This is especially true with regard to the Resurrection. We can go so far as to say Christ died and arose — for me. Can we say "The Resurrection has happened to me"? Good Friday Christians remain in their bottled and canned states of existence because the healing and powerful beams of a radiant Resurrection has never touched them.
A song entitled "The World is Waiting for a Sunrise" was favorite some years ago. This is not due to the brilliance of musical notes. It is due to the fact it expresses a deep, deep human hunger which is not generally satisfied.
Easter with boldness calls the Resurrection "reality". This is more than indication. It is more than data. It is more than testimony. It is more than evidence. It is more than proof. It is more than fact. It is precisely what Jesus means for it to be: an abiding truth . . . an unchangeable reality. "Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!: If all of us — yes even some of us — can spiritually arise today, the heavens with a great resounding echo shall shout "Alleluia!" Easter Christians are those who have arisen from the tombs of pride, covetousness, lust, envy, and sloth to a new life of faith, hope, love, loyalty, and dedication.
Friday afternoon to Sunday morning is less than two days in the ongoing march of history. Yet, we are bound by an unbreakable chain to two events occurring in a fortyeight hour span. We are either Good Friday plus forty-eight hour Christians or we are standing in the mud watching a pre-funeral procession pass by and a weary Jew groaning under the weight of a cross. We are either enjoying the blessings of an Easter morn or we are standing many yards away viewing the figure of a man who — at last — cries out, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit". No other two-day period is as significant to you and me. In a way the day you were born and the day you die have no meaning apart from the Cross and the Resurrection. To have lived and died a Resurrected Christian is to have made your life eternally significant.
The depth of our religion is dependent on the spiritual transition from Good Friday to Easter. Good Friday Christians can awaken only surface and token responses to our lord. They have a veneer acquaintance with the Master and cannot stir the waters of the soul which run deeply. Easter Christians sing a refrain with feeling which is beyond them and which takes them into ecstasies closed to the Cross of Good Friday.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus Lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's' narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.
The Resurrection has happened for you. Has it happened to you?
Donald Charles Lacy is a retired Methodist pastor in Indiana.
Original publication date: March 1, 2004