There is an undeniable sweetness about this season. It’s the sweetness of bitter winter transformed into carefree spring, of the flowering of dormant flora and days lengthening after months of oppressive darkness. There is even the sweet spectacle of fidgety children and doting grandparents all hurrying off to church on Easter Sunday.
And while all of these things are good, none of them can be found at the heart of Easter.
Good Friday is not the darkness that necessarily must give way to light. Nor is it the winter sleep or hibernation that stores and nurtures the germ of life. Rather, it is the day when the incarnate God, incarnate love, is killed by human beings who want to become gods themselves. It is the day when the Holy One of God, that is God himself, dies, really dies — of his own will and yet as a result of human guilt, and no germ of life is spared in him such that his death might resemble sleep. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Meditations on the Cross, “Resurrection instead of immortality”
As Bonhoeffer says elsewhere, “That Christ was indeed dead [did not suggest] the possibility of his resurrection, but its impossibility; … There is absolutely no transition, no continuum between the dead Christ and the resurrected Christ other than God’s own freedom to create [something] out of nothing.”
The sinless Son was lifted up on a cross, bleeding, in agony, derided, and after hours of painful desperation, he died.
He was pierced with a Roman spear and carried away to a cold tomb. His limbs stiffened with rigor mortis. His skin became pale; his jaw slackened. The cellular walls of his organs turned to mush; his neurons lost their conductivity.
This was not winter waiting sweetly and quietly for spring, but winter suddenly hardened into an ice age, winter made permanent by the violent death of the sun.
There is nothing sweet about Good Friday, which is why Jesus’ followers scattered, grief-stricken and terrified that their heads would be next on the executioner’s block.
Yes, there is a glorious resurrection on Easter morning, but I sometimes fear we take it too lightly.
From cold, dead tissue, the Creator of abundant life made a fresh start, rebooting human history while restoring the life of his Son.
Our alienation from God was rooted in millennia of stubborn rebellion. From Eden onward, we were ripped apart from Love. God nailed our rebellion to the cross and reconciled us to himself at the door of an empty tomb.
Art credit: Eugene Delacroix, Christ on the Cross, 1845