“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15.54 – 57, NASB)
Oftentimes, it seems, the evil around us – and sometimes in us – appears to have the last say. No matter how hard we fight to right the wrongs of the world, the cloak of darkness falls heavy on us, suffocating our very being, often leading to eventual death. Cancer takes the loved one for whom we’ve been praying. Climate change wipes out indigenous communities around the world. Women are hunted and trafficked for sex. Missing children are never found. War continues to wage, taking out entire families and destroying whole communities. Plane crashes and disappearances take friends and family members way too soon. The police continue to profile, shoot and kill young black men, women, and children. Homelessness, helplessness, and hopelessness abound. Children die of otherwise preventable diseases. Malnutrition, hunger, and thirst are the order of the day. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is crucified.
I for one, tend to come down hard on the disciples for abandoning Jesus at the cross. Most often, I criticize them for their petty fear of the Roman government (well not petty, the Roman empire was pretty deadly) and for selling Jesus out. Definitely not the ride or die crowd! What I often neglect, however, is the role that shame played in their reluctance to stick by Jesus. Shame, because in the end, evil overtook Him, too.
For three years, they followed Jesus wholeheartedly, believing that He was the one who would turn the world upside down. They thought that Mary’s Son would put an end to the tyranny of the Roman Empire, restore dignity to the Jewish people, and essentially save the rest of the world from their sins. For three years, they hung on to His every word, and though they did not always get it, they trusted this self-proclaimed Son of the Living God. They went about prophesying in His name, casting out demons in His name, pointing people to the future in His name – all of which came to a grinding halt the moment that Judas planted a kiss on Jesus’ cheek.
As if on cue, the Roman soldiers came and arrested Jesus. After His arrest, he appeared before the High Priest, Pilate, and the Roman government – all who were co-signers in his eventual crucifixion and death. By the time Jesus makes it to the cross, He has been spat upon, mocked, and nearly beaten to death. Not exactly the kind of scenario you expect from the so-called Savior of the world!
Nailed to the cross, Jesus spends the last few hours of his life fighting for it. A man known for His eloquent homilies and illustrative parables has been reduced to essentially nothing, giving his all to get out a few final phrases. The last, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” signifies that Jesus has met His end; he takes one final breath and dies.
The shame of it all! Jesus cannot deliver, not because He doesn’t want to, but because evil is just that powerful. The disciples, both ashamed and afraid, run away and leave. And at last, evil has won.
Or so it seems. Looking back nearly 2,000 years, we know that this is not how the story ends! Three days later, the same Jesus who was crucified, rises from the dead. Glory hallelujah! Death can’t hold Him and the Roman Empire certainly can’t destroy Him. He is alive! Our Savior is alive!
2,000 years later, we commemorate the day of Jesus’ death on Good Friday. But we can only proclaim that this day, marked by death, is good because we know the end of the story. We have seen the other side of it. The disciples, unfortunately, were not able to enjoy the perspective that we have today because in the midst of Good Friday, all they could see was evil waging a mighty storm.
All too often, we find ourselves in the exact shoes that the disciples wore and we feel like evil is winning. As our losses pile up, due to violence, racism, hunger, terrorism, poverty, greed, and corruption, everyday can feel like Good Friday.
But resurrection is coming! Resurrection represents the things that are dead coming back to life. As the passage in I Corinthians 15 illustrates, death loses its grip, its very power in the face of resurrection. As a result, death will not be the final chapter in our lives.
But resurrection not only represents a coming back to life; it also signifies a power change. In the face of resurrection, the Roman Empire and every other entity, that seeks to wield authority over people’s lives comes to an end. And this is good news! It’s awesome news. For at last, oppression and injustice are defeated! And at last, Jesus, the Prince of Peace, reigns. That reign, unlike any other government or kingdom that we have seen on this earth, brings with it love, joy, peace, kindness, and unity. Neighbor will not kill neighbor in this kingdom. No one will discriminate against another simply because they are of a different race, ethnicity, culture, or gender. We will not compete over resources because there is more than enough to go around and no one is hoarding. People, at last, will be prioritized over profit margin and the bottom line. Sickness is completely done away with; health, wholeness and well-being are the order of the day.
As we wait for this future, seemingly living our lives between Good Friday and Resurrection, our job is to continually elevate and point to what is coming. As believers, God calls us to continuously declare His present and coming kingdom and help those around us visualize what the kingdom will look like. In so doing, we will inspire hope in a world that is so often overtaken by evil. We will lift the consciousness and stir the imagination of those who have been so defeated by evil that they simply cannot see any other way. But there is another way. Jesus is that way! Resurrection is coming! Keep fighting and keep hanging on until we get there!