As you might imagine I am working full-time putting the finishing touches on all of my material for Holy Week. Last week I taught the teenagers a lesson on the cross and this week I am teaching about the resurrection. Friday night I am part of a local community Good Friday program and I am working on my sermon for Resurrection morning. Lately I am in this constant tension between teaching on the cross and on the resurrection. It is nothing new for anyone in ministry, but this year I have noticed something that I think is worth pointing out.
I think the reason I noticed this idea this year was because of a question from our Churches Children’s Church teacher. A few weeks ago he sent me an email asking if it was okay to teach on the resurrection on Easter morning and not talk about the cross. Not long after he asked me this question I was working on the Church website and looking for a good image to post online for our Easter program. As I searched the web I realized that almost every Church image for Easter morning contained a picture of a cross or of three crosses. Then this idea hit me, “We need to be very clear on the message of Easter.” Easter is not about the crucifixion of Jesus. Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus.
I think that over time the Church wanted some image to go with the resurrection of Jesus and they realized an empty tomb is a tough image to capture. So people took a step back and started using the cross as an Easter image. In some ways I suppose that it is okay, but in other ways it misses the point. Very early on in my ministry I was talking to a worship leader about our Easter Sunday morning program and he looked at me and said, “Be sure you kill and bury Jesus on Friday and have him resurrected on Sunday.” It was as simple statement that has guided my thinking, planning and preaching every sense that day.
Let me be clear, I do not think it is wrong to preach on the cross of Jesus on Easter or even to wear a cross as a religious image that day. I get the idea that everyone wants some image to show their faith and a cross is the most common. I 110% believe in the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. I also believe 110% that Jesus defeated the grave by his resurrection. The reason I celebrate his death is because he rose to life again. The Apostle Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17).
Easter is not a time to focus on the death of Jesus other than to be the context for a resurrection. Jesus was dead and buried on Friday but on Sunday the story is changed forever. I celebrate the cross but only because it was not the final word on Jesus. The empty tomb is what sets Jesus apart from all other religious leaders and Christianity from all other faiths. But that is a hard image to put on a necklace, earrings or even a Church website.