Easter is fast approaching. The most important day in all of human history will be celebrated by people all over the planet. The tomb is empty. He is not here. Rejoice! We are the Resurrection People!
Before the tomb is empty;, the tomb must first be filled. To celebrate the everlasting light of Easter, we must first pass through the shadow of Good Friday. We must stand in the shadow of the cross.
This Lenten season I’ve been thinking a lot about shadows.
Shadows can be scary things. Everyone has experienced the terror of an unexpected shadow falling on them. Your heartrate accelerates. Your skin prickles. You are simultaneously afraid to see the source of the shadow and yet you feel compelled to see the source of your unease. In books, shadows are indicative of evil. For example, J.R.R. Tolkien writes, “For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and beauty forever beyond its reach.” Shadows bring tidings of ill-will and darkness. They blot out the light.
However, not all shadows, or dare I say most shadows, forebode evil things. Shadows can also be extremely comforting as well. Every child knows, or should know, the thrill of security and love that comes from the shadow cast by a parent standing in the bedroom doorway after tucking the child in for the night. I remember trying to stay in my parents’ shadows as they walked in front of me. It was a game. Additionally, there is a certain joy that one finds sitting in the long shadow of the trees. Their friendly shadows calm racing heart and remind the tuckered-out adventurer to breathe. Time stops and dreams run wild. As Eva Ibbotson writes, “Shadows are cool and peaceful places for those whose minds are overstocked with treasure.”
Imagine for a moment what is must have been like for those who loved Jesus as they witnessed his crucifixion and death. Their teacher, their friend, their son was hung on a cross, not because he was guilty of any crime, but because the world was not ready to recognize him for what he was. They stood not only in the shadow of the cross. They stood in the shadow of broken dreams, demolished plans. Their leader was gone. No matter how many times Jesus predicted his death, none of the Disciples had understood what he was saying.
For the believers who stood on Golgotha, the shadows must have been dark indeed. On that day and the days that followed, they must have asked themselves a plethora of questions. Was there something that could have been done differently? What did the future hold? What was the point of living now that their Teacher was gone? They probably replayed their conversations with Jesus in their heads. Jesus’s promise to raise the temple in three day was most likely forgotten. Words, even important ones, matter little when the heart is lost in shadows.
On Easter morning, the sun rose and with it the Son rose as well.
Why if we are Resurrection People must we stand in the shadow of the cross? Why do we have to first acknowledge Good Friday before Easter? Why can we not simply bask in the light of the risen Son? These are the questions that have been hanging over me the past few weeks.
These questions are also the reason I asked you to imagine what it must have been like for the Jesus’s followers on the first Good Friday. To understate the facts, the first Good Friday wasn’t good. It was as far from good as one can get. Even God turned his face away from Golgotha.
Imagine that…even God turned his face away from the suffering of his son.
However, just like everything else, Christ redeemed even the darkest day when he rose again. That is the power of the cross. Its shadow is longer than the shadow of any tree, but the joy found in its shadow is greater as well and the peace more lasting.
Having imagined the darkness of Good Friday, imagine now the inconceivable, overwhelming joy that must have flooded the souls of those who loved Jesus as he stood among them once more. How bright must have been the light to not simply cast away the shadows, but to obliterate them completely? Jesus defeated death. Jesus defeated sin. As John beautifully states, “In him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
We each have our own cross to carry. We each stand in the shadow of the cross. This is very clear. As Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
If we don’t stand in the shadow of the cross, we don’t understand. If we don’t look at our bleeding, broken Messiah, sacrificially bearing the unbearable weight of every single sin every committed in all of history, we don’t ever experience the true joy of the resurrection. He alone committed none of those sins. He died the death we all deserve. If we don’t experience Good Friday, we don’t understand that shadows don’t last forever, not anymore.
Rejoice, Resurrection People, rejoice! Rejoice, even in the shadows, rejoice!
When I survey the wond’rous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory dy’d,
My richest Gain I count but Loss,
And pour Contempt on all my Pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the Death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his Blood.
See from his Head, his Hands, his Feet,
Sorrow and Love flow mingled down!
Did ever such Love and Sorrow meet?
Or Thorns compose so rich a Crown?
His dying Crimson, like a Robe,
Spreads o’er his Body on the Tree;
Then am I dead to all the Globe,
And all the Globe is dead to me.
Were the whole Realm of Nature mine,
That were a Present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my Soul, my Life, my All.
– Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”