In her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, novelist Anne Lamott writes, “I don’t have the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion. I’d like to skip ahead to the resurrection. In fact, I’d like to skip ahead to the resurrection vision of one of the kids in our Sunday School, who drew a picture of the Easter Bunny outside the tomb; everlasting life and a basketful of chocolates. Now you’re talking.”
Wouldn’t we all, don’t you think? Death, the cross, the agony, the cries, the crucifixion, all of it, it’s just so painful. Full disclosure- still to this day, I can’t watch the part in The Lion King when Mufasa dies. I just don’t like it. Wouldn’t it just be easier to go right to Easter? I mean the bulletins with the Hallelujah Chorus are already printed. Our new Easter dresses and seersucker suits are already purchased and pressed ready to go. The Easter eggs filled with Hershey’s kisses or even a dollar might already be hidden. Why not just skip right ahead?
Today is a difficult day. The weight of the cross is oppressive. The darkness is seemingly endless. The stench of death and sweat and spittle and sin linger. Yes, it would be much easier to just move right along to an empty tomb and the pleasant power of the resurrection. However, by doing that, dear friends, we would be dismissing the great struggle and suffering so palpably present echoing down the canyons of time to the real and present pains each of us cry out with today.
As Jesus cried out in anguish, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? We too make those same cries. Where is God when thousands of children from Ukraine are being kidnapped and taken to Russia? Where is God for the 110,000 people who died from “deaths of despair” including suicide and accidental overdose in the last year? Where is God when there have already been 67 mass shootings in the United States this year? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, forsaken us?
Wouldn’t it just be easier and make everyone just feel better to focus on the love and kindness of Jesus, the miracles and healings he performed? Unfortunately, as preacher and teacher Fred Craddock writes, “Then what happened to Jesus?” And when you tell them the truth, that he came to the city as a 33-year-old young idealist and stirred the city and the city turned on him and just like that put him on trial and executed him, some people are going to back away. Can’t we just leave that part out? Focus on the positive? People aren’t interested in a man who dies like that. It’s a terrible growth strategy for the church, all that, morbid suffering and bleeding and dying.”
Some people do turn away. But if we can set our gaze to the cross for a moment, however painful, we will see clearly just how much God loves you. We will see just how close Christ longs to travel with you. Jesus “emptied himself,” St. Paul wrote. He “took the form of a slave, became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” In Jesus Christ, God, that is to say—remarkably—God emptied God’s self for us, to come as close as it is possible to come to us. It is perhaps our only comfort in life and in death, so says the Catechism. That we belong to God in Christ. That Christ is truly with us. That he is Emmanuel, God with us. Crying with us. Struggling with us. In agony with us. Confused, frustrated, tired…with us. And that powerful truth is far more lasting than the Easter egg hunts or the marshmallow Peeps we enjoy in a few days. To skip over the cross would be to skip over the central reality that Christ is with us. Christ did this all for you, and you and you and me.
I’ll give Fred Craddock the last word in a powerful analogy. He describes a most-common human occurrence: a child falls down and skins a knee or elbow and comes running to mother. The mother picks up the child and says—in the oldest myth in the world—“Let me kiss it and make it well.” She picks up the child, kisses the skinned place, holds the child in her lap, and all is well. Did her kiss make it well? No. It was that ten minutes in her lap. Just sit in the lap of love and see the mother crying. “Mother, why are you crying? I’m the one who hurt my elbow.” “Because you hurt,” the mother says, “I hurt.” That does more for the child than all the bandages and medicine in the world, just sitting in her lap.”
“What is the cross?” Craddock asks. “It is to sit for a few minutes in the lap of God, who hurts because you hurt.”
Thanks be to God.