We have always been able to view the crucifixion in light of the resurrection that happened three days later. Whenever we read the Passion Narrative in one of the Gospels, we do so knowing that as bad as it looks that Jesus dies on the cross, that the resurrection was coming behind it.
The apostles didn’t have that luxury. When Jesus died on the cross, they were completely and totally lost. Where we hear the crucifixion story and find hope, the apostles found hopelessness. For them, there really wasn’t much room for anything other than despair.
So they dispersed. They ran away. They probably felt foolish. Maybe even betrayed. They had believed in this Jesus guy. They’d left their families to follow him. They’d bought into his promises. They’d swallowed the whole “Kingdom of Heaven” thing hook, line, and sinker.
But then Jesus died. And then was buried. And he stayed there. Overnight. Then the next morning. Then another night. Jesus had died and was still dead. What else could the apostles believe, except that this was the end of the story?
Before the weekend was out, the apostles had already returned to their former jobs as fishermen. When Jesus died, their faith died with him.
And I really can’t blame them.
I mean, what else were they going to do? The apostles had bet everything on red, and when the wheel stopped spinning, the ball was sitting squarely on black. Nothing left to do but run away from the table and try to pick up the pieces.
It absolutely makes sense that the apostles wouldn’t stick around for that. Continuing to believe in a God who has been killed on a cross is absolute foolishness.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. The Church today doesn’t celebrate Easter because a man named Jesus was crucified, but because the God of the Universe died, and refused to stay dead.
Easter is the celebration of the Crucified God who became the Resurrected God. The God who defeated Death by dying. The God who defeated evil by being defeated by evil.
It’s backwards. It’s nonsensical. It’s ridiculous.
And at times, I feel just like the apostles after Jesus was killed on the cross. How can the claims of Jesus be true when they seem to be directly contradicted by things that happen in the world? How can we believe that Jesus came to give us abundant life when evil and death still reign in our world?
How can the the church talk about the God who defeated death while senseless violence and tragedies happen, like the bombing in Brussels this week, that reveal death still has its power?
We look foolish, because we still live in a world where good people are killed by bad people. Where hatred and violence often win over love. Where death often triumphs over life.
But Death and Destruction wasn’t the end of the Gospel story, and we have hope that it isn’t the end of our story either. At the center of the Gospel message is the belief that the story isn’t over. That God isn’t finished redeeming us yet. And while this part may be miserable, it isn’t the end.
After all, God already defeated death once. We celebrate it every year, because we believe God is going to do it again. And again. And again. And that one day, there will be no more death or evil.
The power of the Resurrection is not just that it happened. It’s that it will happen. It’s the hope that death is not the end. That we may suffer in hopelessness now, but that God redeems Creation through hopelessness.
Just as Jesus’ body of flesh was raised from death, so Christ’s body of the Church will also be delivered from the power of death and evil. It hasn’t happened yet, and some might say that it’s foolish to think that it will. But God has a tendency to work through foolishness.
That’s what we celebrate at Easter. Not just that Jesus rose from the dead, but that he did so when evil had triumphed and there was no hope. The Resurrection brought hope out of hopelessness for the Apostles, and at Easter, we celebrate the promise that the Resurrection will bring hope to our hopelessness too.
So when the hopelessness of death hits us, we can know that its days are numbered. Death is the seed that brings about resurrection. So while we mourn in the face of tragedy, we are also expectant that God will not leave us here.
People in the world are experiencing suffering and hopelessness today. People in the world are bitter, hurting, and faithless. But the Easter story is that God will redeem us through it. The Easter story says that this is not the end.
One day, death will turn into life. One day, suffering will turn into rejoicing. One day, evil will be overcome by the Goodness of the Creator. We know, because we’ve already seen it happen. It will happen again.
So we rejoice in the hopelessness of death, because it reveals our greatest hope.