Growing up in a liturgical church setting, Lent was a somber time of contemplation. Ashes crossed foreheads. The hymn selection on the old pipe organ only included minor, dissonant sounding chords. Black cloth draped the altar. Items were given up. I remember hearing many of my friends complaining about unsingable melodies and the number of services they attended during Holy Week. While I kept my mouth shut about how I really felt, Good Friday, was actually one of my favorite days of the year.
For a long time, saying so made me feel a little bit guilty and morbid. Sure I loved watching the sunrise through stained glass windows on Easter and hearing Lutheran voices belting out “He is risen indeed” with more emotion and joy than you’d hear the congregation use all year long. But what I found equally, if not more, compelling was the quiet reverence and aching sorrow that echoed as each station of the cross was described. The realness of my sin exposed. The penalty willingly endured and paid for by Immanuel–God with us. Even from a young age, I realized that Easter only came through Good Friday. Both equally necessary for redemption to occur.
Some say that the crucifixion is too violent for children, that we should water down the message. My experience would argue the opposite. So would Russell Moore:
Our children need to hear the Gospel. They need to see Jesus. That means they need to see both sides of skull place. That’s graphic, sure. It’s confusing, of course. And not just for kids. But it is the only message that saves. It’s the only message that prepares one for salvation. It is, as Paul says, that which is “of first importance,” the message he received from Jesus Himself (1 Cor 15:3-4).
The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the Gospel. That’s the first word. If we cannot speak of that, we would be better off not speaking of Jesus at all, rather than presenting another Christ, one who meditates but does not mediate, who counsels but is not crucified, who is accessible but not triumphant over sin and death.
The apostle Paul told us the word of the cross would be folly to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). He didn’t warn us that it would sometimes also be folly to those who are publishing. No matter. It is still the power of God.
This Easter, preach the Gospel… to the senior citizens, to the middle-aged, to the young adults, to the teenagers, to the seekers, to the hardened unbelievers, to the whole world. And, yes, preach the Gospel to the preschoolers.
Even and especially the youngest among us need Good Friday just as they need Easter.
A few years ago, I ran across an article where Anne Lamott quotes Barbara Johnson saying, “We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.” It took me a few reads to connect the dots, but once I did it helped me process why even amidst sorrow and angst, I felt like maybe in ways I understood Good Friday even more than I did Easter. We live in the constant tension of the already, but not yet. We live in a world that’s broken, still under the curse despite the empty tomb. We live in between the comings of Christ where family members get sick, friends experience tragedy, and sin–both our own and of others–taints even the best things in this life. As Tullian Tchividjian writes in Jesus + Nothing = Everything,
“Peter tells us: Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13)…How easy it is to lose sight of the benefits that we have in Christ as we go through life’s trials. It’s easy to do because of the not-yetness of our promised blessings, the full experience of our freedom and peace…But our fullness of hope allows us now to have full and confident expectation of all that is coming to us in the end. for the Christian, the best is yet to come.“
As you celebrate Easter this year, don’t forget to contemplate not just Good Friday but the future grace that will be brought fully to us when Christ returns. Don’t shy away from sharing this truth with the littlest among us. We are all Easter people in a Good Friday world–the best is yet to come.