During this Holy Week we need to keep things in the right order and the right perspective. This week can get lost in the midst of spring vacations and Final Four tournaments, but for Christians this is the most important week of the year. And yet, even for Christians, it is easy to get things out of order and out of perspective. I am remembering the words of my preaching professor at Duke Divinity School, Carlyle Marney, who urged us, “Don’t bootleg Easter into Good Friday.” His point? We must remember and rehearse the timeline of Holy Week properly to fully engage in the Easter celebration. The Cross precedes the Crown. The suffering and sacrifice of Christ come before his resurrection and victory.
During my years as a pastor of local congregations it always bothered me that Good Friday services were so poorly attended, but Easter services were among the highest attendance of the year. I get it – our faith is a Resurrection Faith, and Easter is the one service to attend if a person cannot be at the others. But it always seemed that most people avoided Good Friday, or at least they jumped over it too quickly to get to the victorious end of the story. Somehow skipping the Cross makes the Crown less significant, and it also undermines a faithful understanding of the Gospel.
Most recently I have seen articles lamenting our current political campaigns and the misuse of Christianity by all sides of the political spectrum. One article, in particular, lamented that America today suffers from two great heresies which the politicians have adopted: (1) the “prosperity Gospel” and (2) the “nationalism Gospel.” Both are false gospels. Both are a misrepresentation of the truth of the Christian faith, which most church-attending, regularly-praying, humbling-serving Christians understand. But the appeal of our politicians is to those who are self-described “evangelicals” or “spiritual people” who don’t attend church, whose understanding of the Christian faith is filtered through those two heresies, and thus who are susceptible to politicians who wave the flag, the dollar bill, and their so-called Christianity in order to gain votes.
To be clear: the true Gospel is not about prosperity, it is about a life of sacrifice, giving, loving, and being just. To be clear: the true Gospel is not about any one nation, it is about the Kingdom of God which judges all nations.
I have been wondering how Christians who know the true Gospel can respond to these heresies, when I suddenly realized that Holy Week contains the answer: “The Cross Before the Crown.” No one can remember, re-read, and prayerfully consider the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and then find the “prosperity gospel” to be true. No one can see Jesus arrested by the powers of his day and then blindly accept America (or any other country) as a substitute for the Kingdom of God.
For all of us, the Cross precedes the Crown, not just in the timeline of Holy Week but in our personal faith experiences. So often we only discover the depths of God’s love when we have gone through the “valleys” of death, hurt, pain, and disappointment! Somehow our own suffering (physical, emotional, spiritual) helps us to receive the Good News of Easter. Attempts by some to avoid any heartache or hurt or sorrow with a false gospel of easy prosperity fall short of providing the redemption that they seek. Likewise our attempts to replace our loyalty to Christ with super-patriotism or fanatic loyalty to our favorite team fall short of giving us the assurance of Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Whenever we put anyone, anything, any idea, any creed, or any loyalty ahead of our loyalty to the Christ of the Cross, then we miss the true Easter celebration of victory through suffering and sacrifice.
It is our desire to skip the Cross, to avoid the harshness of the Gospel, and to jump to Easter – it is that desire which prevents us from knowing the Risen Christ in all of his glory. Let’s help each other keep things in perspective and in the right order: The Cross Before the Crown.