A Roman cross is an unlikely place to look for hope; the grave, an unlikely birthing chamber for new life.
A cross is where people go to die. It's where revolutions are snuffed out and would-be kings are given to suffer for their aspirations, beneath the boot of an empire. The cross is where false saviors are revealed in their true colors, broken and emptied of pretense. The cross was Caesar's grand, terminal closing argument to those who would threaten his primacy and power. The cross is an odd place to look for hope.
And what can one say of the grave? Is there anything endowed with more sense of finality than the sealing of a tomb? The grave is the end, not a beginning; it is death, decay, the end of the line. There is no clearer, purer antonym for life, than the specter of the grave. Things do not begin here; they cease. The grave is an odd place to look for new life.
But... (Such a profoundly "loaded" little term, isn't it? In a single breath, implying that all we have thus known and come to expect is about to be overturned! ) But God, Paul tells us,"...being rich in mercy, because of the great LOVE with which he loved us, even when we were DEAD in our trespasses, made us ALIVE together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up WITH HIM..."! (Ephesians 2:4-6)
The cross - a rebel's death - was our lot and due end, having turned against our Creator and King, in pursuit of our own, lesser kingdoms. BUT GOD, compelled by his love and empowered by his grace, offered Himself to suffer and die in our place, that forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration might be possible for us. That, in spite of ourselves we might be given, in Christ, the hope of a future, drawn up into the glory of His now-and-coming Kingdom, of Heaven. This is the HOPE of the cross.
And, that hope is built upon the emptiness of a grave. For it would not have been enough for death to be merely ENTERED in the name of love ( Indeed, Shakespeare would tell us that love has inspired many a tragic death ). But for HOPE to spring forth from sacrifice, it must be that LIFE would find a way to break free from death, in victory OVER it. And so, the breathless, broken body of Jesus is laid in the ground, sealed in a tomb. BUT GOD, in so surrendering Himself (in the body of His perfect Son) to Death, proves to be Death's undoing! For in Christ, Death presumed to take hold of that which did not belong to him - for where there is no sin, there is no rightful claim for Death - and, in attempting to swallow up the very source of life itself, finds himself unable to contain it; his power broken, the cursedness of humanity unwound from within. And by such means, with the resurrection of Jesus, the grave itself becomes the birthing room of eternal life!
Forgive me, if you will, the grandeur and poetry. But one cannot overstate the significance of what we have the privilege to celebrate and feast together in these days ahead! On Good Friday, we will contemplate and meditate upon the broken, breathless Christ, crucified and buried for our sin and rebellion. Together, we will ponder the cross. On Saturday, we will submit to live in the quiet, tension and loss of the grave, with Jesus. And on Easter, Resurrection Sunday, we celebrate together the previously inconceivable hope of Death defeated, Heaven opened, and eternal life offered to us by means of God's victorious Grace! There is no other basis for our life and mission together, no greater cause for celebration and joy, than the story we will remember and speak to one another over these next few days. Mark them well!
+ On Friday, we will come together with our brothers and sisters of the First Congregational Church of Barrington for our Good Friday service: 6:30pm, at FCCB ( 710 Franklin Pierce Hwy, Barrington, NH 03825 )
+ First thing on Sunday, April 16th, we invite any who are able to come out for a sunrise prayer gathering; for our city, in the heart of our city. We will meet at the Amos Main Statue in downtown Rochester, at 6:15am. Everyone is invited back to the Roth home (153 Charles St.) for a potluck breakfast fellowship to follow, afterward.
+ Finally, we will Gather for worship: 10:30am at the Rochester Middle School (47 Brock St.). We will sing, we will tell the story, and we will celebrate the goodness of God together; our hope and our salvation!
There is power; there is hope and life in this story! Who will you invite to join you in it - to join US in it - this weekend?
In Expectation and Hope,