As early as mid February, the flowerbeds on the campus of Texas Christian University are filled with vibrant tulips in full bloom, demanding the early onset of spring. In April of 2014, my brother and I walked across campus and into the office of Dr. Darren Middleton, a Professor of Religion for whom I worked as a research assistant. It was the Tuesday of Holy Week, and the last item on my to-do list before catching a flight home for Easter break was to check in with Darren. “Do you need anything before we take off?” I asked. “Nothing that can’t wait,” came the reply. “What plans do you have for the break?” “We’re flying home for Easter!” I said with excitement. Darren’s parting words changed my spiritual posture that Holy Week, and every Holy Week since: “Take it slow, boys. Don’t rush through Holy Week to get to Easter without allowing yourself to feel the sorrow and heartbreak of Good Friday. We arrive at resurrection by way of the cross.” As we left his office and walked back across campus, it struck us that even the flowers rush toward Easter.
Easter is coming, and we are an Easter people made new in Christ who is worthy of our highest praise. But Jesus—and we who are his followers—arrive at Easter only by way of the cross. As creatures of the Creator, we live in a world of contrasts, and God actively uses and inverts these contrasts to make creation whole. Most radical is God’s inversion of life and death made known in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ; in Christ, life not only precedes, but proceeds from death. There was no greater way for God to reveal God’s self as the source of all life than for God to create Life from the one thing that could not possibly have life: life’s antithesis, death. Only God is capable of sowing life where life should not be able to take root (i.e. in the barrenness of death).
Understanding Jesus’ purpose in this way transforms the cross into a symbol not only of Christ’s crucifixion, but of hope and of a greater intimacy between life, death, body, and God’s grace. Because of the way these things all meet in the person of Jesus upon the cross, death no longer has the final word. God can turn it all—suffering, illness, death—into new life. Our own path toward newness of life in Christ doesn’t promise to be easy; it requires us to traverse through death by way of baptism, crucifixion, and resurrection. But those who follow Christ and live with a habit of hope may find encouragement in the truth that the One who went before us is also the One who walks with us from death to new life. It’s all being made new, friends. Happy Easter! Glory to God!