Moltmann Monday: The Antithesis of Good Friday and Easter

Alleluia and Happy Easter! Today we are talking about very big, very important things. Our MM quote comes from The Way of Jesus Christ, in a section about resurrection, of course. The bold words are mine…I wanted to make sure these zingers really got your attention:

Christ’s death and his resurrection are the two sides of the one single happening which is often termed ‘the Christ event.’ But we must notice here how questionable that innocuous ‘and’ is–the ‘and’ which adds together the two happenings which Christ experienced at the end. For these are not two happenings belonging to the same category, which can be listed one after another. On the contrary, here we have an antithesis which could not possibly be more radical. Christ’s death on the cross is a historical fact- Christ’s resurrection is an apocalyptic happening. Christ’s death was brought about by human beings- his raising from the dead is an act on God’s part. The cross of Christ stands in the time of this present world of violence and sin- the risen Christ lives in the time of the coming world of new creation in justice and righteousness. If we look at the christological statements in the creed- ‘suffered, crucified, dead’ and ‘on the third day he rose again from the dead’- what belongs between them is not an ‘and’ at all. It is a full stop and a pause

Anyone who reduces all this to the same level, simply listing the facts of salvation one after another, destroys either the unique character of Christ’s death on the cross or the unique character of his resurrection…

Paul expressed the incommensurability of Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection by using the phrase ‘how much more’ (Rom 8:34). In this way he was indicating the eschatological surplus of promise in Christ’s resurrection.

This weekend, churches everywhere did their best to bear witness to what we call ‘the Christ event.’ And, let’s just be honest here: we all fell short. That’s no slam on us. It’s because there is absolutely no way any of us can harness the ENORMITY of the Christ event in one weekend, or one week, or really even at all, ever. In my estimation, the Christ event is the deepest mystery our universe has going for it, and two thousand years later we’re still trying to find words to come to grip with what we think it might mean. In this section, Moltmann’s trying to talk about that in theological terms. And he brings us into an understanding of that by focusing on one little word: and.

The “and” sitting between Good Friday and Easter is the most preposterous little word there’s ever been. If “and” is supposed to join things together, there are no two other things anywhere that could be brought together more strangely, more suddenly, more antithetically than these two realities. Good Friday, where God in Jesus died. Easter, where Jesus in God was raised. Good Friday, where humanity offered up its very worst by killing the God of Love. Easter, where God offered humanity God’s very best by opening up eternal life.

We can’t even. We can’t ever get to the fullness of all of that. But one thing’s for sure: if we don’t pay attention to the enormity of BOTH Good Friday AND Easter, as these two totally antithetical events that reshaped the entire universe? Well, we will not even begin to understand it at all.

On Saturday, my daughter and I were running some errands and we passed a church that was having an Easter egg hunt. There was a big wooden cross on the lawn, draped in purple, and I kid you not, right next to it, there was the Easter bunny, dressed up, handing kids goodies. My daughter said to me, “I just do not get that. It is Holy Saturday. Don’t they know they have to sit and wait? Easter isn’t until TOMORROW, people!” Though I admit I was pretty proud that she was liturgically offended, and I also think she’s totally right, I’m not here to rant about that church’s calendar decisions. I get it. Waiting is hard. And those of us who waited didn’t get an Easter egg hunt from the rain, so…what are you going to do. However, theologically speaking, let’s make sure we are all clear. Holy Saturday is immensely important. It is the most mysterious and significant “and” there has been and will ever be. Holy Saturday is that place which holds space between the distinct events of Good Friday and Easter. It is, as Moltmann said, “a full stop and a pause.” So whatever else we do, let’s make sure we fully stop, fully pause, and leave that space between them.

And then Moltmann tries to find other words to describe this reality. He says, Look, this is what Paul was trying to say, too, when Paul says “it is Christ Jesus who died, even more, who was raised.” Even more! What is this “and”, this “even more?” It is the “eschatological surplus of promise.” It is so much promise that it spills out all over creation. There is more of it than we ever thought possible, more than we ever need. Christ’s resurrection was not only the fullness of God’s promises to us; it was the surplus of promise, awaiting us not only now but in God’s unfolding future.

Friends, listen: it is no accident that the cross extends vertically and horizontally. It is a symbol of our faith for a reason. It extends to the ends of the earth, to the north and the south, the east and the west. It extends to the heights of heaven and the depths of hell, from the beginning of creation to the end of all things. Not only the whole world- but the whole EVERYTHING- exists in the intersection of the cross. That is the symbol of Good Friday. And then, we get to the empty tomb, and the lines have extended so far beyond what we know that you can’t even see them anymore. There’s just this space, this empty but overflowingly full space that can now hold everything in it, bring everything with it into eternal life. This is the symbol of Easter.

How did it move from one reality to the other? In the “and” of Holy Saturday, that word that conjoins the two most antithetical events in human history. And though it could have destroyed the world for those realities to collide like that, instead it brought a surplus of promise, an abundance of resurrected life.

As we move into the season of Eastertide, which stretches for fifty long days, let’s full stop and pause frequently at that reality.

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