It’s Sunday but Friday’s coming
Every Easter countless Ministers quote it in their sermons, bloggers paste it into their seasonal offering and Social Media users display it as a meme: ‘It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!’ The catchphrase was made famous by Tony Campolo but it originates from a sermon preached by Pastor Shadrach Meschach Lockridge who was the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego, California from 1953-1993.
This Easter it seemed as if the reverse was true - it may have been Sunday, but the darkness of Friday was back with a vengeance. This time it wasn’t the angry mob baying for blood or the Romans inflicting their cruel death on Jesus. It was an invisible enemy relentlessly claiming victims around the world. Day after day I had observed the statistics climb but on Easter Sunday it hit very near to home with the death of a dear Christian man, from our sister church, who was close to many of us. To be honest I was relieved that I did not have to stand in front of a congregation and triumphantly declare, ‘Christ is risen!’ It was much easier to hide behind a YouTube broadcast and try to muster a semblance of excitement. Where is the joy of the resurrection in this season of death, fear and isolation?
When I was a young Christian I used the ‘Topical Memory system’ to memorise key Bible verses. One of them, in Philippians, says ‘I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death’ (Phil 3:10). After committing the verse to memory I gave it some thought. I loved the part about ‘the power of his resurrection’ but I skimmed over the ‘fellowship of his sufferings’ and ignored the bit about ‘being like him in death’. Perhaps that is why I have struggled to relate the Easter message that Christ has conquered death with the stark reality of the COVID-19 body count. Paul’s logic, in this verse, is that resurrection power leads us to suffering and death after which we will experience the resurrection of the dead.
This Easter the world has endured suffering and grief which seems to have wrong-footed the message of Easter Sunday. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that we have succumbed to the way our culture evades the subject of death. We say someone has, ‘passed away’, not died and our Crematoriums seem designed to do their utmost to minimize the impact of it. There are TV preachers who propagate a message of health, wealth and prosperity. One of them even wrote a book entitled ‘Your best life now’ – what does that say about their view of the life to come?
The circumstances surrounding this Easter have made me think hard about the way in which the New Testament holds the tension between the reality of death and the hope of the resurrection. Death is defeated but it will not be completely vanquished until Christ’s return. It may have lost its sting but it still packs a punch!
After reflecting on this I recorded Easter Monday’s episode of the daily devotion that I had been sending to our members. I told them that I had found this a very difficult Easter and was heavy-hearted about our mutual friend’s death. However, the message of the Resurrection was still a source of comfort to us all. Paul was brutally honest with the Christians in Corinth, recalling an experience in which he, and his co-workers, were, ‘so utterly, unbearably crushed that [they] despaired of life itself. Indeed, [they] felt that [they] had received the sentence of death.’ Which sounds pretty grim! However, he went on to say that this was so that they would ‘rely not on [themselves] but on God who raises the dead’ (1 Corinthians 1:8-9, NRSV).
Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of our victory over death, it is described as ‘the firstfruits’ (1 Cor 15:22) and it will set in motion a chain of events that will culminate in his return and the final resurrection:
‘When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor 15:53-54).
This Easter has been the most difficult and painful I have known in over 30 years of ministry. However, the message of the crucifixion, resurrection and return of Jesus is more relevant than ever.
William Brodrick put it so beautifully when he wrote:
‘We have to be candles,
hope and despair,
faith and doubt,
life and death,
all the opposites.
That is the disquieting place where people must always find us’
(Source Northumbria Community)
Perhaps it is not so unusual for the spectre of death to hang over the joyful message we proclaim on Easter Sunday.
Simon J. Robinson