I love Easter Sunday. I love the way my church's normally casual congregation takes everything up a notch (or three)—the girls in new linen dresses and the boys in once-a-year ties. I love the jubilance of the music, and the preacher's grin when he urges us to turn to one another and say, "He is risen!"
Easter Sunday is the Christian faith's gold medal victory lap and its raison d'etre. It's the Happily Ever After to end all happily ever afters. Easter Sunday shouts: "Death, where is thy sting?" and "Love wins!" and "God is alive!"
But here's the rub: I dread Good Friday. I dread the images of torture and suffering. I dread the somber music and the awful remembrance of the violent death of a loved one—of Jesus, the Loved One. I dread the smothering grief and the inescapable remorse and the terrible recollected cry, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Left to my own devices, I'd probably skip Good Friday. But I suspect that if I did, Easter morning would become increasingly hollow. I'd forget how much my salvation cost.
What's more, I'm pretty sure my Good Friday avoidance would cause me to lose touch with certain realities about the way the universe works on this side of eternity. I'd start to believe that you can have victory without sacrifice. I'd convince myself that you don't have to die to live the resurrection. I'd buy the lie that Christ's ultimate victory over death—and my decision to follow him—means life on this earth will be trouble-free.
The biblical writers warn us repeatedly that the Christian should not expect a life exempt from Good Fridays. They encourage us to consider every hardship pure joy because suffering is an opportunity to identify with Christ and become more dependent on him (James 1:2-4). They repeat Christ's plainspoken invitation to "take up his cross" (Mark 8:34-35).
And yet, for many of us Easter Sunday Christians, when the job is lost, or the tumor is malignant, or the friendship is betrayed, we grieve not only the wound but also the fact that we can be wounded. We feel that either we're not doing faith right or that faith—that Jesus—has let us down. We don't consider it "pure joy" when our faith is tested. We consider it failure.
I'm beginning to think our expectations are not just unrealistic, they're anti-gospel. But our confusion is hardly surprising. According to some experts, we're bombarded with more than 3,000 advertisements a day, telling us we're entitled to (and must pursue at any cost) an easy, ageless, worry-free life. When we meet and accept Jesus, many of us can't help but distort his promise of abundant life into something that resembles the illusion advertisers sell us every day.