“Are you a Good Friday or an Easter Sunday Christian?” Of all the questions I have been asked, this is one that I keep on returning to.
The heart of this question probes our response to suffering. Are we overcome by the injustices and evil in this world, and lose sight of the hope that Easter Sunday brings? Or do we rejoice in the final victory, failing to acknowledge the very real pain of those bloodied on the battlefields of life?
We are now in the final two weeks of Lent, a period that the church calls Passiontide. During this time the words of Holy Communion are often adapted to include the line, ‘The tree of shame was made the tree of glory; and where life was lost, there life has been restored’. Perhaps these words can help Christians hold together the tension experienced by Easter Sunday believers living in a Good Friday world.
On Good Friday the ancient enemies of injustice and evil came together on that tree of shame. Jesus suffered the worst of what this world offers, and it cost him his life. Yet Easter Sunday came, a sure and certain proof that nothing, not even death, can withstand the healing love of God. ‘The tree of shame was made the tree of glory; and where life was lost, there life has been restored’.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one person who experienced the very real tension of living between the realities of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Imprisoned in a concentration camp for resistance against the Nazi regime he wrote the following:
‘I believe that God can and will generate good out of everything, even out of the worst evil. For that, he needs people who allow that everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.
I believe that God will give us in each state of emergency as much power of resistance as we need. But he will not give in advance, so that we do not rely on ourselves but on him alone. Through such faith all anxiety concerning the future should be overcome.
I believe that even our mistakes and failings are not in vain, and that it is not more difficult for God to cope with these as with our assumed good deeds.
I believe that God is not a timeless fate, but that he waits for and responds to honest prayers and responsible action.’
A few days after writing this creed, the Gestapo executed Bonhoeffer. This took place just twenty-three days before Germany’s surrender.
“Are you a Good Friday or an Easter Sunday Christian?” If I were asked this question today, I would say that I was a Holy Saturday Christian. Here on earth we live ‘the in-between day’. We look back to Good Friday recognising that no suffering is irredeemable through the love of God. We also look forward to Easter Day, and the time when all things will be made new, where there will be no more tears or pain.
With love and prayers,