Dr. Daniel Vestal: Eastertide

During this time of year we celebrate the heart of our faith. Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, is the very essence of the Gospel. It is that part of the Christian story that defines and clarifies all other parts. Bethlehem, Baptism, Temptation, Teachings, Miracles, Transfiguration, Triumphal Entry all climax and culminate in the one supreme event of Cross and Resurrection.

The New Testament speaks of these two events together and declares them as one event. They are two sides of one coin. Peter proclaims, "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36) Paul writes, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." (I Corinthians 15:3-4) In John's vision he hears the words, "I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever." (Revelation 1:18)

Without the Cross, the Resurrection is meaningless. Without the Resurrection, the Cross is empty. But not only are these two events tied together, the Lord Jesus Christ as a present reality is identified as the Crucified/Living One.


In his death Jesus is abandoned by the disciples and forsaken by God. He is humiliated, mocked, tortured and executed as a criminal. Yet this suffering is interpreted by the New Testament writers as an act of obedience to the will of God, a sacrifice voluntarily offered to make atonement for the sins of the world. His crucifixion is proclaimed as a revelation of God's love, an event of cosmic proportions and the mystery that redeems humanity.

I heard Henry Nouwen say on a tape that in the final analysis what is most important about Jesus is not what He does, but what is done to him. He is betrayed, beaten and battered. His life moves from action to passion, and it is in his passion that we are redeemed.

The greatest of minds have contemplated the Crucified One and struggled to understand. The greatest art in the world has tried to capture his pain and pathos. The most sublime poetry and music has sought to convey his suffering. This 17th century Latin poem is one of my favorites.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee dearest friend,

For this, thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end

O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,

Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

Another is the African-American spiritual:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

The Crucified One touches us at the deepest level of our being. He calls forth our devotion and dedication. Before this Crucified One we are speechless. We can't help ourselves. We are humbled and inspired. We weep, yet we are comforted. We are overwhelmed with love and grace.


The empty tomb means, at least in part, that Christ is not among the dead. he is among the living. The resurrection appearances mean, at least in part, that there is both continuity and discontinuity between his earthly existence and post-resurrection existence. The resurrected body means, at least in part, that He is now both tangible and yet transcendent. Jesus is the living Lord and is universally and powerfully present to all Creation.

As the Living One he comes to us in surprising ways: through the pages of Scripture, as we gather for worship, in the faces of the poor. He "walks with us and he talks with us along life's narrow way." The risen Christ surprises us, not with appearances in a resurrected body, but with an embodied presence for those with eyes of faith. In the Lord's Supper and in the light shining through saints as well as in experiences of prayer and pain we "behold the Lord."

And he not only comes to us, but this resurrected One is present with us and within us. His Spirit indwells us and tabernacles among us. At the center of our being, in the deepest part of our personality Christ lives by and through the Spirit. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." This is not just semantics or symbolism, but reality that is mystery and beauty. This is not only relationship with Christ, but participation in Christ. Indeed, "If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness."


When we speak about "following Christ" or "believing in Christ" or "imitating Christ" we are speaking about the Christ who was crucified and now lives. Death and resurrection is the pattern for all Christian discipleship, spirituality, community and mission. This means there will be sorrow and joy, loss and gain, grief and celebration sometimes sequentially and sometimes simultaneously. So in this Eastertide, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus...who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scoring its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."(Hebrews 12:2)

Used with permission. Visit the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship website