Crucifixion meant death – usually long, humiliating, excruciating death. Indeed, our word “excruciating” has as its origin the Latin word for cross – crux – nailed right into the middle of it. No one at the time of Jesus doubted the utter and terrible certainty of death for anyone hammered to a cross. A crucified person was powerless. Death wielded all power on a cross.
This despairing certitude gripped and overwhelmed the disciples and family of Jesus as they witnessed, directly or indirectly, his crucifixion. He, whom they had followed and loved, cruelly suffered and died. They knew unequivocally crucifixion meant his painful, shameful death.
How astonishing then that within a very short time those same witnesses to his death became witnesses to his life – not just his pre-crucifixion life, but his post-crucifixion life! Having known and followed Jesus before his death, they unabashedly proclaimed that they continued to know and follow him after his death – not as a cherished memory, but as a glorious and living being!
How could this be? Death is absolute; death by crucifixion is absolute certainty. Or so it seems from a human perspective. Yet Jesus proved otherwise. As Peter exclaimed in this first public testimony to Jesus after his crucifixion, “[I]t was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” In the mercy and power of God, Jesus overcame death and rose to new life, never to suffer death again. Jesus succumbed to death’s power only to strip death of its power in the splendor of resurrection life.
Death seems to keep its hold on us. No matter our current age or health, we all will suffer death by some means at some point. Of this we can be certain. And death pervades our world in many tragic and even fearsome forms. A week’s worth of news leaves us no doubt of this.
How wondrous then that in the midst of our life, which seems but a prelude to our death, Easter blossoms true hope and joy for us! Jesus died, but he did not stay dead. God emptied death of its power by raising Jesus to a qualitatively new order of existence. As splendid as all the signs of new life around us are this April – and the surge of colors, fragrances, and songs is intoxicatingly sublime – they pale compared to the resurrection life Jesus enjoys and longs to blossom in us now. When in heartfelt love and trust we embrace Jesus – the crucified one whom death could not hold – we rise to new life in his resurrection. And life for us and our world thus begins a long alleluia of perfect truth, beauty, and goodness!