The Boys’ Choir in a fashionable city church were going to sing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ for the Processional in the Sunday Morning Service. After the Saturday rehearsal several of the boys had an idea. They would make some crosses to carry down the aisle as they sang. Out came the hammer and nails, and soon twelve crosses were made. They could hardly wait to dramatise their song. The next morning the Choir Master was horrified at what he saw. ‘You can’t do this boys!’ he said. ‘Put the crosses behind the door!’ But the boys had their revenge as they processed down the aisle singing:
‘Onward Christian soldiers, Marching as to war,
With the Cross of Jesus, Hidden behind the door!’
For me, as a Christian, Holy Week – the last week of Lent and the week before Easter Day – is the most precious week of the year. Personally, I love to take time to prayerfully and thoughtfully journey with Jesus, following the same route he took 2,000 years or so ago, pondering the meaning and significance of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday … before finally rejoicing in the amazing events of Easter Sunday! When I was a young Christian I couldn’t get to Easter Sunday fast enough, but as I have got older I have found myself spending more and more time reflecting on the earlier events of Holy Week, particularly Good Friday.
I remain disturbed by the number of Christians who, particularly during Holy week, only seem interested in the events of Easter Sunday. An inveterate Face-booker and Tweeter, I have been saddened by the number of my Christian friends and followers who posted stuff about Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead even before we got to Palm Sunday?! Typical of this has been the number of links posted to Tony Campolo’s best known sermon, entitled ‘It’s Friday but Sunday’s Coming!’ It’s a great sermon without doubt – although actually Tony Campolo cribbed it from another Pastor as he openly confesses – and it carries a great message. We are indeed ‘an Easter Sunday people living in a Good Friday world’ … but the sermon was never intended to distract us from the importance of the events of that first Good Friday. It therefore seems inappropriate to refer to it to justify hurdling the various events of Holy Week – especially Good Friday – in order to get to Easter Sunday as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
When Julia and I were the Pastors of Beckenham Baptist Church, Holy week was always a ‘big event’ in the life of the church. If Christmas was primarily for ‘outsiders’ – and we certainly attracted a large number of people into the church during the Christmas period – Holy Week and Easter was for the members of the church and congregation. For several years we travelled the road to Jerusalem together with Jesus … and they were precious times for us all. One of the highlights was the silent March of Witness through the town on Good Friday culminating with a short open-air service on The Green. It was a powerful and moving occasion to see several hundred Christians – drawn from all the local churches – walking together in silent procession behind a large wooden cross. The police stopped the traffic for us, people witnessed our walk, some stopped and bowed their heads in prayer as we passed, and others joined us on The Green to worship. This was a real contrast to a neighbouring town where on the same day some of the local churches – mainly Charismatic or New Churches it has to be said – held a rather different ‘Walk of Witness’. Even though it was Good Friday they chose to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus with banners and flags, tambourines and trumpets, and lots of singing and shouting! Now I am not against ‘Praise Walks’ (as I believe they are called) but for me Good Friday is not the day to hold them. Here it would seem is just another example of professing Christians seeking to bypass the painful events of Holy Week in order to get to Easter Sunday as soon as possible?!
The Apostle Paul writes to the Christian Church in Galatia and concludes what he has to say to them by pointing them to the Cross: ‘God forbid’ he says, ‘that I should glory, but in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6:14). Paul does not say, ‘God forbid that I should glory, but in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ even though he believed totally in the resurrection and saw it as essential! For example, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains in detail the importance of the resurrection of Christ. For Paul, however, it is the Cross that is the key to our salvation – the key to everything in fact – that which lies at the very heart of the ‘divine exchange’ which changed everything for the world and for us!
Paul writes these words at the end of his Letter to the Galatians in his own hand (Galatians 6:11). Normally Paul made use of an amanuensis (or secretary) to whom he dictated his various letters. Here, however, he takes the pen himself to write this concluding section, because what he has to say about the Cross is so important. The members of the Christian Church in Galatia had been squabbling amongst themselves. The Jewish believers prided themselves in their adherence to the Jewish Law, and the Gentile believers prided themselves in their freedom from the Jewish Law. Both sides were boasting about their respective positions. Paul is clearly fed up with the shallowness of both sides. He deliberately pulls the rug from under their feet by pointing them to the Cross – the Cross where Jesus died a horrendous death in order to save them from the very self-centredness, that they were exhibiting. The sinful self-centredness that is at the root of all this world’s troubles and pain! ‘If you must boast’ Paul tells them, ‘boast in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6:14)!
How easy it is for us to take our eyes away from the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, How easily we get distracted by other things – not just the theological minutiae but seemingly even the other great truths of the Gospel such as the Resurrection?! Of course you cannot really separate the Cross and the Resurrection – they are head and tails of the same coin – so why is it that some Christians seem to want to concentrate on the Resurrection to the detriment of the Cross? Is it to avoid the pain, the cost? Is it because they have bought into the ‘triumphalism’ that is so prevalent today? Whatever the reason, it is surely time to take the Cross out from behind whatever door we have hidden it?!
The Puritans had a saying: ‘Never further than Thy Cross, never higher than Thy feet!’. Let’s not be in too much of a hurry to get to Easter Sunday that we bypass the other significant events of Holy Week, especially Good Friday. Let us deliberately take time to prayerfully contemplate the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Exactly what happened on that day when the ‘great exchange’ was enacted, we will never be able to fully grasp this side of Glory. It remains a mystery – but not a mystery that leaves us totally baffled, but a mystery that leaves us in absolute awe of the magnitude and grace of a God who could do such a thing for a such a sinful people like us, and such a rebellious and broken and hurting world that we live in!?
All ye that pass by, to Jesus draw nigh:
To you is it nothing that Jesus should die?
Your ransom and peace, your surety He is:
Come, see if there ever was sorrow like His.
He dies to atone for sins not His own;
Your debt He hath paid, and your work He hath done.
Ye all may receive the peace He did leave,
Who made intercession, My Father, forgive!
For you and for me He prayed on the tree:
The prayer is accepted, the sinner is free.
That sinner am I, who on Jesus rely,
And come for the pardon God cannot deny.
His death is my plea; my Advocate see,
And hear the blood speak that hath answered for me.
My ransom He was when He bled on the cross;
And losing His life He hath carried my cause.
~ Charles Wesley