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Embracing Death and Resurrection: The Tension of Discipleship

Embracing Death and Resurrection: The Tension of Discipleship

We must enter into the tension between Christ’s sacrifice and His resurrection in order to fully celebrate both. 

Resurrection follows death.

While this observation might seem like an unnecessary exercise in the obvious, we would do well to remember that the obvious can also be overlooked or, in some cases, conveniently forgotten. When it comes to the celebration of the Resurrection, we can be an impatient people. We prefer to jump to the conclusion of the story in search of a quick and easy path to the happy ending where all is made right with the world.

In our excitement to experience the Sunday celebration we know is coming, we may spend little time reflecting on the sacrifice that leads to the suffering of Friday. It’s easy, when you know the end of the story, to begin to think and act like the end is really all that matters, and all that goes before is just preliminary stuff we need to wade through to get to the good part.

However, separating the Resurrection from the life, ministry, and suffering of Jesus creates a one-sided, inadequate picture. It not only limits our appreciation for the immensity of Christ’s love and redemptive work, but it also produces a shallow understanding of what it means to be a disciple. Both the Resurrection and the sacrifice that goes before it have something of significance to teach us.

As the continuing incarnational expression of Jesus, we are called to embrace both sacrifice and resurrection in our own lives. To only celebrate resurrection without recognizing the grave from which it springs ignores the present tension in which we live as the body of Christ.

Jesus’ victory over death cannot be disconnected from His willingness first to embody sacrificial love.

Before the Resurrection, Jesus entered fully into the brokenness of our world, manifesting the self-giving, self-emptying love that is the heart of God. He not only entered into the world but also into solidarity with us, revealing the full extent of His love through His death on the cross. In celebrating the Resurrection, we cannot forget the suffering servant, from whom we hear the call to pick up our own cross.

To be a disciple is to follow Jesus by entering into the brokenness of the world, offering ourselves in self-giving love, losing our lives for the sake of another, and living in solidarity with the lost and hurting. But – we venture into that broken world with good news!

Just as we cannot separate the Resurrection from the life of sacrificial love that goes before it, we also cannot separate the sacrifice from the Resurrection that follows. Jesus walking out of the grave is vindication and assurance of His perfect and complete victory over the powers of sin and death. Yes, death comes before resurrection, but resurrection has indeed come!

So, laying down our lives in love, we invade the remaining darkness of our world, carrying the message that Jesus has overcome and the kingdom of God has come and is yet coming. We walk with hope and confidence into the broken and forgotten places, and as the power of the Resurrection works within us, we reveal the risen Christ who is present and working even now to redeem all things.

The world in which we live is still longing for redemption, bearing the deep scars of sin and death. It cries out for us to enter into its brokenness, as Jesus did, offering ourselves in loving compassion, and it needs us to enter in with the hope-filled good news of redemption and resurrection.

Disciples who extend the mission of Christ embody both the self-emptying, self-giving love of the cross as well as the life-giving, world-renewing hope of the empty tomb.

There is a tension in our present circumstances: the tension between death and resurrection. Our call is to embrace the tension and to live into it fully.

We sacrifice ourselves, finding life as we give our lives away. We enter into the brokenness of the world but see the new life of resurrection at work in its midst. We recognize the reality of what is, but by faith, we anticipate what is to come. It is here, in this tension, that our very lives proclaim fully and completely the mystery of our faith:  Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Doug Van Nest is Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.

Holiness Today, March/April 2018

Please note: This article was originally published in 2018. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.