We stand this moment on a holy threshold, waiting to enter into the joy of the resurrection. Easter is almost here!
Almost, but not quite.
I understand the dangerous and common temptation to leap-frog over Good Friday's pain and suffering, but before we enter into the joy of the resurrection, we need to focus on the cross and ask ourselves some probing questions. That's no new idea, of course. It's funny how often the modern church discovers some wheel that was invented centuries ago. (I suppose learning about wheels late is better than not learning about them at all.)
That time of preparation, introspection, and repentance before Easter came to be called Lent. Whatever we call it, the idea is a good one. I'd not bind its observance on anyone, but I doubt we've ever needed such a time more than now.
After a friend asked if I'd given up anything for Lent, I stuttered, but then I realized I've been scrupulously avoiding asparagus and liver. But, seriously, many Christians have indeed found that making a small sacrifice for a time helps them center on the One whose deep sacrifice made angels gasp and Heaven weep.
Whatever helps the church to truly focus on the cross before we arrive at the door of the empty tomb is good.
Though we can add nothing of merit to his sacrifice, Jesus told us long ago that following him means taking up his cross. The cross we're called to bear is not rheumatism or gout, though God can redeem any burden we bear in faith; taking up Christ's cross means to bear the cross he bore, the cross of self-denial. That's as practical as it is difficult, and life together gives God's people plenty of opportunities to practice it.
Even as they faced martyrdom and persecution, as do many Christians today, the early church also faced the same temptations we do to be selfish and self-centered. Two chapters after the Apostle Paul writes beautifully to the Philippians about Christ's sacrifice of utter self-denial, he writes to two "spiritual" Christian ladies, Euodia and Syntyche (someone has christened them Odious and Soon-touchy) who "just felt led" to cause some fuss about worship styles–or some such. The issues change (no one remembers now what the fussers fussed about; they got mentioned in the Bible for their selfishness) but the real issue never does.
No need for me to wonder if I'd physically die for the Lord in an act of self-denial if I won't shoulder opportunities to carry his cross each week by singing a few songs in worship not in my favorite style, or changing a diaper I'd rather my wife change, or speaking an encouraging word when I'd rather spew criticism.
Before experiencing the joy of the empty tomb, I need to let the spectacle of my Lord on the cross force me to ask myself hard questions, hard as bloody nails, about how serious I am about denying myself and truly shouldering his cross.
It's for very good reasons that Good Friday comes before Easter. We shouldn't rush past it.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at