Faith: A new season arises

An important question


“Christ is risen! Alleluia!”

To which, if you were in my congregation, I’d expect you to respond, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Depending on when you read this (I know I’m always a little bit behind), during the last week those traditions that follow the western Christian church’s calendar moved from Holy Week into the celebration of the Easter Festival. In the western tradition, Easter occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (the Orthodox tradition follows the Julian calendar, making their Easter a week or two later).

Easter indeed represents the pre-eminent good news of the Christian faith: Christ has conquered death, so death also no longer has an ultimate and final hold over us. It is indeed right and salutary that our exclamations of that good news should use the exclamation mark.

I have, over the last several years, asked what I have come to believe is a misleading question of my confirmation students as they are preparing to be confirmed: “In your opinion, what’s the most important part of Jesus’ life?”


The most common answer is something like, “He died for my sins.”

This is not wrong; in fact, it’s quite correct - both theologically and since I phrased the question as “in your opinion” and in the singular.

The “problem,” I’ve decided, is with the singular phrasing. The very real death of Jesus is unquestionably important and foundational to the good news of Easter; let’s not avoid it. This is why I lament when a beautifully haunting hymn/spiritual like “Were You There” ends, in many versions (e.g., “Lutheran Book of Worship” and Gaither’s “Worship His Majesty”), very quickly with resurrection: “Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?”

But most who have experienced grief, especially the grief of a painful loss, find moving too quickly into happiness disingenuous. We know the good news of Easter will come, but we can’t get there honestly without tarrying sufficiently in that Good Friday moment of Jesus’ death.

In basic Euclidean geometry, one of the early things you learn is that any two points define a line, and any three non-linear points define a plane. If tangible or kinesthetic understanding works better for you than esoteric factoids of geometry, think of a three-legged stool. A three-legged stool is the basic ideal of stability; even if the legs are of different lengths, all three of them will rest firmly on the floor (of course, this might mean that the seat isn’t level).

If you have more than three legs and they are planar, the stool will gain more stability; but, if they’re not, it will wobble. On the other hand, it requires an amazing balancing act for a two-legged stool to stand.

To extend this metaphor, the good news of Jesus Christ is a three-legged stool. Jesus’ very real death that we encounter on either Passion Sunday or Good Friday is one leg. Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, celebrated on Easter, is another.

But something is still missing, for many people have died, and death really shouldn’t hold a god. The missing third leg ties “people” and “God” together: The Incarnation, what we celebrate as the Festival of Christmas.


It is only in light of the Incarnation and the real death of Jesus that our proclamation “Christ is Risen! Alleluia!” makes any difference: The very God who took on flesh and died an ignominious death breaks death’s strong bonds for us, showing us that there is a new season of life beyond death.

That is the good news we proclaim this, and every, Easter.

Jacob Burkman is pastor at First Lutheran Church in Pine River.

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