The fourth stanza of Christ the Lord is Risen Today, a hymn that many of us likely sang on Easter Sunday, has this last line: Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! I’ve sung it year after year, but never really thought about what it is saying until this past Sunday.
We relish Easter Sunday. To know that resurrection means that death no longer has the final word, that we can follow Christ into eternal life, is not a message we hesitate to embrace. But Charles Wesley’s hymn reminds us that we cannot claim Easter Sunday without also claiming the cross and the grave. For resurrection to happen, death had to precede it.
But even that should give us cause for celebration because we worship a God who suffered and who suffers with us. We live in a world where death is a part of life. People suffer. The cross looms large in places where war creates refugees, where children are sold into slavery, where people die for lack of clean water, where sick and elderly are forgotten by society. We see suffering across the planet and experience our own suffering. Because Christ did not avoid the cross we know our God understands suffering from first-hand experience.
Yet we worship a God who also put death to death. The package deal of cross and grave also comes with skies—open skies, limitless hope, boundless love, infinite joy. Christ is risen and we who follow him to the grave, giving ourselves over to follow his path of discipleship, also follow him to new life, resurrection life. Alleluia!