One of the most unforgettable experiences that Sandy and I have had in our travels is watching the “processions” during Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Spain. These are ancient processions that take place all during Holy Week and move from local parish churches to the main cathedral in the larger cities. They are long parades of young people, women in lovely costumes, hooded penitents (who look like the prototype for the old Ku Klux Klan), bands playing dirges, and in the middle of the assemblage a gruesome statue of the suffering Jesus wearing a crown of thorns and carrying his cross. The second half of the parade is a repeat of the first but the “grand finale” is a massive statue of the Virgin Mother dressed in the finest clothing and bedecked with jewels and being carried on the shoulders of dozens of strong men. For Sandy and me this was a striking display of the devotion still remaining in a rapidly secularized country, and we were very impressed. But for our friends who lived there it was more public spectacle and pride between communities as they competed for prizes to gain bragging rights for the coming year.
But however the processions themselves might be judged, the comment that stayed with me more than any other was the observation that the processions capture so much attention that Easter Sunday is almost an after-thought in the Spanish culture. Think of it! The suffering and death of Jesus, as well as the chance to reflect on our sin and failure, are so dominant that his great victory somehow gets lost. How can that be?
It is always easier to see faults in ourselves than others, so I use this extreme example to challenge us in terms of how we understand and apply the gospel of our own lives and understanding of spiritual living. We are utterly and totally dependent on Christ’s work on the cross for our forgiveness and justification, make no mistake about that. But the power of the gospel is not only that Christ died for our sins, but that we are alive in him and spiritually united to him in his resurrection. Don’t stop at the cross when you define your relationship to Jesus. The “finished work of Christ” is an expression often used of what Christ accomplished on our behalf and too frequently tends to be limited to a description of what he did on the cross, and cried out to his Father, “It is finished.” But the work that only Christ could do wasn’t finished until he rose from the grave, and for that matter ascended to the Father in heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit on his Church. Only at that point could he take his seat.
So this week as we come to the glorious celebration of Easter, recognize that this is not only the great reality that vindicates what Jesus did on the cross. The raising up of Christ is a critical part of the gospel story and a critical part of our salvation. We bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus who “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead “ (I Peter 1:3).
In the weeks that follow Easter we will be studying how we become “partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ” (language from our catechism that we will be explaining). It happens through the working of the Holy Spirit in us—but it is made possible because of what Christ has done for us not only in his death but also in his resurrection. How appropriate that we move on to this topic after our weeks of reading about the life and ministry of Jesus and after the celebration of Holy Week with the “grand finale” being Jesus standing at the open tomb, alive and ready to carry out his great mission of bringing the whole earth under the rule of Christ.