Summary: You can only get the right perspective on the cross if you look at it from two angles: from the angle of suffering and sacrifice, and the angle of resurrection and victory.
Did you know that some people are right-eyed and some people are left-eyed? It’s true. Point at something 10 or 20 feet away - that’s right, hold out your finger. Then close your left eye. If you don’t have to move your finger, you’re right-eyed. If you have to move your finger to the right, you’re left-eyed. That’s because each eye sees a different image, and when the brain puts them together, we get a feel for how far away things are. That phenomenon is, as you probably already know, called depth perception. There’s an test that optometrists do, where you look through that contraption they have and at first you see two images and then as the doctor turns the knob the two images merge into one. He’s testing your focal length (I think).
And what all this has to do with Easter morning is that this is the day when the two images of the cross come together.
Two days ago the cross was, as the hymn says, “an emblem of suffering and shame.” It was so cruel a death that Roman citizens couldn’t be crucified. It was reserved, mostly, for slaves and the lowest of criminals.
Today we wear crosses around our necks, on our lapels, in our ears. We adorn our most sacred spaces with them, both inside and out. It is a badge partly simply of identity, because by wearing and displaying the cross we proclaim that we belong to Christ. But it is more than that. It is also a sign of triumph. The empty cross is as much a sign of victory as is the empty tomb. The empty cross tells us the savior’s suffering is over, and his eternal reign as Lord of heaven and earth has begun.
But what else does it tell us? The worst the world could do to Jesus was done: the betrayals, the arrest, beatings, humiliation, and finally the cruelest death in the Roman’s repertoire. He was tried by the religious authorities, and by the secular authorities. They did their best to defeat Jesus, even enlisting Death itself as their ally against the Lord of Life. And they thought they had won.
But they lost.
And they will always lose.
And when we wear the cross we are reminded that according to his promise, his resurrection is also ours. As Jesus told Martha, long ago when she was grieving for her brother Lazarus who had died, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”[John 11:25-26] And she didn’t understand. So he raised her brother Lazarus as a foretaste, a promise of sorts, to prove he had power even over death.
But of course Lazarus did die again, eventually, - it would be nice to think after a long and fruitful life - and we still die. We too will die. But on Easter morning we are reminded once again that not even death can hold us who are held by Christ.
And it is the risen Christ, and the empty tomb, whom we worship throughout the year. And sometimes we forget the pain of the cross. Sometimes we let the two images - of victory and suffering - get too far apart. Sometimes we wear our crosses too lightly.
So on this one morning of the year, when the joy of beholding and celebrating our risen Savior follows 40 days of repentance and fasting and three days of mourning, on this Easter morning while the tears are still fresh, it is time to remember that the two images always go together.
The joy of the resurrection comes only on the other side of the cross.
When we put on our crosses we are saying “Yes” to the one who said “Follow me.” We are saying “Yes” to the one who went to his death for us. But answering our small, uncertain “yes, Lord”, on this resurrection morning comes the triumphant shout: “Alleluia! He is risen!” And in this moment, this triumphant morning, we too know that nothing the world can throw at us can possibly win. We live, because he lives. We will live, because He lives. The world and its ally death can do nothing to us who belong to Christ that has not already been done, and defeated. They have already lost.
No matter how great the pain of the cross, on the other side comes the resurrection. This is a promise “for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls.”[Acts 2:39]
“Alleluia! Christ is risen!”