Permit me a personal moment of celebration. After the devastation of being the first number one seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament to lose to a sixteenth seed in 2018, the University of Virginia Cavaliers triumphed over March Madness as the 2019 NCAA men’s basketball champions. Amazing turnaround! Virginians like me celebrated.
Just days later, Tiger Woods won his first major golf tournament in 11 years, winning the 2019 Masters, after having fallen from the pinnacle of fame to the infamy of a very public revelation of the depth of his brokenness – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Some commentators heralded his accomplishment as the greatest comeback in any sport.
But on the very next day, we witnessed the devastating sight of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris reduced to a charred shell – a great landmark that testified to the faith of millions in the midst of an increasingly secular world in ruins. People, believers and non-believers, wept, many standing outside the cathedral through a long night singing and praying. What a terrible loss.
Then came word that the structural framework of the beautiful cathedral had survived the fire. French President Emmanuel Macron pledged that Notre Dame would be rebuilt. Two prominent French business leaders pledged more than three hundred million dollars toward the rebuilding of the cathedral. One of the first pictures taken of the devastation in the cathedral was of a stunning symbol of defiance: the unmistakable sight of a cross above the altar.
The triumphs of the Virginia Cavaliers and of golfing great Tiger Woods are insignificant when compared with the comeback victory which we celebrate at Easter. Jesus triumphs over the grave. A stunning symbol of defiance! Jesus is alive forevermore! “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5). Together, Isaiah, Hosea, and Paul exclaim: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The message we share with the world at Easter is timeless – eternal. The lover of your soul has not permitted sin and death to write the final chapter of your story. Through the cross of Christ – the suffering of Jesus – the sting of sin that results in death is not the last word. The last word is proclaimed by our God who has given us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
My life verse is Philippians 3:10-11 – “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” Jesus Himself beseeches us, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Crucifixion and resurrection are inextricably intertwined. There could be no resurrection without crucifixion. The way to ultimate triumph and victory is through the cross of Christ. There is no other way! Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. And the way of Jesus is to surrender our selfish ways and to be identified with Jesus in His calling and mission. To become identified with Jesus requires our knowing Him – not knowing about Him, but becoming intimately acquainted with Him so that our lives increasingly become one with His life. We cannot experience the mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead without journeying with Him on the road He traveled which led to the cross and then to the empty tomb.
The story of Paul is also one of astonishing reversal. Saul, the persecutor of Christians, a Pharisee, one who obeyed the law without fault, encounters Jesus on the Damascus road, surrenders his life to Jesus, endures suffering as a consequence, and lives a victorious life empowered by the Holy Spirit introducing countless people to Jesus and discipling them in the Kingdom. Paul testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
The world presses in upon us with its agenda and narrative. Good Friday and Easter push back. The story into which you and I are invited to live redefines the values of a world that ultimately offers emptiness, devastation, and defeat. Instead we are invited to present ourselves to God in order to die to ourselves so that we might be alive in Christ.
Don’t you love turnaround stories – the Virginia Cavaliers, Tiger Woods, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, YOU. All stories find their ultimate meaning in the story of Easter and the reality God offers to every human being! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
By Keith Boyette
April 19, 2019
Rev. Keith Boyette is the president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.