Photograph by Charles F. Stanley
At churches around the world, every year brings another celebration of the Easter story. In the church of my childhood, a cantata followed by a graphic retelling of Jesus’ death became commonplace and expected. While I don’t necessarily believe the old adage “Familiarity breeds contempt,” I do believe many churchgoers become anesthetized to the truth and wonder of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
One year, our music minister pitched an idea for a different mode of communication—living portraits. The choir, he explained, would still sing but would be hidden behind a huge canvas. In front, volunteer actors would recreate classic pieces of art depicting Jesus’ time on earth.
I was assigned the role of an angel in the final scene with the empty tomb. Weeks of practice, as they tend to do, gave me and other cast members time to learn our roles, enjoy community, and make jokes. When the young man playing Jesus first appeared in his costume for our version of Diego Velázquez’s “Christ Crucified,” those of us in middle and high school couldn’t resist teasing him about his huge “diaper.” We were so familiar with Jesus’ sacrifice that we were unmoved by the very story we were telling.
On opening night, the murmurs of the crowd faded with the first musical note, and the room was shrouded in darkness as all eyes focused on the large picture frame at the front. For weeks, I had watched our Jesus lug the cross down the aisle in one song and balance on the cross during another. Throughout the dress rehearsals, our production had felt like just another church program. But as I stood on the sidelines, garbed in a white robe and waiting to take my place in the final scene, there came a moment when the Holy Spirit powerfully impacted my heart through that live performance. I watched the young man I knew hanging on the cross, with arms outstretched, fingers closed around nails, and feet balanced on a small pedestal, and I noticed for the first time the difficulty of his role. The hot lights caused his sweat to run through the red paint and flow, giving the appearance of dripping blood. He took huge breaths and struggled to maintain his pose. At the end when the curtains closed on his scene, others had to help him down, and his legs collapsed for a moment as he tried to stand on the ground.
To my surprise, I found myself with a lump in my throat, hastily wiping away tears while getting into position outside the empty tomb. What I had witnessed my friend endure in the previous scene was the merest hint of Jesus’ suffering.
This is the power of the cross: Realizing Jesus chose to leave the perfection of heaven, be born into the limitations of humanity, and really suffer—because of His great love for us. Or, in the familiar words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
If you have never experienced the wonder of Jesus’ love or if your gratefulness for His sacrifice has faded, I encourage you to ask the Lord to stir your heart. Easter is the perfect season to remember the greatest moment in human history: Jesus coming to rescue us from our regrets, our current impossibilities, and a future without Him.