Nearly two-thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth suffered at Gethsemane, died on the cross, and was resurrected in glory. It’s easy to approach an event that happened so long ago with a sort of academic sterility; in Church we often discuss how we benefit from the Atonement, who it applies to, the effects of the Atonement, the prophecies that foretold it, etc. These are all important and valuable things to understand, and I’m glad that we learn them.
But the Atonement was a very different affair for those who knew Jesus personally. It was not simply a process of infinite Messianic suffering in, infinite spiritual blessings out. This was the cruel, agonizing death of someone they loved, someone who had worked miracles, who had opened their eyes to God. He had taught them, questioned them, guided them, and blessed them. Jesus Christ’s followers must have seen in him something wondrous. So when Christ died, the hopes of many (who did not yet understand) died with him.
This is the topic of today’s hymn, He Died! The Great Redeemer Died.
Come, Saints, and drop a tear or two
For him who groaned beneath your load;
He shed a thousand drops for you,
A thousand drops of precious blood.
Christ’s death was not simply an academic affair. It was a pinnacle of emotion, a profound chasm of despair. The earth itself groaned at his death, and in some regions, darkness covered the earth for three days.
Can you imagine how the followers of Christ must have felt at his death? The loss, hurt, the lack of direction? Surely Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, could not be killed by mere men. This could not be! Did some question their faith, wondering whether this could really be the promised Messiah after all? He had said he would die for men, but surely it wasn’t supposed to happen so soon?
And yet, Christ was dead. Crucified between thieves, rejected by both the Jews and the Romans.
Here’s love and grief beyond degree;
The Lord of glory died for men.
But lo! what sudden joys were heard!
The Lord, though dead, revived again.
In the face of all this despair, consider what the joyous news of Christ’s Resurrection must have meant. I often hear people express gratitude for the resurrection because it heralded Christ’s victory over death, extending resurrection to all of us. Certainly, we should be grateful for that. But when Mary Magdalene, Peter, or Thomas saw Christ resurrected, I don’t think their first thought was appreciation for their own freedom from death. Rather, they felt tremendous joy at this evidence of Christ’s divinity. They had not believed in vain. They had not lost their friend and leader. The work was not cut short. Jesus of Nazareth, the Great Redeemer, had taken up his life again!
It’s hard to adequately appreciate the magnitude of this event. Recall, perhaps, a funeral you have attended. Imagine the wonder you would feel upon seeing the deceased only a few days later, eating fish and honeycomb, literally more alive than ever before. What emotions might they have felt?
The rising Lord forsook the tomb.
In vain the tomb forbade him rise.
Cherubic legions guard him home
And shout him welcome to the skies.
The rejoicing at Christ’s resurrection was not limited to his earthly followers—all of heaven rejoiced at this great victory. If there were angels singing at his birth, surely they were also present at this culmination of Christ’s mission, the central point in the Father’s eternal plan for his children. This was a glorious, tremendous event!
So the next time you have occasion to consider Christ’s Atonement and Resurrection, remember to feel it. It’s an occasion not just for contemplation, but also rejoicing!