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Why do we celebrate Easter?

The first question ever asked of me in a theological interview (seminary Q&A to test a pastoral candidate’s doctrinal integrity) some years back was “Did God die on the Cross?” Rather than reveal my answer, I prefer to pose the very same question for penitential consideration. The answer—whatever it is—automatically elicits a follow-up question about Easter (and that empty tomb). A few years ago, while still a public high school teacher, I used to do predawn parking lot duty with a colleague and friend of mine (he’s Baptist—we’re on the same court, just on opposite sides of the net sometimes). One morning he mentioned to me that he would be teaching a Sunday school class on Easter, on a not-unrelated topic: Matthew 27:46 (Jesus cries out to God the Father from the Cross). We got to talking about how God could have forsaken Himself... Hopefully, all Christians would agree that Jesus of Nazareth, after suffering beatings, taunting, and other despicable forms of humiliation at the hands of his accusers, was nailed to a cross by Roman soldiers where he languished for 6 hours before finally crying out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). He cried out once more and died. So. Who died? Jesus the man? Jesus the Messiah? God the Son? God Himself? God Himselves? None of the above? (One of those answers was mine; no, not the last one...) Understanding the two natures of Christ is daunting. Lutherans teach, and I believe, that on Good Friday God did suffer in His humanity (as evidenced in Jesus› anguish in the garden of Gethsemane and his crying out on the Cross) and that, since God and man are united in one person, it’s correctly called God’s death, when the man dies who is one thing or one person with God. Specifically HOW this could happen is beyond the scope of human intellect. My answer to the question was “God the Son died on the Cross.” At face value a good enough answer, but not good enough at the time. God can’t die, but Jesus did. One Lutheran professor puts it this way: “No, God the Father didn’t suffer, but God the Son did. He did so by assuming a human nature, which made it possible for Him to suffer and to die.” Jesus had to die a human death in order to be resurrected, a ...

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