Up From Our Graves

I am a bit anxious writing this essay because I have to admit that the main Christian belief about Christ’s death and resurrection does not resonate in my soul. Each Lent I face the same dilemma; that the sacrificial substitution of Jesus because of my sins, and the idea that Jesus is the lamb that was slaughtered in my place, brings up old feelings of guilt and shame, not of inspiration and love. The message I got as a child was that I was so bad, and filled with sin (even before I was born), that it was my fault that Jesus had to die. I’ve heard hundreds of people’s faith stories as a spiritual director and a healer, and I have come to believe that more people have left the church and faith as a result of externally inflicted guilt and shame than have entered it.

I’m not saying that this view of Jesus’ death is wrong or untrue, just that it has never drawn me closer to God, motivated me to live a different life, or helped me deal with my sins. This theology, which is predominant in the church, coupled with the fact that Maundy Thursday or Good Friday often fall on my Birthday, make it hard for me to celebrate, and help me understand why Lent is a trying season for me.

So with this dilemma, which I think I share with a lot of people, how can I experience the cross and the resurrection differently in order to respond more deeply? In my prayer time recently I felt God gently opening a new way for me, perhaps too simple for some people, but more relevant for my life.

The Cross: Letting Go to God

As I experience God’s deep love for me and I reframe my childhood image of God, I can see how close Jesus was to God, how much time he spent in prayer and how God worked through him; teaching, healing, feeding and transforming. Jesus gave his whole will over to God and trusted God for the bigger story of his life, the ultimate truth: God is pure love.

I hear Jesus encouraging me to let myself be so loved that I am able to let go to God too. Jesus invites me to offer myself to God and to let God hold me and soothe me, even in pain, as the angels did for Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night he was arrested. When I feel God’s love and involvement in my life, I feel I am called to a similar kind of self-offering, an emptying of myself to be what God chooses for me, to lay my burdens down before God and let God change me.

The next thing I hear Jesus asking of me is simply to be with him, to comfort him, to embrace his loss and my own, to face his pain and my own, to let myself be held and heard. Jesus asks me to trust that whatever is happening—no matter how it feels to me–God is still available to me and goes through it with me. Jesus last words from the cross were “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

Most challenging of all, Jesus invites me to die to the world and to be alive to God as he was—not to hide from God any more. This can mean so many things to each of us, but essentially it means releasing to God all that is in the way of our increased intimacy. Ultimately I think it means letting go of control.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, God in Pain, says that letting go means chasing God instead of ourselves. She says, “We can do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully prevent change, prevent conflict, prevent pain—then at the end we will find that we had no life at all. But if we hate our lives in this world, which as far as I am concerned can only mean if we hate the ways we cheapen our lives by chasing after comfort, safety, and superiority in this world—if we hate that enough to stop it and start chasing God instead—then there will be no end to the abundance in our lives.” (Pp.62-63).

Jesus is suggesting that in our self-offering, we give our whole selves, free from our particular encumbrances. That means “leaning in” to God and releasing our personal gods; security, ego, care taking, performing, perfecting, martyrdom, being right. I personally think this is why there is a three-day time-out between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It takes time to process our journey with God and to be emptied so God can use us. For many of us those three days represent three years or thirteen years or thirty years!

So the main question Jesus asks us from the cross is this: what in you needs to die with me?

How do we know what we are being asked to release? We ask God to put us on this path to self-emptying and see what happens. We surround ourselves with supportive people to help us on this journey. And then we fasten our seat belts.

The Resurrection: Walking Hand and Hand with God

The meaning of the resurrection emerges from our self-emptying. Jesus is asking us to be ready for God to come to our graves and raise us up from them, from whatever we were chasing instead of God or whatever was controlling us. God is eager to bring us to a new way of being, to the fullness of ourselves, to whom we were created to be. God is also eager to give us God’s spirit and to live within us as we move about our daily lives, transformed, cleansed and calm, walking  hand in hand with God.

In order to rise from our inner graves we need to forgive ourselves and let God forgive us. Then we are free. Free to forgive others. Free to reach across boundaries and lines that may have frightened us before. Free to seek out new friends. Free to teach and serve without recognition. Free to care for others without rescuing them. Free to take risks to love more fully. Free to let God’s spirit loose within us. Free to become God’s incense in the world.

In Ezekiel 37, that famous chapter called the dry bones chapter, we find God asking the human if he thinks the dead bones can live. As the human watches the scene, the bones and sinews come back together. Muscles surround the bones. Skin forms. And God breathes life back into the body. When we allow God to raise us up from our graves and put our bones and sinews back together, breathing life into our deadness, we become whole again. We become an invaluable part of God’s economy by helping others to come back to life too. God breathes the spirit into us and places us in our own new land. This is how we know that God has spoken.
When we walk hand in hand with God we bring beauty and joy with us because we are filled to overflowing with God’s spirit. People will feel that spirit when we enter the room. We don’t bring chaos, drama, pity or self-loathing any more. We bring God’s calm and humor. It does not mean we have no problems but that we are now walking hand in hand with God who gives us the capacity to embrace our issues and not run from them.

So the main question Jesus asks us from the open grave is this: What in you needs to be resurrected with me now?


When I think of the cross as letting go to God and the resurrection as walking hand in hand with God I feel deeply loved but also challenged to give more of myself to God. I feel God counting on me to be available and faithful. I like that. It makes me feel worthwhile to God. This inspires and motivates me to draw closer to the One who created me for fullness of life in the first place.

Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2013. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

1.What is your view of Jesus’ death and resurrection? Where did you learn it and how has it changed for you over the years?

2. What in you needs to die with Christ?

3. What are you chasing instead of chasing God?

4.  What in you is crying out for resurrection?

5. How is God asking you to be faithful in the world?

6. What does joy look like in your life?