Easter Before Good Friday: A Reflection on ‘The Creed’ by Karl Barth and Me

Was Crucified, Dead, And Buried, He Descended Into Hell

How do you think of God revealed in Jesus? Do you primarily think of him through the lens of the cross? Then you might be a Western Christian (which most of us are). Or maybe you think of him primarily in and through the lens of the resurrection, yeah? It is probably best, instead, to think of him in both his humiliation (cross) and exaltation (resurrection, ascension, heavenly session, and consummation), and to think ourselves from within this nexus of being of God and [hu]man[ity] in Christ and his hypostatic union. This represents a genuine dialectic, right? And it also illustrates how we ought to think reality from God’s Self revelation in Christ. But I digress.

Karl Barth speaks of this kind of theologia crucis and theologia gloriae more pointedly than I can, and he hearkens us back to Martin Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’ (which I think dialectically has a proper understanding of ‘theology of glory’ embedded in it) as he reflects upon this article of The Apostles’ Creed: Was Crucified, Dead, And Buried, He Descended Into Hell.

The mystery of the Incarnation unfolds into the mystery of Good Friday and of Easter. And once more it is as it has been so often in this whole mystery of faith, that we must always see two things together, we must always understand one by the other. In the history of the Christian faith it has, indeed, always been the case that the knowledge of Christians has gravitated more to the one side or to the other. We may take it that the Western Church, the Church of the Occident, has a decided inclination towards the theologia crucis—that is, towards bringing out and emphasising the fact that He was surrendered for our transgressions. Whereas the Eastern Church brings more into the foreground the fact that He was raised for our justification, and so inclines towards the theologia gloriae. In this matter there is no sense in wanting to play off one against the other. You know that from the beginning Luther strongly worked out the Western tendency—not theologia gloriae but theologia crucis. What Luther meant by that is right. But we ought not to erect and fix any opposition; for there is no theologia crucis which does not have its complement in the theologia gloriae. Of course, there is no Easter without Good Friday, but equally certainly there is no Good Friday without Easter! Too much tribulation and sullenness are too easily wrought into Christianity. But if the Cross is the Cross of Jesus Christ and not a speculation on the Cross, which fundamentally any heathen might also have, then it cannot for one second be forgotten or overlooked that the Crucified rose again from the dead the third day. We shall in that case celebrate Good Friday quite differently, and perhaps it would be well not to sing on Good Friday the doleful, sad Passion hymns, but to begin to sing Easter hymns. It is not a sad and miserable business that took place on Good Friday; for He rose again. I wanted to say this first, that you are not to take abstractly what we have to say about the death and the Passion of Christ, but already to look beyond it to the place where His glory is revealed.[1]

This challenges me. Admittedly I have thought from the ‘Western’ proclivity much more than the ‘Eastern,’ if we can even speak from this divide any longer. We might like to skip over Good Friday though altogether, but I don’t think Barth is calling for that. We might like to live our ‘best life now’ (pace Joel Osteen), and live a Christian spirituality that has no cruciform or cross-shaped anything; we might like to pretend that there are no people locked up in insane asylums, or who live in the squalor of their birthed existence into Sudanese poverty and affliction (for example); but this isn’t what Barth is suggesting by inverting Good Friday with Easter. I think it is more profound, what Barth is suggesting, it is in line with what the author of the epistle of Hebrews has written (I think):

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.[2]

Christianity represents a glorious way to think, but glorious in cruciform shape. This Easter season, let Easter hope condition the whole season. Walk through the ‘stations,’ but do so from the hope that He is Risen, Indeed!

10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.[3]

                       


[1] Karl Barth, Dogmatics In Outline (London: SCM Press, 1949), 114.

[2] Hebrews 12.1,2 NKJV.

[3] II Corinthians 4.10 NKJV. 

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2 thoughts on “Easter Before Good Friday: A Reflection on ‘The Creed’ by Karl Barth and Me

  1. Those words, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,” speak to the magnificence of God’s self-giving nature. Oh, how deep are the riches of his divine love for all of us, his very good creation in Christ.

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