“The king is dead. Long live the king.” -The pronouncement made at the death of a monarch.
When a monarch dies the people rightfully proclaim: “The king is dead. Long live the king.” The two statements go together by commemorating the death of the king while also acknowledging the importance, and the beginning, of the new monarch. Together the two phrases communicate both a mix of grief and hope.
I think Christians can appropriate this language, if used correctly.
Last week I posted the first half of this post, focusing on Good Friday. In today’s post, the second half focuses on Easter Sunday.
As night falls on Friday: the king is dead.
And on Saturday, nothing has changed: The king is dead (still).
And on Sunday several visit the tomb ready to apply spices to Jesus’ body (Luke 24.1).
But instead some of the most jarring words in history were uttered: “He is not here” (Luke 24.6). The transition between “he was crucified” to “he is not here” must have caused some serious emotional whiplash. They arrive prepared to see Jesus’ corpse, and instead they’ve been told: “he is not here.” Note that Mary’s reaction is not “Oh, of course he’s not here, he really did come back to life, just as he said”; instead, she thinks the body has been stolen (John 20.2, 13). Upon first hearing the news, for Mary, an empty tomb can only mean: “he’s been taken” not “he is risen.”
And yet, that’s precisely what they’re told: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24.5-7).
“The king is dead” no longer applies to the king of the Jews. The king is risen.
Because of his resurrection, everything that appeared true on Friday has been rendered premature or ultimately false.
At the end of Easter Sunday, these 4 words ring true: The king is alive. The promised Messiah had finally come, was executed for the sins of the world, but was raised by the Father three days later. On Friday it appeared that he died as the Messiah of unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations, but on Sunday because he was raised from the dead, his life fulfills promises and prophecies.
The king was dead, but Christians can now proclaim the second line: “Long live the king.”
To be sure, Christians don’t bury one king and enthrone another. The same king that is risen is the one who was dead. Jesus was buried; Jesus has been raised.
In the light of his resurrection we are assured that the Kingdom of God really did arrive.
A tomb has been emptied. Life has conquered death. The resurrection does not “undo” the cross, but rather takes up the entirety of Jesus’ mission to bring his kingdom to earth. Jesus experiences abandonment by the Father so those in Christ never will. Because of the resurrection, Jesus’ death brings forgiveness, healing, and life.
The first four words without the last four would mean despair, defeat, and death. But, the last four words without the first four would lead to spiritual amnesia, wherein we forget that the king died for the people, abandoned by his followers and Father.
Together, however, the two phrases become one victorious proclamation of salvation and life, and the truth of both the cross and the resurrection comes into view: “The king is dead. Long live the king.”
“The king is dead.” -The first part of a pronouncement made upon the death of a monarch
This time of year we prefer to rush to Easter and make sure to focus on the empty tomb. For a few moments I challenge you to resist that temptation and contemplate the event of the crucifixion, as the first disciples would have experienced it.
“The king is dead” (a lament used in several countries when the monarch dies) seems inappropriate to many Christians. We even call Friday “good” which is certainly an odd label for the day we commemorate the death of our king.
The importance of Good Friday for Christianity is summed up with exacting brevity in the second article of The Apostles’ Creed: Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and was buried” (Traditional English Version).
Divided into four elements, these ten words capture the vital core of Good Friday, by 1) affirming the reality of Jesus’ suffering; 2) situating the death in historical context to a political figure; 3) verifying the cause, manner, and certainty of death; and 4) asserting Jesus’ burial.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to call Friday “good” so much as I think it’s too neat of a word to attach to the day when Jesus cries out to his Father: “Why have you forsaken me?” On a cross, abandoned by his followers (except the women), the religious leaders, and the governmental officials, nailed to two beams of wood, Jesus cries out in what was surely a mixture of physical, psychological, emotional, and relational pain, expressing the depths of his abandonment. And we read about this and call it “good.” Mmmm.
When reflecting on the sacrificial death of Jesus, Christians should thoughtfully ponder: “The king is dead.” The dead king, who came to set God’s people free and who was mocked as he hung dying … “king of the Jews.” Dead. Our king. Buried. In a tomb.
“The king is dead” is a statement of mourning and bereavement that we need to embrace, proclaim, and announce. After all, we signify Christianity with a cross, an instrument of humiliating death. We’ve ironically turned it into jewelry, an accoutrement of the religious. At the end of the 6-hour humiliation on “Good” Friday, these 4 words ring true: The king is dead. The promised Messiah had finally come, only to be executed as a blasphemer. On Friday his death marks the end of his ill-fated ministry as the Messiah of unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations.
The king is dead.
Part 2 will be posted on Sunday