Sometimes I think we forget that Jesus died. Not cognitively, that's easy enough to acknowledge. But we forgot that He was dead. "Jesus died on the cross for our sins" is so much a part of Christian nomenclature that it has lost its shock value. Dead is a big deal and it's not just a theological point of salvation. Jesus was without a heartbeat. No CPR and no defibrillator could bring him back. He was buried in the ground for days. His body began to decay. It was final. Just because we know the end of the story doesn't mean we can downplay the finality of death. His friends certainly knew it.
They mourned. They wept. They prepared His body for burial. They feared the same fate would befall them. They were at a total loss as to what would happen next since their Messiah was gone. Gone forever. Dead.
At some point, whether through rote repetition of the story or through a culture that does its best to keep death at bay, we forgot what it means that Jesus was dead. We need to get into the story, to remember. We need to engage our imaginations of what it would have been like to be there, to see Him cry out and breathe His last in agony before slumping lifeless, pulling against the spikes in His hands and feet. We need to see His mangled body wrapped gently by Joseph and dressed with preserving and fragrant ointments and spices. Then we need to imagine how hard it would have been to lay Him on a cold slab of rock and walk away, for the last time. Ever.
Without death Easter celebrates a comeback, not a miracle.
Except that it wasn't ever. Jesus was dead, and then He wasn't. And this is unbelievable—truly not something to be believed, except that it's Jesus. Death conquers everyone and everything. It conquers the flowers I give to my wife and it has conquered both my grandfathers. It is working on each of us even now. And when it gets us it doesn't let go. Death is permanent and unalterable. But Jesus altered it and conquered it. He went from profoundly dead to magnificently alive.
Without death Easter celebrates a comeback, not a miracle. Without a realization of Jesus' death Easter celebrates the unexpected rather than the impossible. Without a real death there isn't a real resurrection. Without a real resurrection there isn't a real point in being a Christian—no hope, no future, no perfect new creation. So Jesus' death matters. It cannot be underplayed and can scarcely be overplayed. He spend three days breathless, brain-dead, heart-beatless, and decaying. Then He was alive. And, yes, He died for our sins, to give us life. To give us life after death—like Him.