At His crucifixion, Jesus took on our sins, and true to his human nature, suffered sin’s consequence: death. In this final act of selfless love and service, Jesus Christ died and burst the bonds of death.
In the icon of the Crucifixion, the skull under the cross represents the place where Adam was buried and reminds us that Jesus is the New Adam. Unlike Adam, who disobeys God’s command, Jesus was obedient to the Father and cooperated with Him. It is important that Jesus became man in order to overturn Adam’s sin. “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15: 21-22) Orthodox Christians can never speak of the Crucifixion without remembering the Resurrection. We participate not only in the suffering of Christ, but also in His victory. Through His cross, joy is come into the world!
(An aside: the mention of Pontius Pilate in the Creed is intentional. It points to the fact that Christ’s death and resurrection are historical events and can be traced to a specific date in human history.)
“For when all was sinful, cursed and dead, Christ became sin, a curse, and dead for us—though He Himself never ceased to be the righteousness and blessedness and life of God Himself. It is to this depth… that Christ has humiliated Himself ‘for us men and for our salvation.’ For being God, he became man; and being man, he became a slave; and being a slave, he became dead and not only dead, but dead on a cross. From this deepest degradation of God flows the eternal exaltation of man. This is the pivotal doctrine of the Orthodox Christian faith… the doctrine of the atonement—for we are made to be ‘at one’ with God. It is the doctrine of redemption—for we are redeemed, i.e., ‘bought with a price,’ the great price of the blood of God.” (Hopko, “Doctrine,” p. 88)
Try this: Together as a Sunday Church School class, talk about “spoiler alerts.” What are they? When and where do we see them? How do they change our perspective on the movie, book, or story that they “spoil?”
When our family first joined the Orthodox Church, one of the things that we noticed and loved are all the “spoiler alerts” about Christ’s resurrection that the Church gives. Whenever Orthodox Christians talk in Church about Christ’s death, immediately we also find ourselves proclaiming His resurrection. (The Church Fathers did that on purpose, placing the focus on His bursting of the bonds of Hades and His opening of paradise to us once again, rather than focusing on His death.)
Talk together about the importance of this spoiler alert. Why SHOULD we always remember His resurrection when we talk about His death? When does the Church give us these “spoiler alerts?” Look for them during the Divine Liturgy. If you have time, get out your Holy Week service book, and flip through those services (especially near the end of the week) for these “spoiler alerts.” These services are full of them!