“Desiring to return us to Paradise,
Christ was nailed to the Cross and placed in a tomb”
Every eighth week when we come to Saturday Resurrection Vespers Tone 6, I am struck by those words above from the Aposticha verses. It adds such an insight into salvation, and what Christ has done for us – not limiting the work of Christ to some legal/juridical accomplishment to pay for our sins. Salvation is so much richer than the mere payment of a debt. Salvation restores our humanity to us be reuniting humanity to divinity. Christ’s desire was to bring us to Paradise, not just cancel a debt, but to save us, restore our humanity and unite us to the divine life.
In the Baptism ceremony itself we pray about all the things that baptism brings about. This is where we see the depth and riches of salvation. The priest prays over the baptismal waters:
“And grant unto it the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities, the final destruction of demons, unassailable by hostile powers, filled with Angelic might; that those who would ensnare your creature will flee far from it. For we have called upon your Name, O Lord, and it is wonderful and glorious, and terrible unto adversaries.”
“But do You, Master of all, show this water to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the laver of regeneration, the renewal of the spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life. For You have said, O Lord: Wash and be clean; and put away evil things from your souls. You have bestowed upon us from on high a new birth through water and the spirit. Wherefore, O Lord, manifest Yourself in this water, and grant that he who is baptized therein may be transformed; that he may put away from him the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh, and that he may be clothed upon with the new man, and renewed after the image of Him who created him; that being buried, after the pattern of Your death, in baptism, he may, in like manner, be a partaker of Your Resurrection and having preserved the gift of thy Holy Spirit, and increased the measure of grace committed unto him, he may receive the prize of his high calling, and be numbered with the first-born whose names are written in heaven, in You, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
These multitude of blessings and the effects of salvation are what we should have in mind when we read in the Gospels the lesson about the resurrection. Think about that prayer from the baptismal service above as you read Luke 24:1-12. The Gospel concludes with the Apostle Peter “marveling… at what had happened.” The reality for that moment was he could not know all that had happened or would happen as a result of the resurrection. We Christians today now know these things and experience them in all of the Mysteries of the Church.
Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?“He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee,“saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”And they remembered His words.Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.
What had happened? The world of the Fall had been overcome. Death was overthrown. Hell was emptied of the dead. The dead arose. The destruction of Satan was achieved. Humanity was freed from the curse of the Law. Paradise was opened to us. The Kingdom of God began its reign over everything.
[One would have to go through all the hymns and prayers of the Sacraments and Feast Days to list all that was accomplished by Christ. I will note only one other item here because it also stands out in my mind every time I hear the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things.” In the 10th Kontakion we sing:
“No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but You can restore a conscience turned to ashes; You can restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With You, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. You are Love; You are Creator and Redeemer.”
I find those verses so totally beautiful. Christ restores all things – not only the physical, but the spiritual as well – our consciences, our souls, our minds, our hearts. Absolutely amazing!]
As a final note: Christ did not descend into Hell and stay there to pay endlessly for our sins. He goes to Hades to destroy it and to end its tyranny over us. No one, including Jesus Christ, needs to pay for the sins forever. Christ does not continually pay for our sins, but once for all He brings an end to the power/sting of sin and death. He quickly triumphs over them and lifts us all up from the corruption of Hell.
An eternal hell cannot ever bring justice to the universe – if it could, there would be no need for Christ. Justice would be obtained simply by sending all sinners to hell for all eternity. But God so loved the world that God overcomes the need for death, hell, retribution or an eternity of suffering. Christ dies on the cross because death is the final enemy, and it is temporary and is annihilated in the eternity of God’s Kingdom.