One of the surprises of the Orthodox faith is that on Pascha night when we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, on the night in which we proclaim dozens of times: “Christ is risen!”, on the night in which all our hymns focus on the resurrection of Christ, the Gospel we proclaim at the Divine Liturgy is not one of the accounts of the Resurrection. What we proclaim is John 1:1-17, which is not about finding the empty tomb or about Christ’s descent into Hades. The Gospel we proclaim is often referred to as “The Prologue” – it is just the introduction to the book written by the Evangelist John.
And one reason that we read this Gospel at the Paschal Divine Liturgy is that it is about the big picture. We are not just celebrating that one man, a good man at that, came back from the dead, though that would be a big enough event in its own right. The Gospel for the Paschal Liturgy helps us see Christ’s resurrection in the big picture of the entirety of creation (the entire universe) and the entire history of the cosmos. The Gospel takes us back to the beginning of Creation – In the beginning was the word (John 1:1). We are taken back to the beginning of the Bible itself, back to chapter one of the book of Genesis, back to the big bang, the beginning of everything. And we remember that in the midst of the total silence of nothingness, in the soundless vacuum, God spoke His Word and creation – time and space – came into being. God said, “Let there be light” and there was light (Genesis 1:3). It is God’s Word which causes creation to exist – causes us to exist. And as we hear in John’s Gospel at the Paschal Liturgy, Jesus Christ is the Word of God. It is He who caused all things to come into existence as we just heard – All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made (John 1:3).
Out of the vacuum of nothingness and silence, creation was brought into existence by the Word of God. Or, maybe into that empty void God caused creation to come into being. Either way, there came to be something, rather than nothing by the Word of God. By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth (Psalms 33:6).
And then, what we just thought about all during Holy Week – the impossible happened. Creation – we creatures – endeavored to silence the Word of God. We nailed him to the cross and He died. No breath was found in Him. He was sealed in a silent tomb, left voiceless and to rot back into nothingness. Descending into the depths of Hades never to be heard from again.
Except, that on Pascha, the Word spoke again – out of the dead silence of Hades, God’s Word again called Light into existence. From the muteness of Hades – from which no voice was ever heard on earth, God speaks to us. Pascha night is a night of renewal for all creation for God again is giving light and life to the world, to all of creation, to us and to the entire universe. From the tomb shines forth the Light of Life, and we hear the Word of God giving life even to the dead.
And God tells us even in death we don’t return to nothingness. Even in death we do not cease to exist. Death does not, can not, annihilate us because God the giver of life is more powerful than death, and the life God gives us is stronger than death. Death does not end our life.
So we proclaim this Gospel of John 1:1-17 on Pascha night – a universal message, not just for Christians but the entire created universe. The power of the resurrection is not limited to Christ or to Christians, but is offered to the entire human race. Listen to the Gospel:
All things came into being through Jesus Christ (John 1:3)
The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it (1:5).
John came to bear witness to the Light – that ALL might believe through him (1:7).
Christ the true light enlightens EVERYONE who ever existed, who now exists or who will ever exist (1:9).
ALL who receive Him are given the ability to be God’s children (1:12).
ALL have recieved grace upon grace (1:16)
When we focus only on the resurrection of Jesus as a historical fact, we can easily lose sight of the universal and cosmic meaning of that message. Everything in the world, and everyone in the world is found in the message of John’s Gospel. We proclaim it this night because it includes all of us – as we heard in the catechetical homily of St. John Chrysostom, it includes all who diligently kept the fast and all who didn’t, all who labored from the 1st hour and those who came at the 11th hour, the sinners and the saints, the rich and the poor, everyone encompassed in the universal resurrection which our Lord has given to us all.