He Who Took Flesh from the Virgin Destroyed Death

Christ is risen!

Truly He is risen!

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.  (Acts 2:22-36)

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Fr John Behr comments on the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, reminding us that the total shocking nature of the resurrection is sometimes lost on us who celebrate Pascha year after year.

“We sing so frequently that Christ has trampled down death by death.  We sing it so frequently that we no longer listen to the words.  We tend to think that Christ died because he was human, but because he is God he is able to get himself out of the grave.  Well, if that were the case then what good would it have done us: we are not God!  We would still be bound by death.  No, it is by his death that he has destroyed death—so that he can return to us, risen from the dead.

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[I think this is such an important point that Behr makes.  It is not just by being God that Christ destroys death.  It is because He is human and actually dies on the cross and is buried that He destroys death so that we all can also experience the resurrection.  It is God becoming incarnate, becoming human, that has brought about the destruction of death.  Death had power over all humanity, but Christ destroys that power and frees all humanity from living under Death’s tyranny. The idea is well expressed in this hymn from Matins: “All blessed are you, O virgin Theotokos, for he who took flesh of you has triumphed over hell.  He freed Adam and Eve from the ancient curse, destroying death by death and gracing  us with life.  For this, we raise our voices together in son: Blessed are you, O Christ, our God, for doing all this.  Glory to you.”  (New Skete translation)  It is actually His taking on human flesh from the Virgin which led to the destruction of death and His triumph over hell.  It turns out that that which is a sign of human frailty, fragility and futility – our being subject to sickness, sorrow and suffering but especially our mortality – is the very means God is using to accomplish our salvation.  This should give us hope in God’s love and power even in the midst of a fallen and broken world.]

When we think through this, it really should take our breath away!  By death—by that which expresses all the weakness, futility, impotence, and brokenness of our lives—by that very aspect he has shown us what it is to be God, trampling down death by death!

To become like Christ, then, does not require us to become something that we are not, some kind of superhuman existence, but requires instead that we use our death in the way that he has.  For whether we like it or not, we are going to die!  The only question then is: how are we going to die?

Will it be with our hearts attached to this world, to our treasures in this world, to our career, our family, our good image of ourselves?  In which case our death will be a painful separation from all that we love.  Or will it be a death that we willingly embrace even now, as we follow Christ, by taking up the Cross, dying to ourselves, to our ego, to all our passions, to all that ties us to this world, to live, as he did, for others—in love, in service in compassion?  If we do that, we will, even now begin to live the life of God, the risen Christ, manifesting him to others, and thus confirming the reality of his resurrection, making  him present in this world, the world that is increasingly alienated from him, yet is also so desperate for him.”   (THE CROSS STANDS WHILE THE WORLD TURNS, pp 70-71)

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If we live only for our life in this world, if all that we love is in the world, then as Behr says death becomes a painful separation from all that we love.  But if we love God, then love will stretch beyond this world and this life into the next life, eternal life.  If we live as Christians, live being Christ-like, live in imitation of Christ, then we will have Christ with us both in this world and in the world to come.  If we live in Christ, struggling against sin and evil, we will also be able to use our death as the means to triumph over death and live with Christ in His Kingdom.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  . . .  For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (Romans 8:35)