Christ is Risen! Keeping It All in Perspective

Bright Monday: Christ is Risen!

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.

 

Bright Monday 2016

The crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the heart of the Christian Gospel.  In Orthodoxy, these earthly events are given an eternal significance by the fact that it is the incarnate God the Word who lived and died for us.  The crucifixion in itself is not the significant event. Many righteous men and women were put to death by various means through history.  Their deaths did not ontologically change creation, for they died as all mortals die.

It is Who is crucified that makes all the difference in the world (and in heaven too!).  It is not just any man who dies on the cross for us – rather it is the God-man.  It is God the Son, incarnate in Jesus Christ who dies on the cross for our sins who is resurrected from the dead for our salvation.  In Christ, God and creation, heaven and earth, the spiritual world and the physical world, are united, and so are the dead and the living.  All things become united in Christ, restored to their God-given natural beauty.

In this entire week after Pascha, known as Bright Week we celebrate each day as if it were the same day, the day of resurrection, the Eighth Day, the Pascha of the Lord.

“The key point here is that faith is not a form of interpretation, one perspective among others, but a seeing of what there is to see, and hence a form of knowing. Recall the opening words of the First Epistle of John: ‘We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seem with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…’ First John states the primal truth that Christian faith rests on witness to what has happened in history, hence the honored place of the martyrs (witnesses) in Christian memory. Yet the witness to what was ‘seen’ is never a testimony simply of what has happened in the past. In his Commentary on 1 John, St. Augustine noted a curious feature of its opening words. John does not simply say that he is bearing witness to what he has seen and touched; he says that he is bearing witness to the ‘Word of Life’. It does not escape Augustine that the phrase ‘Word of Life’ does not refer to the body of Christ which could be seen and handled. ‘The life itself has been manifested in flesh – that what can be seen by the heart along might be seen also by the eyes for the healing of hearts. Only by the heart is the Word seen; flesh is seen by bodily eyes. We had the means of seeing the flesh, but not of seeing the Word: the Word was made flesh which we could see, that the heart, by which we should see the Word, might be healed.’” (Robert L. Wilken, Remembering the Christian Past, pp 56-57)

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Bright Monday

“The themes of Christ’s descent into Hades and his victory over hell and death are treated extensively in surviving early Christian poetry.

We do not know precisely when the short hymn as the Easter troparion was composed. It is likely, however, that it was already written in the second century.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” (Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades, an Orthodox Perspective, pg. 34)