Tomorrow we commemorate the event of the Resurrection and we strive toward its meaning. The event is that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead and conquered death according to the words of the paschal hymn of our Church, “trampling down death by death.”
The people who wrote the New Testament were concerned with explaining this event on account of how hard it is to believe and on account of their belief that it is the foundation of the Christian faith. If it did not occur then there is no faith and preaching the gospel of Christ is in vain. The issue is that the Resurrection is a reality but its reality has to be established. This is from one perspective, and from another perspective is firmness of faith. Thus we have two perspectives on this issue. The first is the testimony of witnesses to the appearances of Christ and the second is certainty in faith.
This is the heart of the Christian faith and the Apostle Paul takes this up because he is the first person in Christianity to write, meaning that this resurrection about which he taught he received from his predecessors and he did not separate the event from its meaning. He set down a theology that can be summarized in these words: “If it is preached that Christ rose from the dead, how can some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” Belief in the resurrection is supported by the words of the Apostle, that “He was buried and that he rose again on the third day and that he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve apostles, then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still alive and some have died, then he appeared to Jacob, then to all the apostles until he finally appeared to me as well, as one out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:4-8).
To make this clear, we have eyewitnesses of his death who remained eyewitnesses of his appearances after the resurrection, meaning that they knew that the one who appeared to them was the same one who was hung on the wood. These are Mary Magdalene and the Myrrh-bearing Women, Simon Peter, the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, the apostles gathered in Thomas’ absence then in his presence, some of the apostles on Lake Tiberias, the apostles in Galilee. He also appeared to them when he ascended to heaven. These appearances number eleven, and we read about each one on a Sunday in the Orthodox Church.
Mention of these appearances shows the critical spirit of the apostles. It is obvious to me in this account that the apostles were free of any reckless popular mentality. They were far from believing hastily out of excitement.
Thomas’ denial of the resurrection at the beginning shows that he had a strongly critical spirit and that he was not convinced by the words of the disciples. The next week he appeared to them while Thomas was with them.
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However, the feast is not limited to the departure of the Nazarene from the tomb, which is a cave and not a hole in the ground. The feast is an expression of all the salvation that has been brought to us since the incarnation of the Son of God, and especially that which we received from the cross. Before the moment of the crucifixion, Jesus said “it is completed” that is to say, I have completed everything my Father sent me to do and I have fulfilled every word of the prophets. We must understand that everything that is sublime, pure, and true after Christ we owe to him. That is to say that completeness of thought, artistic and intellectual production, the victory of oppressed humanity, all of it draws its inspiration from the life and words of Jesus. From this angle we hope on this day for a resurrection from personal toil and the fall, and for glimpses of heaven. From the angle of dogma, we have in Easter a promise that we shall rise on the last day. God’s perfection has appeared in Christ. The Savior’s resurrection shows us that Jesus’ call to us is to “be perfect.”
The feast is salvation from every kind of death in our personal life and in the life of those around us and those we serve. It is a continuous event within us unto the end of the age. This is why the Feast of the Resurrection extends from Good Friday until the morning of the feast. If we strongly enter into each of these three days, then we will have celebrated the feast and promised that every day of our life will be an eternal Pascha. Our joy is established in Jesus’ victory, and we do not accept joy on one day and grief on another. “Rejoice also at all times, and again I say rejoice!” This is why if some people say that we suffer with Christ, we do not mean that bodily or psychological pain is better than health. We must accept the sufferings because they brought us life through one kind or another of internal health. If heaven in the end is our victory over sin and death, then we are in it, and if heaven pours out to us in our daily life, then we become a paschal people and at that point we must sing, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death”.
For that reason, it is not true what was once said to me, that “Christianity is a religion of tragedy.” I said to the person who told me this that tragedy, in its Greek sense, means for you to be imprisoned in a locked room. At least we do not have a roof above us. There is nothing above us except for the roof of heaven. We have left all prisons into “the freedom of the sons of God.” This is why one of our recent saints greeted every friend he met saying, “My joy, Christ is risen.”
This is the word that I submit to all who read me between today and tomorrow, until sorrow passes out of existence.