Sunday, April 16, 2006

Christ is Risen!

I’d like to go back in time—either 2000 years or a week, whichever you prefer—either to the raising of Lazarus or the liturgical celebration of it last week. At that point Martha was trying to go forward in time, to the final resurrection, when speaking with Jesus about her dead brother.

“I know he will rise,” she said, “in the resurrection on the last day.” What Jesus said next just blew her away: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Don’t just dream of a distant Paradise. Where Christ is, there is the presence and power of resurrection. He is saying that to us today as well, for that is what we are celebrating. He proved that He is the Resurrection, not only by raising others to life but by raising Himself to the life of glory that will never die. And He asks us to believe and to follow. He told Martha: “whoever believes in Me, though He die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Immediately one might object: but even believers obviously die. But He didn’t actually say they shall never die. It’s just a bad translation. The Greek literally says, “will not die forever.” We will not die what Scripture calls the “second death,” the eternal separation from God, who is the source of life.

In any case, from the Christian perspective, death is not the thing to fear; sin is. For death is the means by which we enter into a permanent and complete union with the living God. Sin prevents that union, and if one dies without repenting of one’s sins, then sin turns death into everlasting exclusion from happiness and divine communion. But when our sins are forgiven, we accept with peace and trust the passage from this life to the next. It will be like Adam when he first opened his eyes in Paradise.

Christ is the resurrection and the life. The resurrection in all its fullness and glory will only be manifested at the end, but the life is for now. His life begins in us now. The power of his resurrection is what enables us to live this present life well—as we prepare for the life of glory and joy that awaits those who believe in Him and love Him.

The most powerful way for us to receive Christ the Life is through the Holy Eucharist. This is union with the risen Lord, viaticum for eternity. We are fed daily with life, as we prepare for the everlasting Kingdom. St Paul says that we do not lose heart, even though our outer selves are wasting away, for our inner selves are being renewed each day; we look to that which is unseen, eternal, not to the passing attractions of the present life. So we focus on the inner renewal by filling our souls with life through Holy Communion. The fathers have called it the “antidote to death,” and this has the same force of Jesus’ words: He who believes in Me will not die forever. For we have the antidote: His very life within us! As we receive the Body and Blood of the risen Christ, we are, as it were, acclimating ourselves to the life of heaven, we are putting on the wedding garment required for entry into the eternal banquet, we are marking ourselves with the Blood of the Lamb of God who takes away sin, as the Hebrews marked their dwellings with the blood of the Passover lamb—the destroying angel will not touch us, but the Son of God, who promised not to leave us orphans, will come and rescue us that we may share eternal life with Him.

Jesus has made us a pledge concerning the Eucharist: He has said not only that those who receive Him thus will abide in Him and He in them, but most importantly for our celebration today, He promised that He would raise them up on the last day. The power of resurrection is hidden within the Holy Eucharist. So Martha was right about Lazarus being raised on the last day, but she didn’t know that being raised on the last day depended upon Jesus living within us today!

In the Prologue of the Gospel of John that is read at the Divine Liturgy today, we hear that grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. These correspond to the covenant love and fidelity by which God is characterized in the Old Testament. All of Christ’s words and promises are vindicated in his resurrection. The disciples declared it. When the two ran back from Emmaus to share their experience of the risen Lord, they were greeting with: It is true! He is risen and has appeared to Simon!

This is the message the Church has for the world today: It’s all true! Grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ, for He is risen from the dead! All his promises shall come to pass, for He left the grave alive and shall never die again! He who brings the dead to life abides in us and we in Him, and He will raise us up on the last day!

We know that Christ is risen. But, having entered into the mystery of his passion these past few days, we know that He did in fact have to experience death. And we will die. Yet He arose, and we will rise. Because He lives, we shall “not die forever” but will live with Him in the glory of his kingdom with all the angels and saints. Death does not have the last word, for Christ is risen!