Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It seems to me that today, it has become quite popular to explain away some of the central tenets of our faith that defy an easy explanation. I’m told that now some biblical scholars are even saying that Judas was not a real person, but a “literary figure” placed into the passion narrative by the gospel writers to make a theological statement.
There is, I guess, now just a very small step left to take and say that Jesus did not exist and he did not really rise from the dead, if he was placed on the cross at all. In an earlier time these ideas would have been decried as heresy, and those spreading them be subject to all sorts of prohibitions. And before anyone get any ideas, no I’m most certainly not advocating a return to the inquisition.
Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we say in similar words to these, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will return. Christianity is after all the only faith which claims its founder returned from the dead. But why is Jesus rising so important to the faith?
St Paul writing to the Corinthians said:
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. NRSV
Around 400 AD St John Chrysostom preached an Easter homily. The homily has survived and is often used at Easter in Orthodox churches. It is an inspiring statement of our faith.
In part St John says:
“Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness! Let no one grieve at their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that they have
fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the
grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.”
Both the saints are pointing us to the consequences of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s not just that he was raised, but his resurrection had a profound impact on all of creation.
Orthodox icons called the “Harrowing of Hell”, show Jesus defeating death and rescuing Adam and Eve, and others from hell. It’s a rich theological image, one which highlights the resurrection as an integral, albeit mysterious, part of the faith.
When talking about Jesus entering Hell in his Easter homily, St John also said:
“Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see. O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?”
I have long believed that our faith, at its core, is a mystery. We should rejoice in this mystery. We should resist any attempt to be frightened by what we fail to grasp, what we do not understand or what we can’t explain. To dismiss, marginalise, explain away, or otherwise ignore gospel passages which are difficult, or make us uncomfortable will render our faith futile and as St Paul cautions, we will have lived it in vain.
But we who describe ourselves as Christians know that we are not living in vain. So in these difficult times, be strong. Simply proclaim the mystery of our faith. And then celebrate and take joy and strength from Christ’s life, his resurrection and proclaim in your lives his message of love, compassion and forgiveness.
I pray you and your families have a holy and blessed Easter.
Br Luke efo
Winmalee, Easter Day 2015