This week is called Bright Week in the Orthodox Church. What’s it all about? Well, very simply, it is about the victory of Jesus’ resurrection and its relevance to our lives today. From now to Pentecost, Orthodox Christians from all over the world are to greet each other with the triumphant words, “Christ is Risen!” To which the other person responds, “Indeed, he is risen!”
In Greek, “Christos anesti,” and “Alithos anesti.” In Arabic, “al-Masīḥ qām!,” the answer to which is, “Ḥaqqan qām!” In this simple greeting, the central truth of the gospel sets the Christian faith apart from all other world religions. Buddha did not rise from the dead. Confucius was a philosopher, and he never planned to rise from the dead. Judaism and Islam have no resurrected Lord, unless the Jews and the Muslims submit to the gospel. Only Christianity makes this stupendous claim. It is the core of the gospel. It is what gave birth to the Christian Church. It is the hope of the hopeless.
When the Orthodox answer the phone, we are not supposed to greet the person with a business-as-usual reply. We are not to say, “Hello.” Rather, when the phone rings, we pick it up and say, “Christ is risen!” We believe it, and are not ashamed to say so.
Today, I would like to take this occasion to answer a very simple, but very central question about the resurrection of Christ. The question is: What abiding truths are there about the risen Lord, and how should we respond to those truths? What do the words, “Christ is risen,” mean? And what should we do about it?
Today, I will answer the first part of this question, namely: What abiding truths are there about the risen Lord? And next week I will share what I think we should do about it. I think we can find at least three timeless truths about the risen Lord, and here they are:
1. Christ is risen, and is forever alive. I do not usually delve into the complexities of the Greek language in my podcast, simply because I do not think people tend to remember such things. Oh, it might sound complicated and impressive to you, but I really don’t think you would benefit much from doing that. But in this case, I am going to part from my usual practice, and draw your attention to one Greek word that is found in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 15. There, he uses the Greek word, egēgero, which means, “I raise.” In verses 1-5 it reads:
Now brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you which you received, on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel, you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. But what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephus, and then to the twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brethren.
In the original Greek language, Paul uses a tense known as the perfect tense in the phrase, “He was raised on the third day.” We cannot say in English that “He has been raised on the third day,” or “He is risen on the third day,” or that “He rose on the third day.” It is a tense that focuses on a past act that has continuing results. In this context, the verb focuses our attention on the present and permanent results of the past fact that he has risen.
So if I may indulge in a paraphrase of this central Greek term and tense, I would translate it, “He was raised on the third day, and is still alive even now.” Paul was as convinced as anyone of the past fact of Christ rising from the dead, but he recognized equally clearly that this stupendous historical event has permanent consequences. Jesus died, but he is no longer on the cross. He was buried, but he is no longer in the grave. He is alive, and will always remains so.
The greeting we all use during this post season of Lent is quite new testamental when we greet each other with the triumphant words, “Christ is risen.” We don’t say, “Christ rose,” or “Christ has risen.” Rather, we triumphantly say, “Christ is risen!” In other words, he rose from the dead, and is alive forevermore.
The second truth we learn about the resurrection of Christ in the New Testament is this: Jesus is the conqueror of death. Christ conquered death by death. Wherever the New Testament speaks of the risen Jesus, he is depicted not only as someone who is alive forever, but also as the triumphant victor over death and the grave. In the book of Revelation, Chapter 1, verses 17 and 18, we read of John’s reaction to the vision of the resurrected Christ. We are told that John fell into a death-like swoon. It says:
When I, John, saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the living one. I was dead, and now, look. I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and of Hades.”
Not only did Jesus surrender his immortality and die on the cross, he rose in a deathless state with supreme authority over the whole realm of the dead. He burst out of the prison of death, carrying the keys of the prison with him. Think of the triumphant icon of Christ standing over the gates of Hades and death, with Adam in one hand and Eve in the other. And then, if you look closely, you will see little keys. Each of the keys is the key of death and Hades for each one of us. Christ conquered death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life, as our liturgy sings.
The third and last point I would like to make about the abiding truths of Christ’s resurrection is this: Christ will be the judge of all persons. St. Paul preached the gospel before the court of the Areopagus in Athens, and when he reached the climax of his speech, he declared:
God has fixed the day on which He will judge the world, with justice, in the person of a man whom he has appointed for this task. He has given everyone assurance of this fact by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:31).
Here we see the unmistakable link between Jesus’ resurrection and his role as judge of all. Jesus is the future judge of the world. Whether they be dead or alive at his appearing, all humankind will be judged. No man or woman will be able to avoid an appearance before Christ. No secrets will remain undisclosed. There will be no jury, and no deliberations, for God, Himself, will be the judge, acting directly through His Son, alone. And you can be sure that whatever verdict the judge gives, it will be fair and impartial.
To summarize today’s talk, I would like to restate the three central truths that we learned from that simple biblical greeting we give to each other between Pascha and Pentecost: “Christ is risen!” These three truths are:
In the words of the Nicene creed, “And He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.”
These biblical truths have enormous relevance to our lives. I would like to draw out their implications for our lives next week in some detail. But for now, let us rejoice over these precious truths that are contained in the simple, but stupendous words, “Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!”
As you say those words this week, rejoice, knowing that Jesus is forever alive. Rejoice, knowing that he conquered death. And rejoice, looking for the second coming, when he will judge the living and the dead.
Christ is risen! Indeed, he is risen!