Christ is risen!
We are at the great Feast itself. This is the point when all our hopes are caught up in exaltation. Now we can say Christ is risen!
Why is this Feast so great? It is because the resurrection was a real event. Christ rose from the tomb on a particular day, having been killed by professional executioners. Christ had a real death and a real resurrection. The resurrection was part God’s great plan of salvation. It is central to our faith.
We cannot isolate any event in the dispensation of Christ that could be said to save us irrespective of the rest. Everything He said and did forms a seamless whole. The conception, the nativity, the teachings, the passion, the resurrection, the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit are all part of one story. All our experience is shared with Christ. He faced hunger, cold, danger and death itself. This was a great humbling of Himself, an act of love without equal.
Whilst salvation is one story, let us consider three particular aspects to the plan that are closely connected. The first is the ending of separation between God and Mankind by reason of a broken relationship, the next is the removal of sin through Christ’s sacrifice and there is the defeat of death itself.
The alienation between God and mankind was healed by Christ’s incarnation: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14). We are part of creation. However, by taking on our human nature Christ transformed it. Christ is eternally the same. In uniting Himself to us Christ transforms humanity: “God became man so that man might become a god.” (St. Athanasius - On the Incarnation). Christ makes possible a union with God in which we may experience and participate in His energies, achieving theosis, deification. He calls us to participate in love and power which are stronger than death.
Our salvation also means redemption from sin. The Orthodox Church accepts that there is a mystery involved here, yet we still know that the suffering and death of Christ were for our salvation. To quote the First letter of St Peter, which refers back to the Prophet Isaiah: “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted himself to Him who judges justly. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by His wounds you have been healed’.” (1 Peter2:23).
Christ sacrificed himself for us. There is a theme in Scripture that the offering of blood is needed for forgiveness. Thus the Letter to the Hebrews points out that Moses sprinkled the people and the scrolls with blood and said: “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” (Hebrews 9:20, quoting Exodus 24:8). The same chapter also points out that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”(Hebrews9:22). The blood of the Old Covenant was from sacrificial animals; the blood of the New Covenant is that of Christ Himself. By His voluntary death and suffering He is the great priest, and also the perfect sinless sacrificial Victim. “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many.” (Hebrews 9:28). That epistle goes on to say He enters Heaven itself as our Priest before the Father. Ascended and glorified He sends the Holy Spirit from the Father to guide and empower us.
Christ shares our human nature. He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins and there is more that follows from that. Death is defeated. Death is the result of sin. As St Paul put it: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23). St Paul writes elsewhere: “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”(Romans 8:2).
Thus the cause of death and death itself are defeated by Christ. Death is, effectively, sin made physical; In contrast to this, Christ is life and love made flesh. Death cannot hold life. It feeds on sin but cannot hold the Sinless One. Christ has done away with our sins. Hades was despoiled. As St John Chrysostom put it in his Paschal Homily: “It took a body and encountered God.” Thus we have the revolutionary news of His resurrection. This was prophesied by Christ Himself and also in the Old Testament. Thus the suffering servant passage in the book of Isaiah includes “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life] and be satisfied…For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11f).
New life is now offered to all of us. The resurrection shows God’s power and gives hope for all. Christ is: “the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29). He is the first of the new order of creation, where death is powerless and so is the devil. Hades could not contain the author of life.
For us the conclusion of this matter lies in the future, we still live in a fallen world. So it is that St Paul wrote in the future tense: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’.” (1 Corinthians 15:53). However, in the present we are also filled with the life of Christ, and we shall rise again. We need not fear death.
How do we respond then to the glorious truth of the resurrection? In the words of St. Gregory the Theologian, by becoming like Christ according to the power of the Holy Spirit within us. This indeed is salvation, deification, to become a “little Christ.”
“Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God’s for His sake, since He for our sake became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we, through His poverty, might be rich. He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. (St Gregory the Theologian’s First Paschal Homily)
CHRIST IS RISEN!
To Him be glory now and ever and to the ages of ages.