Today, with great joy, we gather to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Our Lenten fasting has ended and we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, even as the earth pours out its beauty in the flowers of spring. But what does it really mean to celebrate the resurrection today? What meaning can this feast have for us in this world we live in? Many people have claimed that religion is but an opium, a drug, to help us escape from “reality.” What connection does today’s celebration have with tomorrow? What meaning does today have in the face of what we see on the evening news? In our world we see war and suffering, violence and death, people consumed with their own prosperity and blind to the needs of others. Is today anything more than a momentary respite, a break before we return to what is “normal”?
To answer these questions, we must take a close look at what we think of as “reality” and what is “normal.” We live in a sinful, fallen, broken world — so yes, of course we will be surrounded by selfishness, suffering, and death. This is an inevitable state as man has turned away from God. All sin, in some way, is based in a failure to love – a failure to love rightly – failure to love God – failure to love our neighbor – failure to rightly love ourselves. To love God means that we wish to be with Him and to walk in His ways, to be like God, to join our wills to His will. To love our neighbor means that we desire and work for the highest good for all people, not selfishly seeking our own prosperity to the detriment of others. To rightly love ourselves means that we are good stewards of the life that God has given us, and that we will seek the healing and growth that come from drawing closer to God. We have turned from God and therefore we have turned from life — this, this fall of humanity is the greatest tragedy of all, and all pain, sickness, and grief have inevitably followed. Only one thing could undo what our failure to love has done, only one thing could fix what we have broken, and that is love, but not just any love, but love which the Song of Songs calls “love stronger than death.”
It was too great a thing for us to do. We had fallen so far that we could not climb back up. And so God, God who has made us in His own good and loving and beautiful image, despite all of our rebellion, despite our wickedness, God did not wish that His creation should perish; He did not take pleasure in our destruction, instead He desired that all should be saved and come to know the truth. God in His great love, became a man, to be with us, to teach us, to show us how to live, to restore the lost communion between God and man. In the life of Jesus Christ, we have an example of how we should be, an example that we are free to accept or reject, for real love is freely offered and never forced. This example, this presence of God with us, was a great gift, a blessing beyond measure, but in the heart of God, it was still not enough.
One enemy remained, the power that the devil held over us, the power of death. Some of the Fathers of the Church had a saying “what is not assumed cannot be saved,” meaning that for God to save human nature, He had to take it upon Himself, for God to save the Human will, the human and the divine had to both be present in Christ. In His Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul says, that Christ “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Christ took the lowest part of human nature on Himself; He entered into suffering and death — into our suffering and death. He emptied Himself, gave completely of Himself, so that His self-sacrifice could overcome our selfishness — His obedience could overcome our disobedience — that love could overcome death.
The Cross shows us both the depths of man’s depravity and the height of God’s love — and here we begin to see what meaning the events of this Holy Week has for our day to day lives. God has entered fully into our lives, He has entered into human pain and suffering, He knows and He understands. God with us — this is the joyful news of Bethlehem and it is the news of comfort from the Cross — from birth to death, God is with us. He is with us in times of joy and times of sorrow, when things are difficult, tiresome, or painful, in our happiness and even in the mundane: Christ says to us, “lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” — which means forever.
He is with us in life. He is with us in death, having entered into our death. And He offers us life with Him for all eternity. I have heard some people say, “well of course God could raise His own Son from the dead, but what meaning does that have for my life?” Look at the icon of the Resurrection, in which we see the harrowing of hell. After Christ died on the Cross, He did not rest. Entering into our death, He came to the very gates of Hell, and there, bursting the gates and breaking every chain, He set free the souls of the departed, beginning with Adam and Eve. Life triumphs over death. St. Matthew tells us that after Christ died on the Cross, there was an earthquake and the veil of the temple was torn in two, signifying that the barrier between God and man had been destroyed, and that “tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” The Resurrection is not for Christ only, but for all who would follow Him, for all who wish to live with God, for all who love God.
The events of this Holy Week have shown us reality, true reality – we have been shown ourselves, and we have seen God. Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life! God is with us and He wishes to share His life with us. Let us turn from selfishness, let us turn from self-centeredness, let us turn to God for healing and for strength. Let us come to God’s altar to receive that blessed Presence that will sustain us today, tomorrow, and forever. Let us go forth from this place, knowing the saving truth, knowing that despite all the world and the devil may do, that God has conquered. Let us go forth and share this good news and live according to this reality.