Tag Archives: The Resurrection

Heralds and singers all day long.

On the church calendar, we are still in Pentecost, that 50-day period between Easter/Pascha and Pentecost. We even take note of Mid-Pentecost, which was last week.

Of course, it’s never inappropriate to remind one another that “Christ is risen!” but during these weeks we make a special point of it and try to remember, instead of “Hello!” to greet one another with those words of joy and hope. For truly His resurrection from the dead, His overcoming of death, shows the power of God to deliver us from our own patches of darkness, no matter how impossibly deep and cold the current “grave” we find ourselves in.

Last night a robin came around to chirp the falling of dusk to me, “my” robin who always seems to be sent as an emissary from the Father – or more precisely, a herald: Gretchen, remember, God is here with you! I forgot to tell you that in my hotel in Atlanta earlier this month, the night when I was staying alone, a robin chirped right outside my ground-floor window just before darkness and a rainstorm.

This morning I woke to birdsong floating in from the garden and the trees. As I made my bed I joined in with them and sang a meditative version of the hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life.”

Next week will be the Leave-taking of Pascha, after which we will focus on the Ascension of Christ. At Vespers the evening before, we will sing all those rousing Paschal choruses for the last time liturgically. I know the little sorrows and worries, confusing thoughts and maybe even some big heartaches won’t disappear from my earthly life, and I will want to keep singing these re-orienting melodies of Christ’s transforming Life.

I’m counting on the birds to be my helpers.

It is because He wept.

LAZARUS SATURDAY

“It stinketh,” say the Jews trying to prevent Jesus from approaching the corpse, and this awful warning applies to the whole world, to all life. God is Life and the Giver of Life. He called man into the Divine reality of Life and behold “it stinketh”…The world was created to reflect and proclaim the glory of God and “it stinketh.”

At the grave of Lazarus God encounters Death, the reality of anti-life, of destruction and despair. He meets His Enemy, who has taken away from Him His World and become its prince. And we who follow Jesus, as He approaches the grave, enter with Him into that hour of His, which He announced so often as the climax and the fulfillment of his whole work. The Cross, its necessity and universal meaning are announced in the shortest verse of the Gospel: “and Jesus wept” …We understand now that it is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus, that Jesus had the power of calling him back to life.

The power of Resurrection is not a Divine “power in itself,” but power of love, or rather love as power. God is Love and Love is Life, Love creates Life…It is Love that weeps at the grave and it is Love that restores life. This is the meaning of the Divine tears of Jesus. In them love is at work again—recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: “Lazarus, come forth!…” And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the beginning of both: the Cross, as the Supreme sacrifice of love, the Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love.

-Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Icon from Sinai, 12th century

The entire faith and love and hope.

My whole church is bereaved, because one of our strong young men, the only son of his parents, grown up for 35 years in the parish, suddenly sickened and died. It happened so fast, it seems unreal to us. This morning I attended a prayer service in advance of the funeral proper.

One of the lines that is repeated in song is, “Blessed art Thou, O Lord; teach me Thy statutes,” and I mused on what God might be teaching me right now. Certainly, we should all “number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” But I don’t want to forget something else that our rector reminded us of, at the end of the service, that even in our grief we have joy, knowing that Christ has overcome death — that’s why we could pray that our brother will be granted rest “with the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”

Every time there is another death or funeral, my own soul’s griefs are awakened, acknowledged and comforted. And our pastor also kindly included in our church bulletin today an encouraging passage (an excerpt from this article) from Father Alexander Schmemann. He starts out explaining why death must be understood as an evil enemy. But keep reading:

God created man with a body and soul, i.e. at once both spiritual and material, and it is precisely this union of spirit, soul and body that is called man in the Bible and in the Gospel. Man, as created by God, is an animate body and an incarnate spirit, and for that reason any separation of them, and not only the final separation, in death, but even before death, any violation of that union is evil. It is a spiritual catastrophe. From this we receive our belief in the salvation of the world through the incarnate God, i.e. again, above all, our belief in His acceptance of flesh and body, not “body-like,” but a body in the fullest sense of the word: a body that needs food, that tires and that suffers. Thus that which in the Scriptures is called life, that life, which above all consists of the human body animated by the spirit and of the spirit made flesh, comes to an end — at death — in the separation of soul and body. No, man does not disappear in death, for creation may not destroy that which God has called from nothingness into being. But man is plunged into death, into the darkness of lifelessness and debility. He, as the Apostle Paul says, is given over to destruction and ruin.

Here, I would once more like to repeat and emphasize that God did not create the world for this separation, dying, ruin and corruption. And for this reason the Christian Gospel proclaims that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The Resurrection is the recreation of the world in its original beauty and totality. It is the complete spiritualization of matter and the complete incarnation of the spirit in God’s creation. The world has been given to man as his life, and for this reason, according to our Christian Orthodox teaching, God will not annihilate it but will transfigure it into “a new heaven and a new earth,” into man’s spiritual body, into the temple of God’s presence and God’s glory in creation.

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death…” And that destruction, that extermination of death began when the Son of God Himself in His immortal love for us voluntarily descended into death and its darkness, filling its despair and horror with His light and love. And this is why we sing on Pascha not only “Christ is risen from the dead,” but also “trampling down death by death…”

He alone arose from the dead, but He has destroyed our death, destroying its dominion, its despair, its finality. Christ does not promise us Nirvana or some sort of misty life beyond the grave, but the resurrection of life, a new heaven and a new earth, the joy of the universal resurrection. “The dead shall arise, and those in the tombs will sing for joy…” Christ is risen, and life abides, life lives… That is the meaning; that is the unending joy of this truly central and fundamental confirmation of the Symbol of Faith: “And the third day, He rose again according to the Scriptures.” According to the Scriptures, i.e. in accordance with that knowledge of life, with that design for the world and humanity, for the soul and body, for the spirit and matter, for life and death, which has been revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures. This is the entire faith, the entire love, and the entire hope of Christianity. And this is why the Apostle Paul says, “If Christ is not risen, then your faith is in vain.”

–Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, 1980,
Translated from Russian by Robert A. Parent

harrowing of hell wide

In this case, He truly wasn’t there.

The second Sunday after Pascha we remember the myrrhbearers, the women who came early in the morning to Christ’s tomb to anoint his body. This article from our parish bulletin gave me great joy, as did the excursion I made with some others from church to several cemeteries this week, where we proclaimed Christ’s Resurrection to those in the graves. Our rector told us that we were also myrrhbearers that day, and he reminded us, “This is not a place of rotting and decomposed bodies, but a place of awaiting the Resurrection; what could be more joyful than that?”

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…The women came to anoint a body, a body that had ALREADY been anointed. What a strange thing to do. After all, as virtually every American mother assures her child the first time that he or she attends a funeral, the loved one isn’t THERE! Only his body! If the seven myrrh-bearing women were to have heard our 21st century dismissal of the human body, they would have been astonished. Perhaps they would have assumed that we are pagans, like the philosophers who declared soma sema — “the body is a tomb” — and who cremated their dead to allow the soul to escape that prison. But this was not the philosophy of our beloved myrrh-bearers. Mary Magdalene, when she saw the empty tomb, declared in grief, “They have taken away the LORD” and then asked, “Where have they taken him?” She didn’t ask, “Where have they taken his body?” In her mind, and to the mind of the Jewish faithful (except for the confused Sadducees!), a person was embodied: they looked for not mere spiritual continuation after death, but for the reunion of soul with body, a resurrection! And so do we as Christians! “I look for the resurrection of the dead.” Physical things matter to God….

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Anointing his body, then, was not such a bizarre thing to do. For this holy Tabernacle of God, this Prophet of prophets, this High Priest forever, this King of Kings, is worthy of every anointing honor that we can give him—though He has no NEED of our praise! In fact, it is He who anoints us with the Holy Spirit. But there is something for which He is looking—our faith. This ending of Mark summarizes for us many of the stories that are told in more detail in the other gospels. Briefly we hear about the women’s astonishment, and the  refusal of the apostles to believe, the surprise on the road to Emmaus, the disbelief in the upper room, and how Jesus “upbraided them” because of their disbelief. The One who struggled in the Garden with his chosen path knows what it is to be weak—though He himself was never faithless. And so, He calls to us, as he did to the early disciples, telling us not to be faithless but believing.

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simple barley koliva

The evidences of what He has done and is doing are everywhere around us and among us. Like the early disciples, we have confirmed before our very eyes the truth of His word. Anointed by the Spirit on Pentecost, they went out with the message, and braved many dangers, even death! As the last verse of Mark tells us, “…they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.” (Mark 16:20)

We too, God’s little anointed ones, are led by the Spirit, as St. Paul puts it; that leading may take us places we would rather not go. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:14-18)

–Excerpt from article by Edith Humphreys, Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Myrrhbearing women at the tomb
Myrrhbearing women at the tomb