Christ is risen! This is the day for which we’ve been waiting these long Lenten weeks. We have been fasting and praying and lamenting, thinking so much–many of us would say far too much–about our sin and suffering and death. We entered into Lent with a certain somber joy, but that often lapsed into boredom or depression or at least the desire to say the word “Alleluia.” Well now we can say it: Alleluia! Christ is risen! The night is over, and a new day has dawned. Salvation has come. As Isaiah the prophet said, “It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (25:9)
No one expected the resurrection of Jesus. That’s not to say that resurrection was a new idea. Jews expected and believed in a final resurrection, but it was a general resurrection, a resurrection of all at the last day. The idea that one person would be resurrected in the middle of history was simply unthinkable and, therefore, unthought of. Resurrection belongs to the end of things, not the middle, and it concerns all people, not just one particular person. But here’s the marvelous thing: God has brought the end into the middle; he has carved his glorious future into the present by raising Jesus from the dead. Christ’s resurrection represents the beginning of the fruitful harvest of salvation, which is why he can tell Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life!” Jesus’ resurrection is both the beginning and the pattern of our resurrection, of the Father’s final raising of us to new life in Christ in the power of his life-giving Spirit. Alleluia! Christ is risen!
There’s another reason no one expected Jesus to be raised from the dead. It’s because the whole idea of a resurrection is crazy. It is an impossible, unimaginable miracle, a creating new life out of nothing, something just as new as God’s creating the world out of nothing. There’s no potential in a dead body. Only by the miraculous power of God does that body receive new life. And so, as Marguerite Shuster puts it, “the resurrection lifts the world and all our preconceptions of the possible off their hinges.” The resurrection of Jesus is an impossible thing which can only be embraced as the answer to all our questions. So amazing is this wonderful miracle that, as Karl Barth writes, “Our reason pants for breath when it attempts to follow what the Scriptures say.” Alleluia! Christ is risen!
A crucified Jesus alone is a stirring image of self-sacrificial love, maybe something that would inspire many. But when the crucified one is raised from the dead, we see the death of death, the stripping of sin’s power. All of a sudden, the rest makes beautiful sense. By entering in to the depths of human misery and the consequences of sin–that is, by willingly going to his own death–Jesus defeated the very death which seemed to have beaten him. Death was not big enough to hold him. He burst its bonds. In fact, in his death, Christ swallowed up death forever. It was entirely fitting that God would save us by taking on himself the horrible consequences of our sinning, by dying a shameful, humiliating death. This death was not meaningless, was not contrary to God’s goodness and his love, something we see when the Father stamps his approval on the Son by vindicating him, by raising him from the dead to new life and a place of glorious exaltation at the Father’s right hand.
All that is left now is for us to rejoice, to live in freedom, in gratitude, and in worship of the one who raised Jesus from the dead, the one who will raise us on that last day to new life, the one who will wipe away all our tears and take away the disgrace of his people from the earth. Listen to these words from an Easter sermon by St. John Chrysostom:
Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let her with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let her not hesitate; but let her come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. 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 his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaiah foretold this when he said, “You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. 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?
Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen.