As a child, I knew that there was something different about Easter: everyone wore white, flowers abounded, and trumpets accompanied the organ during the singing of "Crown Him With Many Crowns." But I never "got it." But now, when I read the story beginning with that subtly revealing opening line,"And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun [Son? Light of the world?] had risen . . ." I can't help but getting this tingling, indescribable feeling of wonder.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the painting of the Anastasis inside the Church of St. Savior in Chora in Istanbul is my favorite painting of all time. As in all Anastasis depictions, the Christ stands victorious atop the broken gates of hell (known sometimes as the "Doors of Death"), barring the way for his saints and blocking its powers--do you see Satan bound beneath?-- as he by hand personally lifts Adam and Eve from the grave into life and joy everlasting. At a local Easter celebration last night, the pastor spoke about us hopelessly stuck at the bottom of a deep chasm. Try as we might, we are never able to climb out on our own. But Jesus, the "pioneer [archegos*] of salvation," is the One who by God's power climbed out of the pit, reaching out and towing us along with him out of the danger into sure deliverance, "leading many sons to glory" (Hebrews 2:10).
"On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever." (Isaiah 25:7-8)
The great church father and one-time Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul!) John Chrysostom once preached about the Anastasis, the defeat of Death and the Devil by the Lord Jesus. Though 1,600 years old, this sermon is still preached in Orthodox churches at Easter. May it be a hymn of praise to our Savior and our song of triumph.
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 him 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 him not hesitate; but let him 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!
*According to J. Julius Scott, the Greek term archegos encompasses a wide variety of images, but it generally means someone who pioneers a new path for others to follow (trailblazer, pioneer), conquers a city or land (victor, hero, founder), and oversees his people's life in the new city to ensure their safe and prosperous life (prince, leader).