Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead!

"Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!" -- the Troparion of Pascha, an Orthodox hymn chanted at Easter ("Pascha")

As I've been reading the Gospel of John, I see a God who is personally and intimately involved in bringing men and women out of death and into life. This makes me think of the ancient Christian Anastasis (Resurrection) icons, which depict the victorious Christ overcoming death and raising Adam (and sometimes Eve) from Hades. While there are four main thematic variants of the Anastasis, each designed to emphasize different features about the Resurrection, the most famous rendition looks like this:

I love this image because it shows Jesus victorious in splendor, mighty to save: "But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him" (Acts 2:24). Technically Jesus is enveloped in a dazzling white mandorla, which depicts his deity.

Jesus is standing victorious over Death, having broken down the gates of Hades to build his church (Matthew 16:18). He has "bound the strong man" (usually Hades personified, but also Satan in Western icons) and is now able to plunder the grave (Matthew 12:29; Isaiah 53:12; Jude 1:6). Jesus has loosed the cords of Sheol and rendered its chains asunder, shattering them to bits below (Psalms 18:4, 5; 107:14; 116:3).

Best of all--what most touches my heart--is that a dynamic Jesus is taking Adam and Eve each by the hand and lifting them out of the grave and upward toward himself. He is personally and intimately involved in their salvation. (This particular rendition implies lifting them into the life of the Trinity.) "As recorded in John 5:24-30 Jesus teaches that it is his voice which will call the dead to life. "I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and live. . . . Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned" (vv. 25, 28-29). Jesus is teaching that one day in the future, all who are physically dead will be called by him to rise; but today Jesus calls to the spiritually dead, and those who hear his voice and come to him for life are not only quickened spiritually, but also will rise to life everlasting and not be condemned.

"My Father's will," Jesus teaches, "is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (6:40). There will be no generic resurrection in which the dead simply "rise up." Crossing over from death to life (5:24) is never a merely mechanistic consequence of some predetermined plan of God. Rather, our Savior himself comes today to speak into out hearts his call to life: "Come to me, Andrew, that you may have life!" (5:40; Matthew 11:28). And one day, even as he has done already, so he will complete the work he came for, crying, "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead!" (Ephesians 5:14). He will reach his hand deep into the grave to rescue my body from death, just as he once did for my spirit.

I imagine that when we hear Jesus' voice it will be as the edict of a great and magnanimous king, knighting his valorous, faithful servant and bestowing upon him a crown. "Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21). The whole world will be hushed in awe. Perhaps he will have a different call, different words for each one of us: "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" (Mark 5:41; note here that Jesus took her by the hand as he called her back to life). "Lazarus, come out!" (John 11:43). And for those who rise to be condemned for their self-love, evil deeds, and lack of faith--well, I cannot imagine what terror and shame the King's decree will bequeath upon them.

The King, He comes to claim His own,
To raise His fallen, flesh and bone.
The blood they’ve spilled is not for naught:
His blood their resurrection bought.
--from "The Kingdom Comes" by Ryan Tinetti

1 comment:

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good words, Andrew. Amen!