Eastertide 2024: An Ancient Commentator Muses on the Eucharist and Resurrection

If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body. There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance, and this the Word of God actually became: it was with his own blood that he redeemed us. As the Apostle says: “In him, through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.”

We are his members and we are nourished by creation, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall, He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood. He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body. When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow. How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord’s own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God’s gift of eternal life? Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that “we are members of his body,” of his flesh and bones. He is not speaking of some spiritual and incorporeal kind of person, “for spirits do not have flesh and bones.” He is speaking of a real human body composed of flesh, sinews and bones, nourished by the chalice of Christ’s blood and receiving growth from the bread which is his body.

The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things. The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of human beings and when they receive God’s word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God’s power is shown most perfectly in weakness.

Against Heresies 5, 2, 2-3: SC 153, 30-38

Saint Irenaeus, a late second-century Christian commentator and apologist, was bishop of Lyons and a spiritual grandson of the Apostles, having studied under Polycarp who in turn had studied under the Apostle John, one of the original twelve Apostles of Christ. So we can have great confidence that he received the real teachings of the Lord. Here he speaks of the relationship between Holy Eucharist and the Resurrection of the body that Christ’s Resurrection signals.

Resurrection, as Saint Irenaeus reminds us, is about new bodily existence, not living forever as a spirit without a body. His logic above is straightforward: The Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ after it has been consecrated, signals a new created order in which our mortal bodies are raised from the dead and reanimated by the Holy Spirit to live forever in God’s direct presence (1 Corinthians 15.35-50; Revelation 21.1-7). If the Eucharist consists of created elements (bread and wine) that are Christ’s body and blood after they are consecrated, it makes no sense that they would point to a state of existence (eternal life) that is spiritual rather than physical in nature. Just as consecrated bread and wine signal a new creation, Resurrection signals a new created order, one that is entirely consistent with God’s original good intentions for his creation. We get to live in that new order only by having a relationship with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus because only Christ’s Death can cleanse us of the sin and filth that prevent us from living in the Presence of a Holy God. Every time we come to Christ’s Holy Table to feed on his body and blood, we are strengthened in our living relationship with Christ and reminded of our glorious future because of his great love and sacrifice for us. What could possibly be better and more hopeful?

If you are a Christian, the next time you are beaten down by the news and events of today (they are legion) and start to lose hope, do as Saint Irenaeus and countless other Christians have done: Remember what Christ has done for you in his saving Death and the future awaiting you that his Resurrection proclaims. If you are not a Christian, consider how much better this hope and future is than the one of your own making, and choose to follow Christ.

Listen and understand if you have ears to hear.

Eastertide 2024: A Letter to Diognetus—The Christian in the World

Christians are indistinguishable from others either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of human beings. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them [to the elements to die]. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

Christians love all people, but all people persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the lofty and divinely appointed function of Christians, from which they are not permitted to excuse themselves.

Chapters 5-6: Funk 1, 397-401

This remains as true today as it did in the early 2nd-century. Listen if you have ears to hear.

Eastertide 2024: Dr. Ben Witherington: Will Our Heavenly Bodies be Immaterial?

A very good lesson on the Resurrection—specifically what Saint Paul meant by “spiritual bodies” (1 Corinthians 15.44)—and quite appropriate for Eastertide since the Resurrection is all about new bodies! By all means be refreshed and strengthened by your Resurrection hope, but by all means also know what that hope really is all about!

Reflections on Christ from a Second-Century Church Father for Monday of the Octave of Easter 2024

The Lord, though he was God, became man. He suffered for the sake of those who suffer, he was bound for those in bonds, condemned for the guilty, buried for those who lie in the grave; but he rose from the dead, and cried aloud: Who will contend with me? Let him confront me. I have freed the condemned, brought the dead back to life, raised men from their graves. Who has anything to say against me? I, he said, am the Christ; I have destroyed death, triumphed over the enemy, trampled hell underfoot, bound the strong one, and taken men up to the heights of heaven: I am the Christ.

Come, then, all you nations of men, receive forgiveness for the sins that defile you. I am your forgiveness. I am the Passover that brings salvation. I am the lamb who was immolated for you. I am your ransom, your life, your resurrection, your light; I am your salvation and your king. I will bring you to the heights of heaven. With my own right hand I will raise you up, and I will show you the eternal Father.

—Melito of Sardis, bishop (ca 180), Easter Homily

Eastertide 2024: N.T. Wright: Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

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Wonderful stuff. The video is over an hour but you don’t have over an hour to watch it. Do yourself a favor and watch it anyway.

And if you are the reading type rather than the viewing type, pick up Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, and read chapter 4 because it essentially contains the contents of this lecture.

Easter 2024: From the Sermon Archives: Our Easter Hope: We Need it Now More than Ever

Sermon originally preached on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021.

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.34-43; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; St. John 20.1-18.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Today we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sadly there is a lot of muddled thinking about the Resurrection and I blame the Church primarily for that because it capitulated to the forces of secularization and so-called “enlightened” thinking, thinking that dismisses Christ’s resurrection as made-up fantasy. To put it bluntly, the Church for the most part, at least in the West, has lost her bold voice and failed to proclaim and live out her resurrection hope, and we suffer because of it. We can’t expect the people of God to proclaim and live their Easter Faith if Holy Mother Church doesn’t teach them what that faith is and what it is supposed to look like! So this morning I want us to look at exactly what the first Christians proclaimed when they proclaimed Christ’s Resurrection. Why? Because without the Spirit-filled power of an informed and robust Easter Faith, given the crazy state of our world today and the patients who are trying to run the asylum, we as Christians will inevitably succumb to the destructive Zeitgeist of this age and in doing so bring harm to ourselves and dishonor the Name of the One we profess to follow.

On Friday we looked at what was so “good” about Good Friday and saw that the cross of Christ is a tangible sign of God’s great love for us and his desire to offer us forgiveness, irrespective of who we are or what we have done or failed to do, thereby establishing the necessary conditions for our reconciliation with God, a message echoed in today’s reading from Acts. This is quite necessary if we ever hope to find real healing and peace. Without the healing and forgiveness of Christ found only in having faith in him, no matter how imperfect that faith, it is impossible to be a faithful disciple of Jesus where we can love and serve him in joyful obedience, even in the face of the suffering we must inevitably endure for his sake. Simply put, we cannot love and serve Christ and others if we are distracted by our guilt, failure, and fears. And so forgiveness is absolutely essential for anyone who wants to be a a follower of Christ and the cross is God’s everlasting promise to us that we have that forgiveness. How do I know this is true? How can you know this is true so that you can stake your very life on it? Is it because I’m a smart guy? Well yes I am (good looking too), but that’s not why I know it’s true. We all can have great confidence that this is true because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead! Without the Resurrection, we never would have heard the name of Jesus let alone worship him, and without the cross, the Resurrection would not be possible because we would still be dead in our sins, alienated and hostile to God the Father, and deprived of any real hope. Simply put, the new heavens and earth will not be open to those who are still sin-stained. More about that anon. As St. Paul took pains to remind us in our epistle lesson, Christ’s death and resurrection were historical events, the crucified and risen Christ being witnessed and experienced by hundreds of people, and with it the turning point of history had arrived, the very essence of NEWS, Good News. The old order was done for; God’s new order had arrived, and with it God’s healing love and forgiveness. So the first thing we need to say about Christ’s Resurrection is that it is an historical event inextricably tied to his saving death on the cross. This is critical for a vibrant Easter Faith.

Second, and equally crucial for us to have a meaningful Easter Faith is to have a clear understanding of what resurrection means. When the NT writers and early Church proclaimed Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, they didn’t mean that Jesus had gone to heaven to be with God. It didn’t mean that Jesus was somehow available to them in a new spiritual way so that they could commune with him. That’s an ancient gnostic heresy that is still the darling of many today, including sadly many Christians. In both instances, our Lord would still have been dead and gone, his body presumably moldering somewhere, but certainly still a corpse. This focus on spirituality and life after death is emphatically not what the NT writers meant when they proclaimed Christ was raised from the dead. If Christ was merely available to his first followers in some mystical or spiritual sense, what difference would that really have made to them? Think about it. When our own beloved die, we might draw some comfort and solace if we think there really is life after death. But the fact is, they’re still dead. We can’t see them, touch them, talk with them, hear them, smell them, or interact with them in any meaningful way. Neither does our hope that our dead loved ones somehow survive after their mortal death generally have the power to change our lives much. We must adjust to life without them, and if we had any meaningful relationship with them in this mortal life, our lives going forward are always poorer because they are no longer available to us as they were in this mortal life. No, if Christ’s Resurrection was simply about a new kind of spirituality, the first disciples wouldn’t have been running all over the place that first Easter Sunday, full of wonder, excitement, and fear. I know I don’t have that kind of reaction when I visit the graves of my loved ones. They’re  dead and gone and my life is the poorer for it, forgetting for the moment my Easter Faith. So to repeat, resurrection is not about dying and going to heaven or life after death or spirituality.

So what is resurrection? When the first followers of Christ proclaimed that he was raised from the dead, they were talking about new bodily existence and this is where the brilliance of St. John as a theologian and storyteller shines brightly. As we read last night at the Easter Vigil, creation has always mattered to God. Scripture proclaims that before God created there was nothing but darkness and chaos, but that God created goodness and order to replace that. Genesis declares very clearly that God’s original creation was good and God’s creation of his human image-bearers to run his good creation made the whole enterprise very good. Here we see a good God speak into existence a good created order, complete with his image-bearers to run the whole thing. 

But then came human sin and rebellion, and that allowed the powers of Evil and Death to enter God’s good creation to corrupt and disorder it. The whole story of Scripture, then, is about how God is rescuing his good created order (us included) from our bondage to the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death. Fast forward now to St. John’s gospel, which as we saw at Christmas, purposely mirrors the creation narratives of Genesis 1-2, but with the focus specifically on the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As we saw Friday night, Good Friday represented the culmination of God’s redemptive work in Christ, the sixth day of God’s (re)creative process, mirroring the sixth day of the original creation narratives that represented the pinnacle of God’s creative activity as he created humans. On the cross, Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures as St. Paul declares in our epistle lesson, and his dying words were, “It is finished.” But what was finished? As we saw above and on Good Friday, what was finished is God’s redemptive work to reconcile us to him through the blood of the Lamb so that we could once again take our rightful place as God’s good and wise image-bearers to run God’s new creation, the new heavens and earth. This was always God’s creative intent. And then on the seventh day, Christ rested in his tomb, paralleling the seventh day of creation when God rested from his creative work. Now here we are, the first day of the new week, the eighth day. St. John clearly wants us to see that when God raised Jesus from the dead on that day, God ushered in the new world, the new heavens and earth. It’s so important that the evangelist repeats it later in this chapter as we will see next week. Christ died to make all things new and break the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death so that we would no longer be enslaved by them. Why? Because creation matters to God. We matter to God, and Scripture testifies consistently that it has always been God the Father’s intent to heal and restore his good but corrupted created order, us included. 

And so this is what the first followers meant when they talked about Christ’s Resurrection. New bodily life, a new created order. As we saw in our gospel lesson, Mary tried to grab hold of Jesus. You don’t do that with a ghost or disembodied spirit. Christ’s new body had both similarities to our mortal bodies as well as new characteristics. His followers could see him, hear him, touch him, converse with him, and eat and drink with him, just like they could in his mortal life. Yet his body was different. He could mask his identity as he did initially with Mary in the garden and with his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. He could appear and disappear behind locked doors. All of this would certainly have produced the kind of commotion and fear the gospel writers all report happening that first Easter Sunday because it was something totally unexpected. And let’s be clear about that too. The women didn’t come to Christ’s tomb expecting to see him risen from the dead. They knew, as we do, that dead people don’t come out of their graves. They came instead to mourn his death and anoint his body to slow down the inevitable decomposition that accompanies death. 

So why is this all critical to us and our Easter Faith? Well, if, as Revelation promises in its closing chapters, God’s new world is a-coming, the day when the dimensions of heaven and earth are joined together in a new created order, we will need new bodies to inhabit it. Why? Because the new creation will be a material order, but also something entirely new, a world devoid of all the evils and hurts and heartaches we must endure in this mortal life, and it will last forever because Death will be abolished forever. Therefore we need bodies that will last forever, the kind of bodies that are patterned after our risen Lord’s body, suitable to live in God’s new world. St. Paul spells this out in detail later in 1 Cor 15 but that will have to wait for another day. The critical point here is that when the first Christians spoke of Christ’s Resurrection they were proclaiming new bodily life, and that is so much more satisfactory than some disembodied spiritual existence. 

Why? Because without a body, human relationships as we know and value them would be impossible. Take St. Peter’s restoration for instance. When our Lord restored St. Peter after the latter’s disastrous denial of Christ, he had to be embodied for it to have a lasting impact on St. Peter. Our own spiritual struggles validate this. Unless we hear a tender voice speaking to us, unless we can look into another person’s eyes and hear the tone of his or her voice and feel the person’s gentle touch, we will never be quite sure if we are forgiven or restored. We ask forgiveness in prayer and we are assured that we receive it because Christ lives and intercedes for us. But we receive it by faith. Unless we hear his voice or receive a clear intimation from him, there is always the possibility of doubt. Are we really forgiven? I suspect St. Peter’s catastrophic denials were so severe that nothing less than an encounter with his risen embodied Lord would do it for him. God, of course, knows best what we need to receive his healing love and forgiveness, but the point remains that without bodies we do not have what it takes to be truly human. And if we are not truly human we are not God’s image-bearers and God’s original and eternal intent for us is destroyed. If we believe in an omnipotent God, a moment’s thought will confirm to us what a ridiculous proposition that is. What Christ’s resurrection announced to his first followers and to us is that the old world order of Sin, Evil, and Death is defeated, that a new day has dawned—God’s new day, the beginning of the new heavens and earth. That day is not yet consummated but the war has been won and we are the beneficiaries. The rest, as a cabbie once said to N.T. Wright, is basically rock and roll, isn’t it?

So how can our Easter Faith assist us in the living of our days in this increasingly mad and bizarre world? Time limits me to two basic ideas to get you jump-started in your own thinking and reflections. First, Christ’s Resurrection invites us to look at our present world and evaluate it using different criteria. Instead of looking at the past and present to assess our future prospects, what if we use our future hope of new creation to assess our present world? When we assess our future prospects using the past and present, how can there really be any hope? The human condition hasn’t changed. Science and technology, while making our lives so much better and easier in some ways, has not changed who we are. Human rapacity, sin, selfishness, pride, greed, and lust for power (to name just a few) continue unabated and unchanged by any of our scientific advancements, the Star Trek myth notwithstanding. In fact, if anything, technology has exposed human wickedness in unprecedented ways. We have instant access to an unending stream of bad news and human madness and evil. Death still reigns. People still suffer. Old age and infirmity still come. We are still alienated to each other and the God-ordained institutions of marriage and family are crumbling before our eyes. Our nation becomes increasingly divided and there are very few voices of reason out there these days. Based on this, what is our realistic hope for the future? This is the old world order at its finest and worst, and with it comes darkness, despair, sickness, and death. 

But what if we really believe Christ’s Resurrection announced the in-breaking of God’s new world, a world in which Evil, Sin, and Death are destroyed forever? A world in which there is no more sickness, sorrow, suffering, alienation, despair, or want of any kind? A world that is dominated by the love and goodness of God, a world about which St. Paul spoke in 1 Cor 13? To be sure, that world has not yet arrived, but it’s coming in full one day and we are called by Christ to so order our lives in ways that will announce to the powers of the old order that their day is through. We do this locally as the family of God. We love each other, care for each other, and suffer with and for each other. We bear each others quirks and pricklies. We grieve with those who grieve and rejoice with those who rejoice. We worship together our risen Lord and Savior and eagerly await his return to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection. We refuse to take revenge and are quick to forgive, especially those who hate Christ and us for being his followers. This will inevitably produce suffering for us, but we have a real hope and future. We know a new world is coming some day. It may be a million years from now. It may be tomorrow. But that doesn’t matter. We assess our present and imitate our crucified and risen Lord because we believe that his Resurrection announced a new world order, a world order run by God alone, a perfect world in which we have been invited to live forever because of the love of God poured out for us on the cross and vindicated that first Easter Sunday. As the great bishop of S. India, Lesslie Newbigin, once said, “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” Exactly.

And on a more personal and emotional note, Christ’s Resurrection promises us that Death will not have the final say. If you have ever watched a loved one suffer and die or are enduring a loved one’s infirmity or terminal disease, you know how heartbreaking that is. But your Easter hope can help mitigate the heartbreak. Why? Because we know that the ugliness and suffering we and our loved ones are enduring (or endured) will one day be redeemed. Broken, weak, ugly bodies on the verge of death will be restored to new beauty and vitality unknown in this mortal life. Suffering, sorrow, and separation will be no more. We will once again get to see, touch, hear, smell, and converse with our beloved as fully restored human beings, perfect and beautiful in unimaginable ways, our relationships with them healed and restored. Who would not want that? But that day has not yet arrived. Until it does we must be content that our dead loved ones are taking their rest in their Lord who claimed them from all eternity, safe in his loving care in heaven as they await their new bodies. In the meantime hope remains, the sure and certain expectation of things to come, because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, announcing God’s promised new reality, helping us to endure the unendurable until that great and glorious day. The hope of resurrections fulfills our deepest longing for restored human relationships shattered by death.

If you are having a hard time imagining this, don’t worry. God’s power and love and beauty, which of course the Resurrection is all about, is hard for us mortal finite humans to imagine. But just because we cannot fully imagine it doesn’t mean it’s not true. This Eastertide, be living signs of God’s new world. Find ways to celebrate and imitate your crucified and risen Lord. And when the news of the day gets to be too much for you so that you find yourself despairing over the state of things in this country and/or your life, remember that Jesus is Lord and the powers of the present order are not (and that’s got nothing to do with politics, my beloved). I’m not talking about platitudes; I am talking about availing yourself to God’s power, a power that not even the darkest powers can overcome. But you can’t do this on your own because you will be overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of the madness of this world. So let us also resolve to remember and declare together that Jesus Christ is Lord and the dark powers that run this world are not. Their day is done, even if they are not fully vanquished. We know Jesus is Lord because he is raised from the dead and lives with God to intercede for us as his people. He calls us to be living signposts—tangible markers in this life pointing to our final destination, not the destination itself—of his healing love and redemption of the entire human race. So let us together as God’s people here at St. Augustine’s resolve anew to embody God’s great love and forgiveness, goodness and righteousness, to a world gone mad. As we do, let us resolve to worship God and the Lamb together in the power of the Holy Spirit and to rejoice in this gift of resurrection life. Let us come to Christ’s table and feed on him and so be strengthened for this arduous task. Let us have generous hearts with which to share the abundance of Christ’s love and blessings. Let us enjoy sweet fellowship together and take care of each other, always welcoming strangers and inviting others to join in the Paschal Feast. And let our worship and fellowship drive a renewed sense of service to a world that so desperately needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Everything has changed because Christ has died and risen from the dead. Stake your very life on it and be bold in your living and proclamation of this new reality. And let us find ways to announce this Good News to the world, especially during these next fifty days. After all, we have hope for the present, no matter how bleak things become, because we know our future is secure, and not even the gates of hell can rob us of that promise. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Easter 2024: Saint John Chrysostom on Easter

Everyone who is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

If anyone is a wise servant, rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord
If anyone has been wearied in fasting, now receive your recompense.

If anyone has labored from the lirst hour, today receive your just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, have no misgivings; for you shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, do not fear on account of your delay. For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to the one that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fattened; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!
Let no one fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free!
He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when it tasted of His Flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth, and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not nven!

“O Death, Where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!

For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!

Easter 2024: An Ancient Account on How Those Who Were Baptized at Easter Were Instructed

The season of Lent has always been a time when the Church prepared new converts to become full members by instructing them in matters of the faith and preparing them for baptism. Here is a description from how this was done in the 4th century in Jerusalem.

I must also describe how those who are baptized at Easter are instructed. Those who give their names do so the day before Lent, and the priest notes down all their names; and this is before those eight weeks during which, as I have said, Lent is observed here. When the priest has noted down everyone’s name, then on the following day, the first day of Lent, on which the eight weeks begin, a throne is set up for the bishop in the center of the major church, the Martyrium. The priests sit on stools on both sides, and all the clergy stand around. One by one the candidates are led forward, in such a Way that the men come with their godfathers and the women with their godmothers.

Then the bishop questions individually the neighbors of the one who has come up, inquiring; “Does this person lead a good life? Obey parents? Is this person a drunkard or a liar?” And the bishop seeks out in the candidate other vices which are more serious. If the person proves to be guiltless in all these matters concerning which the bishop has questioned the witnesses who are present, the bishop notes down the candidate’s name. If, however, the candidate is accused of anything, the bishop orders the person to go out and says: “Let such a one amend their life, and when this is done, then approach the baptismal font.” He makes the same inquiry of both men and women.  If, however, some are strangers, such people cannot easily receive baptism, unless they have witnesses who know them.

Ladies, my sisters, I must describe this, lest you think that it is done without explanation. It is the custom here, throughout the forty days on which there is fasting, for those who are preparing for baptism to be exorcised by the clergy early in the morning, as soon as the dismissal from the morning service has been given at the Anastasis. Immediately a throne is placed for the bishop in the major church, the Martyrium. All those who are to be baptized, both men and women, sit closely around the bishop, while the godmothers and godfathers stand there; and indeed all of the people who wish to listen may enter and sit down, provided they are of the faithful. A catechumen, however, may not enter at the time when the bishop is teaching them the law. The bishop does so in this way: beginning with Genesis and going through the whole of Scripture during these forty days, expounding first its literal meaning and then explaining the spiritual meaning.  In the course of these days everything is taught not only about the Resurrection but concerning the body of faith. This is called catechetics.

When five weeks or instruction have been completed, they then receive the Creed The bishop explains the meaning of each of the phrases of the Creed in the same way as Holy Scripture was explained, expounding first the literal and then the spiritual sense. ln this fashion the Creed is taught.

And thus it is that in these places all the faithful are able to follow the Scriptures when they are read in the churches, because all are taught through these forty days, that is, from the first to the third hours, for during the three hours instruction is given. God knows, ladies, my sisters,  that the voices of the faithful who have come to catechetics to hear instruction on those things being said or explained by the bishop are louder than when the bishop sits down in church to preach about each of those matters which are explained in this fashion. The dismissal from catechetics is given at the third hour, and immediately, singing hymns, they lead the bishop to the Anastasis [the cross], and the office of the third hour takes place. And thus they are taught for three hours a day for seven weeks. During the eighth week, the one which is called the Great Week, there remains no more time for them to be taught, because what has been mentioned above must be carried out.

Now when seven weeks have gone by and there remains only Holy Week, which is here called the Great Week, then the bishop comes in the morning to the major church, the Martyrium. To the rear, at the apse behind the altar, a throne is placed for the bishop, and one by one they come forth, the men with their godfathers, the women with their godmothers. And each one recites the Creed back to the bishop. After the Creed has been recited back to the bishop, the bishop delivers a homily to them all, and says: “During these seven weeks you have been instructed in the whole law of the Scriptures, and you have heard about the faith. You have also heard of the resurrection of the flesh. But as for the whole explanation of the Creed, you have heard only that which you are able to know while you are still catechumens. Because you are still catechumens, you are not able to the those things which belong to a higher mystery, that of baptism. But that you may not think that anything would be done without explanation, once you have been baptized in the name of God, you will hear of them during the eight days of Easter in the Anastasis following the dismissal from church. Because you are still catechumens, the most secret of the divine mysteries cannot be told to you.”

—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria, 45-46

Easter 2024: An Easter Prayer

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Holy Triduum 2024: Holy Saturday: Waiting for the Messiah We Didn’t Expect

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
that was inflicted on me,
that the LORD brought on me
in the day of his fierce anger?

—Lamentations 1.12 (NIV)

LORD, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

—Psalm 88 (NIV)

It is now the day after the crucifixion, and if we are to take it seriously, we must pause for a minute and reflect on what Jesus’ first disciples must have been dealing with on that day after. We cannot say for sure because Scripture is largely silent about this (but cf. John 20.19; Luke 24.13-24 for clues), but surely they would have been absolutely devastated. The most wonderful person they had ever known had been brutally and unjustly executed. The women had seen his bloodied and pierced body taken down from the cross and buried. The man his disciples had hoped was Israel’s Messiah was dead and every good Jew knew that God’s Messiah didn’t get crucified like a criminal—or so they thought.

Surely today’s texts would have reflected the utter devastation and hopelessness Jesus’ followers must have felt on that first Saturday. Like the psalmist above, surely they (like we) were asking the “why questions”—Why did this happen to Jesus? Why did God allow this to happen? Where was God in all of it? Why had he apparently abandoned not only Jesus but them as well? For you see, Jesus’ followers did not have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight we have. They were definitely not expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead because there was nothing in their Scripture that would have prepared them for what God did in Jesus that first Easter Sunday. And we fail to take Jesus’ death seriously if we gloss over all this and simply want to skip ahead to tomorrow.

But that is not how life works, is it? We typically don’t have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight as we live out our days and here is where we can learn some things about faith and hope in the midst of our own desolation as we reflect on the devastation Jesus’ followers must have felt the day after his crucifixion. Each one of us has our own hurts and sorrows and brokenness. Perhaps it stems from a job we did not get or that we lost. Perhaps a loved one got sick and died despite our prayers for healing. Perhaps we have had our families torn apart by divorce or addiction. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we too have had our expectations violated, especially now, and typically more than once. We’ve had our hopes and dreams shattered to one degree or another, and like Jesus’ first disciples, we look around and ask why. We wonder where God is in it all and why he has apparently abandoned us.

And this is precisely why Holy Saturday can be helpful to us because if we really believe in a sovereign God, Holy Saturday is a time when we must wait on him and see how he is going to act in our lives, both individually and collectively. We must put aside our limited expectations and wait and see what God is going to do in and through us. Like the psalmist in his utter desolation above, we too must cling to our hope in God and his mercy, in God and his sovereign power, and in doing so we will discover that we gain some much needed and desired patience. It is a patience tempered with humility as we wait on our Sovereign God to see what he will do to bring new life out of our own desolation, fears, and violated expectations.

We wait on this Holy Saturday even though it is not entirely possible to block out the wondrous truth that happened that first Easter. Unlike Jesus’ first disciples, we do know how the story turns out. While we didn’t expect a crucified Messiah, we have seen his dead body taken down from the cross and we have seen the empty tomb and heard the stunned and joyous testimony of the first eyewitnesses. And like his first disciples, this has violated our expectations. But we realize that God’s power and plans for us are so much better than our own. As we wait for Easter morning on this Holy Saturday, we are reminded that despite our failures, hurts, fears, and brokenness, God is a sovereign and merciful God, capable of bringing about New Creation from our desolation, and all this helps us wait on God this day with hope, real hope.

Take time to rest today, especially from the seemingly non-stop bad news of this crazy mixed-up world. Reflect deeply on these things as you learn to wait on God to act in your life and in this world to end the scourge. Remember that if God really did raise Jesus from the dead, he can surely do mind-blowing things for you and in and through you (or as a cabbie once said to Professor N.T. Wright, “If God raised Jesus from the dead, everything else is basically rock and roll, isn’t it?”), no matter who you are or what you are dealing with. As you do wait on God—and this will not happen overnight—you will also discover you are gaining the prerequisite humility and patience that you need to open yourself up fully to the Presence and Power of God’s Holy Spirit living in you. And when that happens you will have the assurance that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.