A New Life in Christ - Participating in the Resurrection
Christians in the first century had a strange custom. When one of their fellow Christians would die, they would march in procession to the graveyards, singing joyous hymns, and then they would place laurel wreaths on the graves, the same wreaths that the Greeks would use to crown the victors of athletic contests. Why did they do this? Because they believed that through Christ Jesus, all his followers have received victory over the power of death!
We see this same idea when we hear the resurrectional hymns of today. In one such hymn, Hades is crying out in despair: “I wish I had not received Jesus, for He has broken my power. Christ has shattered the gates of hell, and He has raised up the souls which I have held captive!”
This is what we celebrate on Pascha! The day of Resurrection! The day of Salvation! The day of ultimate victory of good over evil, hope over despair, light over darkness, joy over sadness, life over death! Today is a day for new beginnings! For the good news of our Lord’s glorious Resurrection offers each one of us an opportunity to see life from a fundamentally new perspective, to begin life with a fresh and new start!
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania has written, “With Christ’s Resurrection everything was made new again; everything was restored! From that point on, the question posed for every human being has been whether or not to participate in this restoration.”
If we choose to participate, really take part, in Christ’s Resurrection, our perspective on life radically changes! We can never remain discouraged, we can never lose hope, we can never despair, for we know that Christ is Risen and He has defeated evil. He has overcome sin. He has annihilated death itself! Through His resurrection, He has given us new and eternal life.
Another hymn of today has Hades groaning, “My authority has been broken down. The Shepherd who was crucified has raised Adam, and I have been deprived of all those whom I held captive. He who was crucified has cleared the tombs!”
These hymns emphasize the common theme of ultimate victory. Evil and sin, pain and suffering, sorrow and death may threaten us, and even darken our perspective in life. But if we can remember that the overall war has already been won, we will not dwell in despair. Yes, everyday battles continue in this life, and we may be wounded many times until the 2nd coming of Christ, but we can rest assured of the outcome of the overall war itself.
Christ is Risen and thus, good shall prevail over evil. Christ is Risen, and thus hope shall prevail over despair! Christ is Risen and thus light shall prevail over darkness. Christ is Risen and thus joy shall prevail over sadness. Christ is Risen and thus life shall prevail over death!
This is why, if we choose to participate in this resurrection, we enter into a new beginning and a victorious life!
Think of a few examples we heard during this past Holy Week of people entering into the new life that resurrection brings. Among the apostles of Christ, Judas betrayed Jesus, and because he didn’t stay around to see the resurrection, he fell into despair and committed suicide. In contrast, although the other apostles all abandoned Christ and felt shame and despair, they did not give up. Even Peter, the head of the apostles, denied knowing Christ three times, yet after he witnessed the Resurrection, he became a new person. From a fearful coward into a bold preacher, living a life in Christ and ultimately dying for His Master! Peter and the apostles became new creations in Christ!
Think of the thieves crucified on either side of our Lord. One rejected any possibility of resurrection, and died in anger, bitterness and hatred. The other, although he accepted that he was receiving a just punishment for his crime, still looked at Christ with hope, crying out, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Even though this condemned man lived an evil life, in his last moment he longed to participate in our Lord’s Resurrection and with the cry, “Remember me in your kingdom,” discovers paradise.
Mary Magdalene was a broken, defeated woman the Gospels describe as being possessed with seven demons. Her love and faithfulness for our Lord, however, transformed her life from one of wretchedness into one of meaning. She was the first to see the Risen Lord, and thus became an apostle to the apostles, sharing the joy of resurrection with others!
Even the Roman Centurian, who actually participated in Christ’s crucifixion, came to believe and partake of the Resurrection, thus ending his life not as an anonymous Roman soldier in history, but as St. Longinos, a saint of the Church!
Here lies the central message of Pascha and Christ’s Resurrection! No matter who we are or what we have done in life, no matter how many times we've denied Christ or even rejected Him, no matter how many times we've fallen into our common sins or even serious transgressions, Pascha Sunday commands us never to despair, for our Lord’s Resurrection gives us hope for a new life and a fresh start!!!
We can’t stay hopeless when we know that we have a God who loves us so much that He willingly dies in our place for us! We have a God who not only endured betrayal, denial, humiliation, rejection, and the most cruel form of death on the Cross, but a God who willingly descended into the deepest darkness of Hades to wrestle with the Evil One and break His bonds over us, destroying his power of sin, evil and death!
For those of us who choose to participate in this restoration of life, in this resurrection from the dead, than joy and peace and hope will be ours. We will live abundant lives in the power of Christ and in the victory of His Resurrection!
Christ is Risen! Christos Anesti! Krishti U Ngjall!
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