Today is the glorious culmination of these days of Holy Week. Today, our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised gloriously from the dead. Alleluia!
It was still very early in the morning, Luke tells us, with just the first streaks of dawn, when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and the other women, came to the tomb in order to carry out the last offices of love for their beloved Jesus, and to embalm his body with their spices.
But, to their amazement, when they got to the tomb, they found that the stone had been rolled away. They looked inside and the body was gone.
And suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood by them, and said those amazing words, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here – but has risen.” And those words, the Easter Proclamation, have changed the world. Because of those words, we are here today.
But those words don’t quite translate accurately from the original Greek. The Greek does not say, “He is not here, but has risen.” Rather, it says, “He is not here, but was raised.” And that is very different. Jesus didn’t simply “rise.” No, he was raised – by God. It was the power of God which broke into that tomb and raised him up.
No wonder the women were terrified to be standing in the place where such an act of divine power had just taken place. No wonder they bowed their faces to the ground before such an act of power.
What kind of power could do this? Could raise up the dead body of Jesus? This man was beaten, stripped and tortured, and hung upon a cross to die. A spear was thrust into his side, and his broken body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in long linen strips like bandages, and then laid on a shelf in a rock tomb for several days, sealed with a mighty stone. Dead and buried. What kind of power could raise that man to life?
Hanging behind the altar this Easter Day is a powerful image. It is the risen and glorified Christ. This icon is often called the Sinai Christ because the original has been at St. Catherine’s monastery, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, for nearly 1,500 years. The image is of Christ Pantocrator, or Christ all powerful. It was painted, or written, in encaustic, or hot wax, in the sixth century. Some years ago I travelled to St. Catherine’s monastery, and when I first saw the icon, I caught my breath. It was overwhelmingly powerful and beautiful.
Here is Christ, risen, ascended and glorified, embodying the power of God, looking straight at us, holding the Bible in his left hand, and blessing us with his right. And as I stared at the face of Christ, or rather, as I felt his face looking deeply at me, I was suddenly struck by his eyes. The right eye is very different to the left eye.
I find his right eye very moving, for to me, it looks swollen and bruised. The icon painter has shown Christ in the power and glory of his risen majesty. And yet, he still bears the marks of his passion – the beating and the scourging. We know that his hands and feet were broken, and likely his heart, also. But it is the eyes which convey the suffering so poignantly.
And I find that marvelously strengthening. That even in his risen glory, Jesus still shares our sorrows and bears our wounds. The risen Lord still suffers with us, picks us up when we fall, and like a shepherd, gently carries us home.
And that, for me, is what the power of God is like. For God is not some monarch throned in easy state, but in the poet William Vanstone’s words, “he is God whose arms of love, aching, spent, the world sustain.”
The power of God which raised Jesus to life, the power of God which is more powerful than anything else in all creation, is the same power of love. I see that love in the powerfully compassionate eyes of the icon before us.
It was that power which was at work on that early morning, as dawn was breaking, on that first day of the week. The power of God which raised Jesus to life. But the miracle, and the wonder, is that that power is at work in our lives, too. In your life and my life.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “God raised the Lord, and will also raise us, by his power.” (1 Cor. 6:14) He will also raise us. We don’t have to wait, though, until we die physically to experience the power of God to raise us up. We can experience it now.
As I think back over my own life, I can point to particular moments when I experienced the power of God lifting me up out of a dark place, into light and life. Times when I actually felt that God has rescued me, raised me up.
I wonder if you have experienced that same power? Where has life come out of death in your life? Perhaps a time when you felt part of you had died. Some great loss or sorrow? A death, a bereavement, an illness? Maybe a wound inflicted by another. An emotional trauma. Whatever it was, you felt a kind of death.
Perhaps as you look back to that time, you can also say – the miracle is that I came back to life again. I thought my heart was broken and would never mend. My life plans were shattered – but wonder of wonders, some power greater than I, lifted me up, out of the pit – and I breathed new life, new hope. If you have had such an experience, then you have experienced the Paschal Mystery. You will know what today is about.
Every experience of God’s power at work in your life, however small, are what Bishop Michael Ramsey called, “Little anticipations of heaven.” They prepare us for that day when we shall experience the Paschal Mystery in all its fullness – when at our physical death, God will raise us to life with Jesus.
This is the day that God, with great power raised Jesus to life. As you come now to receive the body and blood of the Risen Lord, in bread and wine, let your hearts rise with him – and give joyful thanks. Thanks that the same God who raised Jesus to life will also raise us to life. Death, the final enemy, has been conquered.
In the words of St. John Chrysostom, proclaimed at Easter in every Orthodox Church,
“Let none fear death, for the death of the Savior has set us free.
Christ is risen and the demons have fallen.
Christ is risen and the angels rejoice.”
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
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