I realise we are a week off from each other this year, but I’ll still commemorate western Easter with Orthodox prayers! These are some favourites from the book of prayers called the Octoechos. Father Raphael says that the Octoechos contains all the theology of the Orthodox church. Here are three prayers from the Octoechos:
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad! For the Lord hath shewed strength with his arm, and trampled down death by death. He is become the first-born from the dead. He hath delivered us from the pit of hell, and hath bestowed his great mercy upon the world. -Tone 3 for Sundays
O praise and worship, O ye faithful, the Word, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost together is everlasting, born of the Virgin for our salvation: for he was pleased in flesh to mount the Cross and suffer death, and in his glorious Resurrection to raise the dead. -Tone 5 for Sundays
Thou from on high didst come in tender mercy, and didst endure the three days’ burial to free us from our passions: O Lord, our Resurrection and our life, glory to Thee. -Tone 8 for Sundays
Ever since I heard someone on Easter Sunday praying and leading worship with almost no mention of the Resurrection but many references to the crucifixion (the sermon was good!), this has been rolling around in my head, taking shape along the way. Since it’s still Easter, it’s still seasonal. And, hey, it was Orthodox Easter two days ago! Anyway, as the title of this post says:
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not an appendix to his crucifixion
This should be obvious, if you ask me. It clearly isn’t, as my anecdotal introduction demonstrates. I also watched, around Eastertide, a video someone posted on the Facebook of some hillbilly (he actually called himself a hillbilly; I have nothing against hillbillies, they are a noble people) saying that the point of the resurrection was to show that the crucifixion worked. Perhaps not so crudely, but that was the gist.
A lot of evangelicals express their faith this way. I was at a big evangelical church in London on Sunday (the Second Sunday After Easter by how people reckon Sundays today), and we sang a hymn that had several lovely lines in it about the crucifixion, and one (one!) about the resurrection. And the minister did not preach on the Resurrection. Easter is, apparently, a one-day event that comes once a year. Otherwise, this whole Eastertide thing might interfere with your plans to do a sermon series on one of the Pauline epistles.
One year on Easter Sunday, one of my Truly Reformed acquaintances remarked, ‘I know why, historically, Jesus had to rise from the dead, but I don’t get the theology of it, since the crucifixion atoned for sin.’
Not that evangelicals and Protestants are alone in this. Consider the crucifixes and statues of Christ’s slain body of Roman Catholic Europe, the magnificent medieval poetry of the Passion, the plays of the Passion, the paintings of the crucifixion, the medieval devotion to the dying Christ, the fact that Julian of Norwich explicitly had a vision of Christ on the cross.
Sometimes, I think people forget that we are oned to God because Jesus lives.
Indeed, the resurrection is the very real, living heart of the Christian faith.
After all, if Christ was not raised from the dead, you (we!) are still dead in your (our! my!) sins. (1 Cor. 15:17)
In 1 Corinthians 15, St Paul gives a summary of the faith that some scholars (like Gerald O’Collins, The Easter Jesus) think is an early liturgical, credal statement. It takes verses 3-7; 3 and a phrase in 4 cover the crucifixion. 4-7 are about the Resurrection appearances of Jesus. A man coming back from the dead changes everything.
Jesus did not simply die to save you from your sins.
Jesus Christ rose from the dead to kill death itself.
Death has lost its sting. (1 Cor 15 again)
Death is the great leveler of human existence, and we all avoid it. Survival is one of our base, animal instincts. Achilles, in Hades in The Odyssey 11, tells Odysseus that he would rather be a slave among the living than a prince among the dead (that was Achilles, right?). Death is so noxious that even Jesus Christ groaned/wept at the death of Lazarus — before raising Lazarus from the dead!
With the lightning flash of his Godhead, as the Orthodox pray, Jesus has slain death. Magnificent. This is Easter.
If you are blessed to go to a Prayer Book church, this Easter faith would be unmistakable — behold the Easter anthems, the heart of the Easter faith, biblical Christianity:
Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast;
Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor 5:7)
Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ro. 6:9)
Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:20)
Let’s stick with BCP for the rest of this post, considering the heart of the book, the Epistles and Gospels for Eastertide.
Easter’s epistle is Col. 3, starting at verse 1, ‘If ye then be risen with Christ…’ The Gospel is John 20. If you have a second service that day, 2 Tim, starting at verse 8:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel … For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him. If we endure, we shall also reign with him.
The Gospel for a second service is the Resurrection in Mark 16.
Monday in Easter Week. Lesson: Acts 10:34ff., Peter preaches the Resurrection of Jesus. Gospel: Luke 24:13ff., disciples on the road to Emmaus (Resurrection!).
Tuesday in Easter Week. Lesson: Acts 13:26ff., Paul preaches the Resurrection of Jesus. Gospel: Luke 24:36ff., Jesus visits the disciples.
First Sunday After Easter. Epistle: 1 John 5:4ff., about the victory of God & eternal life. Gospel: John 20:19ff., more Resurrection.
Morning Prayer for Easter (Canada 1962 BCP). First Lesson: Exodus 12:1-14, the Passover. Second: Rev. 1:4-18, deals with various things, but Jesus is primarily known as ‘firstborn from the dead’.
Evening Prayer for Easter. First: Exodus 14:5-end, crossing the Red Sea (type of baptism, which is dying and rising with Christ). Second: John 20:11-12 (RESURRECTION!)
Elsewhere in the daily office at Eastertide, we see prophecies of God conquering death, of reclaiming his people to himself, of the great and glorious day of the Lord, or praise and rejoicing in the face of God.
I assume the Revised Common Lectionary is similar.
Easter is our salvation. Jesus proves his innocence by the empty tomb. Jesus, in fact, leaves the tomb precisely because he is both God incarnate and an innocent man. This is not the proof that Good Friday worked, but a glorious, amazing event all by itself.
It is the Resurrection that fuelled the disciples into apostles. It is the resurrection of Jesus that points to our future resurrection, when we shall sow a corruptible body and be raised incorruptible! (Again, 1 Cor 15)
Recently, someone posited that if we set 1-2 Corinthians at the centre of Paul’s corpus instead of Romans and Galatians, we would have a different emphasis in our theology. I see here that we would, perhaps, do a better job at keeping the Resurrection, the rising of a dead man from the grave, the restoration of fulness of life of a person who was completely dead, at the centre of our faith.
I wonder how our Christian walk, worship, churches, Bible reading, love of others, would change if we (myself included) lived in a daily remembrance and joy at the fact that Jesus Christ has ‘overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life’ (BCP Collect for Tuesday in Easter Week).
Troparion Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Kontakion Thou didst descend into the tomb, O Immortal, Thou didst destroy the power of death! In victory didst Thou arise, O Christ God, proclaiming “Rejoice” to the Myrrhbearing Women, granting peace to Thine Apostles, and bestowng resurrection of the fallen.
I know full well that people don’t blog about Leo every day because I get a Google Alert for ‘Leo the Great’. And usually, when people do, it’s at Christmastide, and they’re just posting a big chunk of Leo’s text as the blog post. However, there was real, live blog post about Pope St. Leo I in my inbox today! And I even liked it. I hope you will too. It’s at the blog Biltrix, and it’s about the importance of our Lord’s Resurrection appearances for the faith of the Apostles and for ourselves today.
In the days of one united Prayer Book and lectionary, Anglican circles called this Sunday, the Second of Advent, “Bible Sunday” because of the Collect:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
We would do well to pray this collect over and over again, for, like many of Cranmer’s little masterpieces,* it is a sermon unto itself. We learn first (regarding the Bible; no doubt an entire homily could be preached on “Blessed Lord”):
God caused all holy Scriptures to be written
This alone is to give us pause when we recall some of the things we hear, such as that the NT writers were choosy in their selection and not everything in them is historically true. Like the Virgin Birth. Or the Resurrection. Or the very idea of Jesus being God-in-flesh. If God caused all holy Scriptures to be written, then we should take these passages and doctrines very seriously before moving on to:
written for our learning
The purpose of this writing of Scripture was our learning. The Bible is there to teach us. We are to learn from it. How? Cranmer shows us next:
hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them
The Word of God is to be proclaimed and read aloud. I believe this applies even to today when most of the population is literate. The spoken word, as an action, has force and power different from the printed word.** We are also to read it ourselves, though. Sunday morning is not enough; our involvement with the Scriptures is to be personal. As we read the words of life, we are also called to mark them, learn them, and inwardly digest them.
That last phrase, “inwardly digest them,” is among my favourite Prayer-Book phrases. As we study the Scriptures, we aren’t just supposed to observe them critically as we would the Aeneid or the Tome of Leo. We are to digest them. They are to enter into our very being and become part of us. This is a very dynamic, very physical image. And what is the result of our intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures?
by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life
The Scriptures give us patience — endurance through suffering — and comfort — strength. Through this endurance and this strength, we come to a place where we are able to embrace — again, a very personal verb — and hold fast — imagine someone holding onto a rope so as not to fall into a chasm — the blessed hope of everlasting life.
The Christian hope is not simply the hope of a better world, the hope of temporal joy, the hope of moral improvement but the hope of eternity for those who put their trust in Jesus, in God, Whose character is displayed to us on the pages of the Bible.
And whence does our hope come?
our Saviour Jesus Christ
The Christocentrism of Reformational thought (I acknowledge that there was/is much Christocentrism in Catholic thought; I am not speaking of Catholics, though) comes forth. Our hope of eternity comes from Jesus. Cling to him whom we have found in the pages of the Scriptures and we cling to our hope, we cling to eternity and escape from death. This is a good thing.
So we should all read our Bibles, and read them carefully, so that we can come to know better the God who saves us through Jesus Christ and be transformed and cling to the hope of everlasting life.
*I hereby acknowledge Archbp. Thomas Cranmer’s debt to the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries. Part of his genius was in selection and translation, part in adaptation of the tradition, part in original composition.
**My own adaptation of Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy.
This past Tuesday at the Christian Classics Reading Group, we read three of C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. This book is a series of imaginary letters to an imaginary interlocutor named “Malcolm” (naturally). They revolve around prayer primarily (naturally). The letters we read were 17, 18, and 19, if you wish to catch up with us.
Letter 17 is essentially about pathways to adoration. Lewis reminds Malcolm about a time they were walking in a wood and Malcolm recommended him to start where he was to move towards adoration — with splashing cool water from a spring on his warm face. From there, Lewis discusses the use of pleasure as a pathway to the worship of Almighty God, saying that he finds it easier to move to adoration from tangible pleasures than from thinking about the doctrines of God.
He makes a good point about “bad” pleasures, that it is not the pleasure itself that is bad, only the method of acquiring it:
It is the stealing of the apple that is bad, not the sweetness. The sweetness is still a beam from the glory. That does not palliate the stealing. It makes it worse. There is sacrilege in the theft. We have abused a holy thing.
This is important to consider, although Lewis later in Letter 18 does point out that there are pleasures that are actually bad, such as the pleasure derived from nursing a grievance. Yet by and large, the pleasures of this life are “patches of Godlight”. As a paraphrase of G.K. Chesterton says:
Life is like a waking up after a shipwreck and moments of pleasure are remnants washed ashore from the wreckage, pieces of paradise extended through time. We must hold these relics lightly and use them with gratitude and restraint, never seizing them as entitlements.
I believe this is important advice to take hold of. The world is God’s creation — by nature, it is good, even having been pronounced so by the Almighty in Genesis 1. In Soliloquy of the Soul, St. Thomas a Kempis contends that the pleasures of this world, being transient, are not to be sought, but that we are, instead, to live lives of self-deprivation (a form of the Way of Negation).
Lewis and Chesterton would vehemently disagree. Yes, there is pain in this life. Yes, we are destined for the New Country, for the Kingdom of the Heavens, for the New Heaven and the New Earth, for the Resurrection, for the Recapitulation of All Things. Yet here we are on Earth. The present life is transitory, but the pleasures of it are not to be shunned.
And Lewis shows us a way forward, a way to enjoy transient pleasures without compromising the future life — these pleasures are from the God of Glory Himself. They are moments where the Kingdom of the Heavens breaks through into our transitory lives and shows us a bit of His glory. They are vehicles of grace and pathways to adoration.
We live in a world of pain and sorrow — pathways to adoration are necessary.
We live in an age where the Church is having something of a crisis around public worship — pathways to adoration are necessary.
We live in an age where materialists tell us that this material thing is all the reality there is — pathways to adoration are necessary.
We live in an age where materialists of a different ilk tell us that the value of this material thing lies within the thing itself — pathways to adoration are necessary.
Seek to worship God daily through pleasure, beauty, theology, hymns, Psalms — follow the paths to the adoration of the Majestic One seated on the Sapphire Throne.