The Meaning of the Resurrection

The Meaning of the Resurrection April 13, 2009

Since the resurrection of Christ is the interruption of history by the eschaton, history, and all that happens within it, is transformed. History has been grounded by Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end of all things. The resurrection is the fulfillment of all historical expectations and desires. Just as Christ creatively fulfilled the Law of Moses, so we must understand Christ’s work is a creative engagement of history, fulfilling our desires in the way only he can: by transforming them and rearranging them so that they point once more back to him and through him to the Father. For the Christian, the one who has taken on the cross of Christ as the symbol of victory, the task which is before us is to realize that transformation, to incarnate it. Any attempt to return to our pre-Christian ways only indicates our lack of faith.

In the Byzantine tradition, Resurrection Matins is the remembrance of the resurrection itself. It brings the celebrants to the tomb of Christ, to experience Christ’s victory over death. The service opens with the removal of Christ’s burial shroud. Then the faithful exit the church, and process around it, singing, “Your resurrection, O Christ, our Savior, the Angels in heaven praise with hymns; make us, on earth, also worthy with a pure heart to extol and give glory to You.”

Once we reach the front door, we stop. The door now has become the tomb of Christ. It’s time for us to experience its opening, to experience the Christ’s ultimate victory, the victory of love over hate.

The shut door represents our true enemy: death. By turning away from God, the giver of life, we turned to un-being, and found its poison deconstructed us inside and out, leading to our own destruction. It welcomed us as a friend, but showed us that it was our enemy as it worked to eliminate us from existence. Demonic powers ruled over the earth by the power of the abyss, by the power of hades. Having given ourselves over to the abyss, having lost the freedom of being God intended for us, we no longer had the power to overcome the demonic powers which thrived in the chaos of being, and we fell prey to their desires. There was no turning back. We became the playthings of death. Ruled by the powers of death, the meaning of history was only seen in the light of death. Our neighbor, who should be our brethren, and co-workers for life, became our foe, and someone who we hated and tried to destroy as soon as they got in our way. We learned that we either had to kill or be killed to survive in a world ruled by death. But death was never our friend, and considered even its greatest follower its enemy.

Yet, the power of life lived in the midst of that history. The Spirit was active. The hearts of humanity called for something more. Job showed us that the noble soul could still hold its own against the court of death. The Psalms, filled as they are with the cries of pain, showed that in great tragedy, faced by enemies of all stripes, hope is never lost. God is called. He is told to arise and conquer our foes. And in the resurrection of Christ, this is what God has done: he is risen! And our foes, the powers of darkness and chaos, have vanished; they came out of nothing, and so they have returned, vanished as smoke vanishes in the wind.

Priest: Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Him flee from before His face.
People: Christ is risen from the dead! By death He conquered Death, and to those in the graves He granted life.
Priest: As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish as wax melts before a fire.
People: Christ is risen from the dead! By death He conquered Death, and to those in the graves He granted life.
Priest: So let the wicked perish at the presence of God, and let the righteous ones rejoice.
People: Christ is risen from the dead! By death He conquered Death, and to those in the graves He granted life.
Priest: This is the day that the Lord has made; let us exult and rejoice in it.
People: Christ is risen from the dead! By death He conquered Death, and to those in the graves He granted life.
Priest: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and forever. Amen.
People: Christ is risen from the dead! By death He conquered Death, and to those in the graves He granted life.
Priest: Christ is risen from the dead! By death He conquered Death.

In the resurrection of Christ, our true enemies, the powers of darkness and death, have fled. The eschaton reveals them for what they are. The psalmist finds his heart’s cry creatively fulfilled, with Christ showing him and all of us who share in the psalmist’s cry that the enemy is not of flesh and blood, but death itself. We call for God to arise and scatter our enemies – and there, Christ has risen, and he has trampled death by the power of death itself. He willingly became the victim. He humbled himself, emptying himself of his glory, so that he could enter hades and the kingdom of death. The authority hades had over him he gave to hades out of his compassion for us. And in his humility, the vainglory of hades was undone. Death has no sting because its end has been found – Christ, having reached the depths of the abyss has shown it has an end. Now that he is risen in glory, in triumph, the power of hades has been vanquished, and humanity is called once again to see each other in the universal joy of the resurrection as brethren. This is the Christian expectation, even in a world which tries to live as if the powers of death still rule.

This is the resurrection day. Let us be enlightened by this feast. And let us embrace one another, let us call brethren, even those who hate us, and in the resurrection forgive everything and let us sing, Christ is risen from the dead, by death he conquered death, and to those in the graves he granted life.

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