Tuesday, May 08, 2012

It's going to be OK

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen. Christ is risen! Today is the Fourth Sunday of Pascha. This is our season of great celebration that continues for forty days until the Feast of Ascension. Throughout this time we continue to greet one another joyously with the words, “Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!” while the church remains brightly lit and festive and adorned in white vesture like a bride. In our prayers at home and in the kairon prayers of the clergy before liturgy, “O Heavenly King” and “Holy God” are temporarily replaced with a triple recitation of the Paschal troparion, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” and this same hymn is sung again and often throughout the entire season. In every way the Church seeks to remind us, as another hymn declares: “This is the day of resurrection! Let us be illumined by the feast! Pascha! The Pascha of the Lord! For from death to life, and from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us! Let us sing the song of victory: Christ is risen from the dead!” While this wonderful season of celebration may only last forty days, the reality of Pascha lasts forever. It has become in fact the new reality of the cosmos. For, while heaven and earth are passing away and our mortal bodies as well, they shall all follow the path blazed by Christ and live again. This is the great message the Church is trying to help us understand and embrace: Christ is risen, and death is destroyed! Christ is risen, and the dead are raised! Christ is risen, granting the world eternal life! And to put it in a slightly less traditional but no less important way, Christ is risen, and everything is going to be OK. While that may sound a little trivial, maybe even a little silly, I think it helps to put our daily struggles in a much broader and more correct perspective. The message of Pascha is not simply “once we die here we get to live there,” implying that Christ was focused exclusively on getting us into heaven. In fact, Christ was focused on our salvation, or the complete healing of our humanity, one aspect of which is our eternal communion with God in His heavenly kingdom. He was not focused merely on opening for us the gates of heaven, but first on perfecting our humanity by assuming it Himself and filling it with His divine life. In His humanity he faced temptations successfully and defeated the devil, so that we might gain that same victory. Many times we succumb to temptations as if we had no power to resist and to please God. We fail to see, or don’t wish to see, that Christ triumphed over sin that we might also do the same. This is also what Pascha means to us. In addition we know that Christ suffered in His humanity, and for what purpose but to redeem all human suffering and grant us great joy because of it. Many times we don’t see the purpose of suffering and think that it is a sign that God has forgotten us or is punishing us unfairly. Suffering is not from God; it is the unfortunate and inevitable consequence of being a fallen and broken people living in a fallen and broken world. But Christ has not forgotten our suffering. He Himself suffered in order to transform our suffering into a wellspring of faith and eternal reward, not unlike that enjoyed by the Holy Martyrs. Each of us would gladly endure a thousand lifetimes of suffering if we only knew the great reward that awaits in heaven for those who endure patiently and with trust. Have we forgotten our Lord’s words, “In this world you will have tribulation, but fear not, for I have overcome the world?” Even death itself Christ endured for our sakes, in order to convert it from a prison of souls into a gateway to eternal bliss. We will die, but I tell you that I don’t plan to spend a lot of money on my grave-site or coffin because I won’t be using them for very long. We shall all be buried in graves that cannot contain us but which must yield us up on that Great Day of Christ’s return. What does all this mean except that everything is going to work out and be OK? Just as God guided all the events of Christ’s life and made them work out for good, so He is guiding our lives and every event in them for our greatest good. If we had been with the disciples on that dark sabbath day that Christ lay in the tomb, we might not have grasped that all things were working according to God’s plan or that all things were going to be OK. But His glorious resurrection destroyed that fearful doubt and proved truly that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Each year in this Paschal season the devil seems to vent his frustrations against the faithful, and many of us suffer renewed struggles, illnesses, or temptations. But guess what? It’s going to be OK. It really is! These things do not come upon you by accident or without the foreknowledge of God, and He is going to guide you through them just as He guided His own Son for our sakes and for our salvation. We must not fear the marvelous works of God even if they should take forms we find unpleasant. They are for a purpose, every one of them. Even if our struggles should end in the grave as they one day will for reach of us, we shall not be without the love of God or His guiding hand upon us. What then shall we fear in this life? The incarnation of Christ, the salvific events of His life, and His ultimate resurrection from the dead prove to us that everything is going to be OK. To quote the closing words of the great Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom, “O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy 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 tomb! For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.” Christ is risen!