Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
These are the ancient Christian proclamations on this most holy of days in the Christian year. Today is the day when we proclaim from the rooftops for all to hear that God has vindicated the Suffering Servant Jesus — put to death by that conspiracy of earthly power and privilege we call Sin — by raising him from the dead.
But what of it?
The epistle reading appointed for today lays it out nicely for us, referring to Jesus as the “first-fruits of the dead.” It could equally be read as “the entrance fee for the dead.” The hymn I quoted at the start of this post uses a more dramatic metaphor, saying that he has “trampled down death,” thereby “bestowing life” upon the dead. This is the image of the Harrowing of Hades so famously depicted on the icon of the resurrection: Death has taken in more than it can handle and its realm is left empty and destroyed. As St. John Chrysostom proclaimed in his famed Eastern sermon:
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the powers 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 grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
And so, we who identify with his life, with his Way, and with his death, are also brought to new life in his resurrection.
Christians believe that Jesus’ death robbed death of its ultimate power over us: Just as forgiveness allows us not to let a past trauma define us, our present and our future; so too does the resurrection allow us not to let the specter of death define our existence.
The resurrection opens for us a new path: no longer do we need to follow the old way of the old selfish, ego-driven self, following its whims to death, destruction, and decay. We can instead, united in Christ — for we become by grace all that he is by nature — follow his way of the new self, following our true guiding star to life, creativity, and wholeness. But there’s another side to this that feels particularly resonant for me this Easter morning. And as women and men of faith, who by grace are transformed ever increasingly into the likeness of God, we too take on Christ’s life-giving mantle, mission, and mandate in the world. If we have been given new life, so must we give life to others. We do this by telling and living the story of Jesus, in big and small ways every day.
There is a Hasidic Jewish teaching that a person can potentially be born into the world for the sole purpose of performing a single benevolent act for another person. It’s an awesome thought, that a single action for the life of another — maybe as small as a smile or delivering food to someone going through a hard time — could be our life’s purpose. Like Jesus, our time, energy, skill, our very life can be sustaining bread, given for the life of the world.
This is our vocation as Christians, which comes into focus so powerfully at Easter: We are given life to offer our life for the life of the world. In the words of one of the post-Communion prayers,
May we, who share his body,
live his risen life;
we, who drink his cup,
bring life to others;
we, whom the Spirit lights,
give light to the world.
Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us,
so that we and all your children shall be free,
and the whole earth live to praise your name;
through Christ our Lord.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!