Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On the night of Great and Holy Pascha, we heard this exchange with the gatekeepers:
“Lift up your gates, O ye princes! And be lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may enter in! Who is this King of Glory?,” was the challenge. “The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord mighty in battle!” was the reply. Three times we heard this exchange take place with the final answer given that has no reply: “The Lord of Hosts! He is the King of Glory!” And with those words, the gates could not withstand the entrance of the One Who had been crucified, dead, and buried. He Who shattered the iron gates of Hades barred securely against Him now stands before the 10 lingering Disciples Pascha evening. If you recall, one – the son of perdition – has hanged himself for his infamous betrayal of innocent blood and the other is absent without just cause. He Who ravished the stronghold of death now comes to ravish the hearts of His fearful followers. He Who called forth the four-day-dead Lazarus now enters behind closed and locked doors. He Who is the Resurrection and the Life now comes to His fearful flock to call forth faith. If you remember, He once asked another at a certain grave if she believed that He was – and is – the Resurrection and the Life. “’Believest thou this?,’” He asks (Jn. 11:25). Do we believe this?, is perhaps the question of the day.
On this eighth day of our Lord’s most glorious Resurrection from the dead, faith is at issue. Faith in the crucified and risen Master. Did Jesus really rise from the dead as He said He would or did He not? Did He arise in His crucified body or was it a more spiritual version? Some so-called Christian wags have suggested that depending on how we answer, Jesus might be turning over in His grave! I recall a time in Protestant circles that it was the fad to say that even if archaeologists would dig up the bones of Jesus one day, it wouldn’t change faith or the Faith. Oh, really…………….? St. Paul would beg to differ mightily! “[I]f Christ is not risen [physically/bodily], your faith is futile; [and] you are still in your sins!” (1 Cr. 15:17). As critical as this is, I challenge you to survey fellow Christians and see just how many confess unequivocally the true bodily Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. You might be surprised at what you hear. The follow up question is, what will our resurrection be like? Again, there are many who might see our resurrection in a more ghostly or nebulous fashion, having acquiesced to the predominant cultural understanding that what’s really important is our soul. So, once our soul sheds this albatross of a body we fly off some place in the heavens to enjoy a bodiless eternity. I hope I don’t have to remind you that this spiritualized version of both our Lord’s Resurrection and our own falls into the camp of at least one heresy, if not several.
Christ is risen! This is the linchpin of faith. Christ is risen! This is the foundation of our Christian existence. Christ is risen! This is the power of our life in Christ. Christ is risen! This is the heart of both confessors and martyrs alike. If Jesus Christ is not risen in the flesh glorified, then what’s the point? But, if He is risen just as He said, then there is every reason for us to confess His Name and so receive Eternal Life.
Christ is risen! This was the ten’s confession to Thomas who for inexplicable reason chose not to assemble that night. Most likely, it was fear that drove him to isolate and self-quarantine while the others – his colleagues and brothers-in-arms – opted for the same reason to huddle together behind well-secured doors. Fear motivated them. Fear drove them. Not faith. Not hope. Not love. Fear. Only later, will the Apostle, Evangelist, and Theologian write out of his own experience of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (1 Jn. 4:18). A chapter later, the same offers this,
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? . . . And this is the testimony [the Apostolic Tradition]: that God has given us Eternal Life, and this Life is in His [crucified and risen] Son. He who has the Son [by faith] has Life; he who does not have the Son [unbelief] does not have Life. These things I have written to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have Eternal Life, and that you may continue to believe in the Name of the Son of God (1 Jn. 5:4-5, 11-13).
Beloved, faith was as necessary that night of Pascha as it is today over 2,000 years later. The necessity of faith has not changed and will never do so, at least on this side of eternity. Despite his brother Disciples’ face-to-face encounter with the crucified and risen Holy One of God, Thomas asserted quite honestly that he needed, wanted, maybe even demanded, tangible proof, empirical evidence. Perhaps the other 10 were satisfied with having “’seen the Lord,’” but not him. “’Unless I shall see in His hands the print of the nails [with my own physical eyes], and [actually] put my finger into the print of the nails, and [not satisfied] thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.’” And yet, it is St. John the Theologian who opens his Epistle with the assurance of the apostolic witness to all his readers:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life – the Life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that Eternal Life which was with the Father and was manifested to us – that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, . . . . (1 Jn. 1:1-5).
This is the apostolic witness we have received ourselves and have come to believe, not only initially, but continually. And, in so believing we have Life through His Name, the Name of Jesus Christ the Son of God. What is this Life? It is the fellowship, the Apostle and Theologian speaks of, the communion we share in and through the Apostles themselves by faith in their testimony. And through faith in their witness to the Truth, we likewise share in the communion of the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Faith, beloved, is linked to the divinely revealed Truth and is inexorably bound up with it. Despite the advantage (if we want to call it that) that Thomas seemingly had, according to our Lord and His holy Apostles, we are not at a disadvantage. “’Blessed are they that have not seen [either with their hands or with their eyes] and yet have believed [and continue to believe].’” Despite stretching forth his hand to touch the holy wounds of our Lord, Thomas had to nevertheless believe, had to have faith in the Truth before him in the crucified and risen flesh of Jesus Christ. Faith is faith. It is no less absolute today as it was in Thomas’ day. It has not been diluted. In fact, we might even say it has been strengthened in its concentration through all the attested years, centuries, millennia the Church and her faithful have existed! It has been bolstered by countless numbers of baptized who have confessed the apostolic Faith and Truth and have surrendered body parts, even their life’s blood, for this Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God, Who bestows Life upon all tomb-dwellers (Paschal Troparion)!
“’[B]e not faithless, but believing.’” This is Jesus’ command to His uncertain and hesitant Disciple. It is likewise His command to us 20 plus centuries later. Faith involves believing the Truth of God and entrusting ourselves to it and to God. Faith involves obedience to this Truth of God and to God Himself. It is, as St. Paul’s famous description of faith goes, “the substance [realization] of things hoped for, the evidence [confidence] of things not seen” (Hb. 11:1). Faith itself is the substance; faith itself is the evidence of that which we have not seen but know nonetheless to be unequivocally true. Faith illumines our understanding with the light of God, and our minds, so enlightened, comprehend by faith the divine but invisible Truth. Every time, beloved, we enter into Christ’s Body, into His sacred assembly, we enter into the wounds of our crucified and risen Lord. Every time we suffer, we enter into the wounds of our crucified and risen Jesus. Every time we immerse ourselves in prayer, wash ourselves in worship, bathe ourselves in the Gospel, anoint ourselves in the incomprehensible mercies of God in His saving and sanctifying Mysteries of the Faith, we enter into the wounds of our crucified and risen Master.
Christ is risen! This is the reality the Church lives within in the Book of Acts where we find her living out the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our God. It is because of faith in Christ God. A faith we ourselves are called to by Jesus, “’[B]e not faithless, but believing.’” The Church, beloved, is the great sign of our Lord and His Resurrection in this world, the sign of Jonah, if you will, extended into this old world (Mt. 12:38-42; Lk. 11:29-32). Indeed, could we dare even say that the apostolic Church herself has been given by her Lord as a sign of things unseen yet true, of the Truth inscribed in the hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit, given so “that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, ye might have Life through His Name”?
And Thomas, having beheld the crucified and resurrected Jesus, confessed, and did not doubt, but confessed unto his own death as a martyr, in no uncertain terms, “’My Lord and my God’”!
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!