Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We continue in these days now past the mid-Feast point, to not only relish the lingering glow of the Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, but to see how it is present in an everyday way in the Church and the lives of the Lord’s baptized. In one way, we cannot build ourselves some booths or tabernacles and camp out here permanently to bask in and soak up the glory and the power of the Resurrection, much like Peter wanted to do on the Mount of the Transfiguration. No matter how good it is for us to be here, we must needs go with Jesus back down the mountain and return to the plain of life to live in the power of Pascha (Mt. 17:1-21; Mk. 9:2-29; Lk. 9:28-42).
And so, the readings from the Acts of the Holy Apostles orient us in that direction. All throughout these weeks of Pascha, Acts has unfolded for us the imperative of the Pascha indicative, which is to say, because of Pascha, because we are a Paschal people, this is how “’we live and move and have our being’” (Ac. 17:28). We have heard and seen a number of miracles performed by the Apostles in Acts that imitate or parallel those of our Lord during His earthly ministry. Today is no exception. The imprisoned Apostles are miraculously delivered. It is their Exodus, if you will. But, in the long view of things, perhaps the greatest miracle recorded in every page of Sacred Scripture is the salvation of sinners, not by an angry God, but by the God Who is the Lover of mankind and our Benefactor! “’Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” And the answer is simple, clear, and plain, “’Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” For “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” says St. Paul. “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. . . . For ‘whoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved’” (Rm. 10:9-13). It is the “faith unto righteousness,” then, that gets played out in our lives, sometimes, if not oftentimes, in not so easy ways.
St. Paul and those with him have enjoyed the blessing of bringing a God-fearing woman named Lydia, “a seller of purple,” we’re told, to the Faith. She, along with her entire household, was baptized (Ac. 16:11-15). It is in this context, then, that our story picks up today so that as the Apostle was on his way to pray a certain slave girl possessed by an evil spirit – a demon – accosts them, not just once, but “for many days.” She is a fortune-teller, a prognosticator, possessed by an evil spirit who gives her the ability. She clearly knows who these men are whose trail she dogs. The evil spirit knows, just as surely as they know Who Jesus Christ is in the Gospels. “’These men are servants of the Most High God,’” she declares, “’who proclaim to us the way of salvation.’”
She’s definitely not wrong. They are “’servants of the Most High God’” and they do proclaim salvation. However, the tolerant Apostle, after her incessant announcement day in and day out, finally reaches his limit and draws the line. “But Paul, greatly annoyed,” says Acts, commands the evil spirit to depart from her in the Name of Jesus Christ. I love that line. St. Paul is “greatly annoyed” or “greatly distressed” or “greatly irritated” by her uninvited and unwanted broadcasting. Now, if we recall, Jesus did this very same thing in the Gospels whenever He encountered demons who would rightly identify Who He is. He would silence them and command them to come out (Mk. 1:34; 3:11-12; Lk. 4:41). Theirs wasn’t the kind of free advertising He nor the Gospel needed or wanted. It would be akin to putting priestly vestments on the devil and having him read the Holy Gospel! It would be incongruous, if not, scandalous and blasphemous, giving that which is holy to the dogs and a casting of pearls before pigs (Mt. 7:6)! We don’t need the devil to do our preaching for us! He is the father of lies and a murderer no matter what, and his purpose would be purely demonic (Jn. 8:44)! There are just some forms of advertising not worth having or using!
“Greatly annoyed,” St. Paul acts on behalf of the girl. He rids her of her demonic possession, and in so doing, he also rids her masters, who kept her enslaved and exploited her deplorable condition, of their profits! It’s not what the Apostle intended as such, but her healing and experience of God’s salvation brought it on as a consequence. This shows us that the Gospel has ramifications for this life in this world (Ac. 19:18-19)! The Kingdom of God has consequences for those who live by the power of the Resurrection of the Son of God! Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, isn’t a philosophy. He isn’t an ideology. He isn’t a politician with a political platform. He is the Son of God our Saviour, the Deliverer from death and the devil for us sinners, the Harrower of Hades! He is “’the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (Jn. 14:6). Jesus Christ is salvation for all who call upon Him and His salvation turns us back around and re-orients us to God. When the Apostle commands the evil spirit who had kept her in bondage for a long time to come out of her, the salvation of God comes rushing into her and sets her free from her slavery, both spiritually and literally! Her masters have no further use of her. Their sinful exploitation of her demonic possession for personal profit and gain has been denied them by this act of God. Despite tolerating the Apostles doing their own thing each and every day, these exploiters of human flesh now suddenly, oddly, turn on the Apostles! Suddenly, they became concerned for the apostolic message despite having no concerns previously! They falsely accuse the Apostles. They trump up charges against them. Doesn’t this all sound familiar? Doesn’t this sound a lot like Jesus and His Passion? It is the Paschal Mystery we have been baptized into and now share and experience. God’s salvation is at work in us (2 Cr. 4:12; Pp. 2:12-13), and through us it goes out into the world in which we “’live and move and have our being.’”
Because of this, the Apostles experience the Passion of Jesus in a real and personal way. They are savagely beaten, wounded for their “transgression” and “bruised” for their iniquity, solely because they healed a poor demon-enslaved soul and set her free from her torment (Is. 53:5). But, they are not only beaten savagely, they are thrown into prison without due process to which they were entitled as Roman citizens! They are secured deep within the inner dungeon with chains locked about their feet. And what do we hear? We hear the power of the Resurrection at work in them – God’s salvation. Christ is risen! And so, they sing psalms and pray. Christ is risen! And so, they endure the harsh brutality for the sake of their Master and His Gospel. Christ is risen! And the others imprisoned there in that dark and dank place become beneficiaries of the Kingdom of God at work. Christ is risen! And the Apostles stay the hand of their jailer who intends to kill himself because he believed his prisoners to have escaped (anyone else in any other circumstance would surely have taken advantage of the earthquake). Roman law demanded he forfeit his life because of their escape.
But, what happens? What St. Paul gave to the demon-possessed girl he now gives to the jailer: freedom from sin, death, and the devil; healing and salvation! He gives him his life back! All because of the Resurrection. It is the Resurrection that orients us to God and gives us a new and a different perspective to live our lives even in the midst of death, just as it did St. Paul and the others with him. It allowed them to endure the Cross for the joy set before them, just like Jesus, “the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith” (Hb. 12:2). The jailer, having experienced the mercy and compassion of God when St. Paul stayed his hand, repents, confesses Jesus Christ to be Lord, and is baptized, along with his whole household. All of this is made possible because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Cr. 15:1-58)! “Through the Cross joy has come into all the world!” (Troparion). Through the Cross the Kingdom of God invades this corrupt world and lays siege to it! The Resurrection is the Light of God piercing the darkness of our lives and our hearts, dividing night from day, making us a new creation from the old, transfiguring and transforming us from glory to glory (2 Cr. 3:18; 5:17)! Regardless of what the powers of Hell threw at the Apostles and continues to throw at the Church, the Resurrection transforms it and salvation – the very thing the powers of sin, death, and the devil deplore and seek to deprive us of! – is made ours (Mt. 16:18)!
Christ is risen! He is risen for us! Christ is risen! He is our Resurrection (Jn. 11:25; Paschal Canon)! Christ is risen! This is not simply pious talk that we mouth like some puppet in the hands of a ventriloquist. It is the Truth; it is the Reality that governs us. The Resurrection of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ from the dead gives our lives form and shape and substance – its power to sustain and uphold all things (Hb. 1:3; 11:1) – as we make our way through this world to the world to come! Christ is risen! And because He is risen, we don’t need to know the details of life because we already know the ending and Who it is Who is both “’the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty’” (Rv. 1:8, 17, 18; 22:12-13). Christ is risen! Our faith, our hope, our love is not at all dependent upon what does or does not happen to us here, be it good or ill (Pope Benedict XVI). Christ is risen! It is all about Jesus Christ. It is ALL Christ. Period. Exclamation point! The beginning and the middle and the end of the whole story.
Hear this from St. Peter who suffered for the Name of Jesus, was imprisoned, and finally suffered martyrdom. He says to us:
And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threat, nor be troubled.’ But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, . . . . (1 Pe. 3:8-17; 4:12-19).
There it is, beloved, “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” Make holy your hearts for the crucified and risen Jesus there to “’live and move and have [His] being.’” Let the caves of our souls and the hollow of our hearts be the dwelling place of our God, and let them echo and reverberate with the proclamation that casts out all demons, “Christ is risen!”
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!
Ac. 16:16-34Jn. 9:1-38