Christ is Risen!
We know that the Gospels chronicle the earthly ministry and teachings of Jesus Christ. A reading from one of the four Gospels is offered at almost every Divine Service because the ministry and teachings of Christ are the center of our Christian faith.
The Epistles of St. Paul, as well as the other Epistles (James, Peter, John, Jude) are letters to the early churches, with pastoral exhortation, encouragement, and advice for troubleshooting problems. The same issues that have plagued society since the time of the Fall continue to plague our society today. Love was a challenge in the early church—it is still a challenge in the modern church. That’s why we still read from I Corinthians 13 about love, as an example.
The Book of Revelation was placed in the Canon of New Testament Scripture with the provision that it would not be read aloud in church. Centuries ago, before people couldn’t read, no one read this book. Now that people have learned how to read, we see the wisdom of the early church that this book not be read in services, as it is very confusing to most readers.
Which brings us to the Book of Acts. This book was written by St. Luke, as a continuation of his Gospel. It chronicles the establishment of the early church, beginning with the Ascension and Pentecost, and following the ministry of St. Peter (the leader of the Apostles) and later of St. Paul, who was converted to the faith and who with St. Peter is held to be the Paramount of the Apostles.
Much of what is written in Acts gives us not only an insight into the early Church, but a foundation on which our modern churches should conduct themselves. It is no coincidence that the book of Acts is read during the Paschal season. In the season of renewal of our faith, the book of Acts reinforces renewal of our purpose as a church. In the readings from Acts of the previous Sundays of the Paschal season, we read about trust and faith, the basic work of the church, and how God can work through each person. Today brings several new lessons.
The passage begins by recounting the fear that rose over the stoning to death of St. Stephen, and who were now afraid to speak the Word of God to anyone except the Jews. They feared the reaction of the Gentiles. This is a natural reaction to fear is to not take chances. The passage continues that there were certain people from Cyprus and Cyrene who courageously preached the Good News to the Greek as well. God’s hand was with them and protected them from hostility, allowing for the message to take root with them, so that many were believing. The lesson here is the God’s hand goes with those who faithfully teach the Word of God, providing protection and encouragement. And that we should take changes and preach the Word of God to everyone, whether we think they will receive it or reject it.
Word of conversion of Gentiles reached Jerusalem and the Apostles dispatched Barnabas (one of the Seventy Apostles) to Antioch. Barnabas was glad when he came and saw the grace of God at work, and that a large number of people was added to the Lord. One sad lesson from church history is that newcomers to the faith haven’t always been well-received. In fact, in some Orthodox church communities, especially ones that are heavily ethnic, people outside of the dominant ethnic group (Greek, Romanian, Russian, etc.) are not received well. It is feared that outsiders will “dilute the ethnicity.” This comment was actually made to me in the last few weeks, and I serve a community that is not very heavily Greek. So, it is a reality in some of our communities, a sad reality at that. The lesson here is that we should rejoice when people come to Christ, whatever ethnic group they come from. And if non-Greeks join a Greek Orthodox Church, or non-Romanians join a Romanian Orthodox Church, this should be met with joy, not with consternation.
Barnabas, we are told, spend a whole year in this new church community, teaching a large number of people. The lesson here is that we don’t just bring people in for the sake of bringing them in, but we take time to teach them, and people who join the church take time to learn. There have been countless examples of people who have been part of the church for years and lack basic knowledge of the faith. There have also been countless examples of people who have joined the church but have left quickly because they were not embraced. We must embrace visitors and make teaching and learning a priority for everyone, regardless of how long they have been a member.
Finally, when Agabus stood up and foretold that a great famine was going to come over all the world, the disciples got together and organized a relief effort, each one according to his ability. The lesson here is that our church communities are not islands or entities unto themselves. We are part of a greater network of Christian churches, we are part of the city in which our church is located, we are part of a country, and we are connected indeed with all people. Our churches therefore should be set up with ample funds to be sent outside the community—across town or across the world—to help those who are in need.
There are many lessons to be learned about church history from the Book of Acts. Let us take those lessons and apply them to our church communities and our Christian lives!
Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After this He appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country.
And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and He upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
And these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen.
Mark 16: 9-20
(Third Eothinon Gospel)
Christ is Risen!
The day after Pascha is a very important day in your life! Why? Because it sets the tone for the rest of your year until next Lent. There is no “virtual” church today. During most years, the Holy Week journey is exhausting for us physically. And emotionally. This year, with “virtual” church, the “come down” from Holy Week is likely to be different. We didn’t actually go to church each day, or see friends, or receive sacraments. In fact, many of us probably struggled to stay engaged.
Which is why today is the most critical Bright Monday we’ve ever had. We didn’t get as much of a spiritual infusion as we usually get during Holy Week probably. It’s back to home schooling kids, trying to manage work, home and them. Holy Week might have been a good diversion from the coronavirus news and collateral concern but those things will be right back front and center today. Hopefully you took away something positive from the Holy Week journey. If nothing else, hopefully you are more committed to making the journey next year.
When we sang “Let all things begin anew in the Light of the Resurrected Christ,” it didn’t mean that all of our problems got wiped out. It means that we have new lenses through which to see our challenges. Hopefully in the last week, even with “virtual” worship, we have gained a new lens of forgiveness, a new lens of optimism, a new lens of hope. Hopefully we have received an infusion of patience as well.
So, today, when you have the urge to say something unkind, be purposeful in refraining from that. When you have the urge to cut someone off in traffic, be purposefully patient. When you have the urge to snap at someone, resist that. If the Resurrection was a sign of Christ healing the fissure between us and Him, we should use the Resurrection as an opportunity to heal the fissures between us and Him and us and one another.
For the next forty days, we will greet each other with the words “Christ is Risen” and we will respond with “Truly He is risen.” Will we faithfully do this? Or will the joy of the Resurrection quickly pass from our lips as well? I use the Paschal greeting in all correspondence and I try to answer the phone the same way, even when I know the caller isn’t Orthodox. It is a small and simple way to keep Christ in the conversation, in the consciousness.
Christ is Risen, and that matters. That matters for our whole life. As we read in the Gospel of John at the Resurrection, which is the scripture quote, “to as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God.” When our parents took us out to dinner for our birthdays, or did special things for us, we were grateful. Gratitude seems very fleeting in the world today. Someone does something for us, and we think almost immediately what else will they do for us? If the first sin was ingratitude, then we have to offer the Paschal greeting with a sense of gratitude. More important, we have to live the reality of Christ’s resurrection with gratitude.
To say, “Christ is Risen but I’m still going to pick a petty fight with my spouse, or my coworker or with someone” doesn’t fit.
Neither does “Christ is Risen and I will be a maniacal driver.”
Or “Christ is Risen but I’m going to make people nervous every time they see me.”
Or “Christ is Risen and nothing is going to change in my life from two weeks ago.”
Christ is Risen and that matters. Christ is Risen and that calls us to change. Christ is Risen and that calls us to action. Christ is Risen and that calls us to continue to grow TOWARDS Him.
Last week, you set aside extra time for God. Make sure you set some time aside for Him today, and tomorrow, and every day.
Resurrection Day! O peoples, let us brilliantly shine! Pascha, the Lord’s Pascha! For Christ our God has out of death passed us over into life, and likewise from earth to heaven, as we now sing unto Him a triumphal hymn. (From the Matins of the Resurrection, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
I invite you to be different today than you were a week ago!
St. John the Baptist, Tampa, FL