“From the very outset, the coming of Christ represents the fulfillment of hope. From the very beginning the Gospel story means victory arising out of catastrophe. Disappointment, defeat , despair, confusion - and all of a sudden, an unexpected display of the miraculous power of God.” Fr. Alexander Men
Towards the end of Great Lent we begin to understand what Christ means by taking up our cross daily. Both through our ascetic discipline during the fast and through our negligence we have come to understand our own personal fallenness. We have begun to see ourselves as sinners in need of repentance. We realize that we are the bride who has no wedding garment to wear for the bridegroom. We have many crosses in our lives that we must take up in order to be co-crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). It can be easy to get discouraged at this point. We may begin to feel that there is no hope or possibility of finding the joy of Christ in the midst of these troubling revelations about ourselves.
Then we come to Great and Holy Friday where we mourn and lament the death of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. We begin to understand the depths of His love for mankind. We hear the words of the hymns, “Today He who hung the Earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree. The King of Angels is decked with a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple robe of mockery. He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face. The bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the cross with nails. The Son of the virgin is pierced with a spear. We worship Thy passion, O Christ. We worship Thy passion, O Christ. We worship Thy passion, O Christ. Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.” The devastating event begins to sink in. Christ our Lord is being killed. We begin to feel as if the whole world is fading into the darkness of sin and death. It is at this very moment that we utter this last line, “show us also Thy glorious resurrection!” Just when the night is at its darkest depths, light begins to dawn.
While Christ is still in the tomb on the matins of Holy Saturday, we begin to sing of His coming resurrection, “O Life, how canst Thou die? How canst Thou dwell in a tomb? Yet by Thy death Thou hast destroyed the reign of death, and raised all the dead from hell. O , how great the joy, how full the gladness, that Thou hast brought to Hades’ prisoners, like lightning flashing in its gloomy depths.” The tomb becomes the life-giving tomb. We realize that Life had to enter death in order to be raised in glory freeing all of those held captive to sin and death. Here is the victory arising out of catastrophe. It is here that we begin to see the full meaning of the Cross - death is swallowed up in victory and Christ bursts forth from the tomb proclaiming, “Let creation rejoice! Let all born on earth be glad! For hateful hell has been despoiled. Let the women with myrrh come to meet me; for I am redeeming Adam and Eve and all their descendants, and on the third day shall I arise!”
Christ Himself tries to console even the sorrow of His mother while she laments the death of her son. “Do not lament me, O Mother, seeing me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed. For I shall arise and be glorified with eternal glory as God. I shall exalt all who magnify you in faith and in love.” Thus in the darkness of the Paschal midnight we begin to sing the hymns of Christ’s resurrection. We sense this building joy springing up within us as we anticipate the light dawning from the east. Even before the rising of the sun we already begin to joyfully proclaim “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.” All of life is brought to this one moment of resurrection, everything becomes clear in this light of glory. We are filled with a joy inexpressible and full of glory.
Fr. Alexander Men, a 20th century Russian priest and martyr wrote of the centrality of the joy of Pascha for the life of a Christian. He says, “If you want to find something real in Christianity, then search for it only through the risen Christ. Secondly, the Resurrection means victory. It means that God entered our human struggle, the great struggle of spirit against darkness, evil, oppression. He who was rejected, condemned, killed, humiliated, somehow focused all the misfortunes of the world in Himself and triumphed over all of them.” We die with Christ in order to be raised with Him. This event brings meaning and comfort to the world. This is the essence of the Gospel, or the “good news” that we confess and proclaim. Fr. Alexander continues, “This means that the Resurrection is not something that occurred once upon a time proving Christ’s victory to the disciples, something which had its place two thousand years ago. The Encounters continued to happen, they always happened... Here lies the meaning of the Resurrection, today’s meaning, for this time, not for history, not for the past, but for this day... He acts today regardless of human weaknesses. He will triumph always: and He has only begun His work, only begun, because His aim is the Transfiguration of the world, the Kingdom of God. We need only to anticipate this, to feel its coming.” This is the giddy and intoxicating joy that we sense at Pascha. This is the joy that we are take into the world and proclaim in and through our lives. Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!