It is so good to be here with you all, in these most bizarre times. As Orthodox Christians we have real and profound reason to be hopeful, even in the face of horrific tragedy. We have lost many loved ones, and may lose a good many more.
Our faith is not some “pie in the sky when you die by and by”, no it is far more interesting than that. As we keep our eyes on the truth of Christ, we realize, especially in times like these that the Christ, and his Church never told us it would always be good or easy to be Christian. Our very existence does not preclude tragedy. Not at all. He promised us it would work out even when from our stand point we absolutely do not comprehend what is occurring. When we say we “lost” whatever number to this Virus, did we lose them? Not exactly. Yes, we are sad about many things, which is totally normal, but we never lose sight of the Resurrection of Christ Jesus through it all. We get to participate in existence beyond our comprehension through this event.
Christianity is so strange, that in fact it would be almost impossible to make up, and past that, if it was contrived nobody would have been able to keep the story straight for any length of time.
It really gives hope in a double edged fashion. As St. Peter tells us in Acts today, David the patriarch has a tomb that is well known to all, and is with us to this day. He did know God had sworn an oath to him though, that “For thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hell nor let his flesh see corruption.” At first blush these seem to be mutually exclusive statements.
There is a threefold truth here which lets the words of David make sense.
All men die and pass away from earthly existence at some point
The Lord will not abandon the faithful soul, nor let their flesh see corruption
We believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come in Christ.
Now if this were a manmade or contrived religion, there is no way anybody would have made it holding all these truths at the same time. The divine nature of it is what makes it so profound, and such a thing as man would not ever come up with of his own design.
It has been said “there are no Atheist in fox holes” I suspect there are fare few Atheist during pandemics as well. The intellectual cutesiness of Atheism is not quite as cute when lots of people are getting sick, and many facing bodily death.
Our faith, and our Sacred Scripture in many ways act like a corrective lens, for our otherwise distorted view of reality. “By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though for now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials….”
The thing about this is that it is true always. If this would have just been any other Easter, any other run of the mill time. This would have been the reading, and would have been equally appropriate. The lectionary, and cycles of the Church year keep us from trying to insert our own personality into the mix. To say “oh my this or that is going on, let me hunt up some Scripture that speaks to that.” Nope not a chance. The Church states the truth in a systematic fashion, and regular way. Our conditions change, we are passable, the faith and the hope of the Church remain eternal and relevant always in far deeper ways than me trying to dig up remedies to current temporal issues.
The Gospel of John today is making the integrity of Christ as a complete person very real to us, and in light of this reality the “resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come makes more sense. It really would have been easier, and less messy just to have Christ be some dualist reality of matter and spirit. have the divine aspect drop off the clothes of humanity and take off in some purely spiritual form. That is not what happens though. Christ is really resurrected; the body is not in the tomb. He stands among the disciples and says “Peace be with you”
People are not composite beings; they are whole integrated creatures of God. Doesn’t that make the doctrines of the incarnation, resurrection, and ascension make a lot more sense. It must be important to put all this time and energy into the project.
He shows them the wounds he suffered, he commissions and empowers them to carry on the work of the Church and the Gospel, and he gives the Apostles real divine authority to conduct the work he means for them to do. If it were manmade do you think it would still be here? Doubful.
Now for our part we are not likely going to have the opportunity of St. Thomas and get to examine the physical wounds of Christ Jesus with our own hands, but it must have been a moving experience, as he has the revelation he is in the presence of his Lord and God when his has done it.
Blessed are those who believe and have not seen. That is, you sort of. In the Blessed Sacrament we do see the Lord right here at our altar. And in your and my attempts to live out our Christian vocation we see Christ in each other.
We may undergo some trials in the present times, we may see difficult things happen in the world, but our hope in the Resurrection of Christ always fuels our hope, it keeps our faith intact, and compels us to exercise charity no matter how crazy it looks in the world we find ourselves.
Individually, and as a Church it is never over, we do not die. It is not over till Christ says it’s over, and we are still here!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.