I declare unto you the Gospel … Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…
(1 Cor. 15: 1, 3-4)
The Good News of Christianity is rooted in three confirmed facts: Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again on the third day. From Lazarus Saturday until Pascha, the day of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we celebrate these three most basic facts of the Gospel proclaimed by the Holy Apostles
“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures …”
From the earliest days of humanity, after the turning away of our first parents, a state of distance had engulfed humanity. It was a distance – a moving away from the loving Creator, and then, it resulted in a distance between us as humans. That distance, that turning away, we call sin. The actions that proceed from that turning away we call sins.
Once, one of the great Desert Fathers of Scetis, St. Macarius, had a very unusual experience when he was walking in the desert. He accidentally found the skull of a pagan high priest that was permitted to speak to him. It said,
“‘Whenever you take pity on those who are in torments, and pray for them, they feel a little respite.’ The [elder] said to him, ‘What is this alleviation, and what is this torment?’ He said to him, ‘As far as the sky is removed from the earth, so great is the fire beneath us; we are ourselves standing in the midst of the fire, from the feet up to the head. It is not possible to see anyone face to face, but the face of the one is fixed to the back of another. Yet when you pray for us, each of us can see the other’s face a little. Such is our respite.’”
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, B. Ward, pp. 136-137, Cistercian Pub: Kalamazoo
This turning away, this ‘not seeing the face’, but hiding our true self in isolation with our own ‘fig leaves’, is exactly what Jesus came to heal through His crucifixion. This was ‘according to the Scriptures’. The prophecies of Isaiah 53:5-12; Psalm 22(21):12-17; and Zechariah 12:10, all show that this was the eternal Plan of the Father to restore us back to communion and connection with Him and one another. According to the Scriptures, they cast lots for His garments, they pierced His hands and feet, as a suffering lamb He took away our sins, and many more. He is the ‘Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world’ (John 1:29; Rev. 4:6, 13:8), as the Prophet and Forerunner, John the Baptist proclaimed.
From Palm Sunday until Great Friday we have the Lamb (Christ) teaching in the temple. His riding a young donkey in triumph turned the image of worldly power and authority on its head. His washing of the disciples’ feet as a servant revealed the Way of True Authority. His giving His body and blood as our food revealed the source of our Life (John 6:53-63). Finally, as the Lamb of God, on the Cross, He offered Himself as the Life-giving Sacrifice to cleanse us, heal us, and re-connect us to the Father, and through Him, to one another (2 Cor. 5:18-21, cf. Gen. 22:7-14 'God will provide Himself, the Lamb').
“He was buried…”
A common question that people ask is ‘what happened during the three-days that Jesus was in the tomb? This is answered with such clarity, inspiration and power by St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus, that the entire sermon is like an unveiling of these three days. Here is a fragrance from that homily:
From Heaven to earth and from earth to the nether world God makes His way. Ye that from ages past have fallen asleep, rejoice! Ye that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, receive the great Light! With the servants is the Master; with the dead is God; with the mortal is Life; with the guilty is the Guiltless; with those in darkness is the unwaning Light; with the captives is the Liberator; and with those in the nethermost is He that is above the very heavens. Christ came upon earth, and we have believed; Christ is among the dead, let us descend with Him and behold those mysteries yonder! Let us come to know the wonders of the Hidden One hidden under the earth!
The Lamentations of Matins of Holy and Great Saturday, St. Ephiphanius, p. 34, Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, 1981
“He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures…”
Once again, St. Paul, in his proclaiming the Gospel, roots it in the prophetic Scriptures. King David in Psalm 15 (16 KJV):10 prophesied, ‘Thou wilt not abandon my soul in hades, nor wilt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.’ The early Apostles knew this to be a Messianic reference (Acts. 2:17). And when Hosea wrote, “After two days He will heal us, and in the third day we shall rise and live before Him” (Hos. 6:2, LXX, OSB), St. Paul saw this as a reference to the corporate resurrection in the Messiah of the new humanity restored to connection with God through the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah!
In closing, one of the most beautiful and powerful proclamations in all of Christianity is the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom. The liberation of the captives from Death and Hell, the victory of Life, the extinguishing of death ushers us into the hope of the Orthodox Christian, the Resurrection from the Dead.
Receive, all of you, the riches of mercy. Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal Kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his transgressions, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held by it has extinguished it. Having descended into Hades, He made Hades captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, receiving this beforehand, cried out: ‘Hades,’ said he, ‘was embittered when it met Thee in the lower regions’ (Isaiah 14:9). It was embittered, for it was destroyed. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was cast down. It was embittered, for it was bound. It received a body, and met God face to face. It received earth, and met Heaven. It received that which was seen, and fell upon that which is unseen. O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is Risen!
The Great Book of Needs, Vol. II, p. 334, St. John Chrysostom, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, South Canaan, PA
In this time of a pandemic, when the world is facing its mortality, we proclaim the Resurrection. This is the true vaccine, the true remedy, the Ultimate Truth. May each of us experience this hope, share it lovingly with others, and prepare for unending joy!
Christ is Risen! In Truth He is Risen!