Christ is Risen! Can there be any doubt of that reality?! On Pascha, even though all of us were unable to gather physically to celebrate the Resurrection, the day really did feel different didn’t it? There were no reminders on the morning news that it was Pascha for millions of Christians in the world. There were no icon parades down the street. There were no late night Paschal celebrations at the Church until 5:00 AM. Yet despite all of that, Pascha Sunday still felt special! The air was different. The sunshine felt more radiant. Even when I shouted Christ is Risen in Slavonic to the family of turkeys that roam our Church property, they responded joyously! All of creation knew that Pascha Sunday is a day that was set apart from all the rest! It isn’t just a Holy Day…it is an experience…that can only be brought on when God rises from the dead.
We all heard those beautiful and incredible words from St. John Chrysostom last week when he said: Christ is Risen, and Hell is overthrown. Christ is Risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is Risen…and LIFE reigns. It hit me this past week, in what is appropriately called in the church “Bright Week”, how much we NEEDED “Life to reign” in the midst of the darkness of this pandemic. Pascha has proved once again, perhaps this year more than any, that for those that have tremendous faith: Christ’s Resurrection changes EVERYTHING!
This whole week, we heard in the Gospel lessons about how the presence of the Risen Christ truly changes and transforms us as human beings. Before Christ made his appearance after His crucifixion, we read about St. Mary Magdalene, who was filled with grief and doubt that her master was dead. We heard about the two travelers on the Road to Emmaus who were in despair, because their great deliverer had been crucified. The Gospel for St. Thomas Sunday begins by telling us how the Disciples hid themselves in the upper room out of sadness and fear of the authorities, many of them perhaps feeling just like we have felt all of Great Lent: A little bit broken and overwhelmed.
In all of these examples, all it took for their dispositions and doubts to change, was Christ’s presence among them! His presence transformed our weeping patroness Mary Magdalene into a disciple with unbounded joy, which eventually led her to shed all fear in life and proclaim the Risen Christ in Rome (in the audience of Caesar Himself!)
Christ’s presence transformed the hearts of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus. After not recognizing that it was Christ who had appeared and spoke to them, they asked themselves: “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the scripture to us?” I felt that same way when reading the Paschal Homily last Sunday. Even to reading to an empty Church, when I heard those glorious words, I too felt like a fire had been lit in my heart, that has continued to carry me even to today! This is what Christ’s presence…even in the very words that we read about Him…does for us!
Look what His presence did to the Disciples who were locked in and afraid to open the door! They went from broken and disheartened, to strong, confident, and bold lions of faith! They sang, rejoiced, healed, and taught the masses, and they did it not just for a few days after the resurrection, but for the rest of their lives!
We have spent all of Great Lent in isolation, hanging onto three words that (at least for me) offered a daily reminder of hope: “Wait for Pascha”. Now, just as our hearts have been transformed with the palpable presence of Christ…we need to transform those three words as well. We go from waiting to experiencing. We go from anticipation of the Light to be being bathed in Glory. We transform the words “Wait till Pascha” to: “Christ is Risen!”
This is most definitely not the Pascha we all wanted. Each of us no doubt craved being with one another as we went around the Church with our lit candles, singing “Thy Resurrection O Christ our Savior.” We so desperately wanted to hear those first few verses of St. John’s Gospel in all of those different languages from throughout the world. Priests everywhere would have given anything to hear everyone in their parishes shout the response to His proclamation that “Christ is Risen!” (It’s so hard to do that to an empty Church!).
No one in the world got the Pascha that they wanted…but we all got the Pascha that we so desperately needed. Now, we carry that light on with us, not just for 24 hours…not just until the Kielbasa is gone from our baskets…not just until Ascension or Pentecost…but for the rest of our lives, all while shouting those glorious words of truth: Christ is Risen!