Paschal Joy

In the Eastern Churches, we spend the forty days between the Feast of the Resurrection and that of the Ascension greeting each other with “Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen!” It is my favorite of all of our liturgical greetings because it is the most joy-filled. No matter how you say it (Christos Voskros! Christos Anesti! al-Masīḥ qām!) it is a message of enormous joy. Christ is Risen. He has become the first fruits of the dead. The grave has been despoiled. Hades is in chains. Christ is Risen!

I think that after the first few days of the Easter season, it’s easy to forget that we are still in the midst of the season. It is easy to get on with our lives and forget to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. To me, this is a mistake. It’s an easy mistake to make and one that I easily find myself falling into. But it’s still a mistake. We need to embrace the joy of the Resurrection.

Yes we have to go on with our lives. Yes, we have to go to work and school. We have to do the dishes and clean the bathroom. But Christ is Risen. We live in the world, and we must face the mundane realities of that. But we cannot allow cleaning a cat’s litter box or changing diapers to distract us from the fact that the Eternal Word of God is Risen from the dead. Death has been annihilated. Hades is in chains. Yes, we will still fall asleep in the flesh. But oh what joy awaits us after that!

And now, during these last days of the Easter season, embrace the joy of the Resurrection. For Christ is Risen!

Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen! And life is liberated!
Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power, now and forever, and from all ages to all ages.
Amen!

-St. John Chrysostom

Simeon and Thomas

As we approach the first Sunday after Pascha, what we in the East call Thomas Sunday, I’ve been thinking about the famed Doubting Thomas of the Gospel in contrast with another man who met Jesus much earlier in His earthly life.

On one hand, you have a man who had followed the Lord for three years, had heard promises of the Resurrection, and refused to believe it until “I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20: 25) On the other hand, you have the man to whom it had been revealed “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2: 26)

It is, to me, a stark contrast. Thomas refuses to believe that the Lord is risen from death until he has physically seen and touched the Lord himself. Simeon does not require this; for him, merely holding the Christ child in his arms is enough. In contrast to Thomas’s demand to put his finger in the nail holes, Simeon tells the Lord that he can be dismissed in peace. Seeing the Christ child was all of the Lord’s salvation that Simeon needs. He can depart in peace because he has seen this Child who is “destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword shall pierce through your [Mary’s] own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)

Simeon is an old man near the end of his life. He has lived as long as he has with the promise of the sight of the Christ. He has seen what he was promised. He can depart in peace. He does not need to see the miracles that will come or the Lord’s glorious Passion. He has seen the Lord’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. He has seen the infant Light of the World, and it is enough. His soul is satisfied.

Thomas is not so easily appeased. Three years with the Master was not enough. The witness of his brother apostles (and the myrrh-bearing women) was not enough. The future evangelist to India is not satisfied by merely hearing the Lord has been raised from the dead. No, he wants to see and to touch for himself. He wants hard, tangible proof. And the Lord gives it to him. The Lord greets him with the offer to “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (John 20:27) Thomas is one of the privileged few Christians who had the opportunity to touch the Risen Lord’s hands and know that this Man truly is the Son of God come down to earth, crucified, died, buried, and risen. In the approximately two thousand year history of the Church, few Christians have had that opportunity.

And Thomas, to his credit, is chastened by this moment. The Lord greets his lack of faith with mercy, with a moment of proof, and Thomas is humbled by this moment. He acknowledges Jesus to be “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) His doubt is no more; he believes and accepts that this truly is the Christ, the Son of God who has come into the world to save sinners. This is the man who will go out after the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to preach the Gospel, going ultimately to India. He has seen the Lord’s salvation. He has seen the Lord’s mercy. He has touched the proof. He believes.

But the Lord’s response to him has always touched my heart. Christ replies to Thomas’s profession of faith that “because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” (John 20:29) I’ve heard it said, and I believe this, that this is Christ’s reference to all Christians who will come after the Ascension. This is a reference to the men and women whom Thomas and his brother apostles will evangelize and all those who will follow after those first Christians. It is a reference to people like St. Helena, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Sts. Vladimir and Olga, St. Nicholas, St. John Paul II, St. Teresa of Kolkata, and so many more. It is a reference to you and to me. We have believed in the Resurrection of Christ without having seen His physical body or touched His wounds. We have not put our fingers into the nail holes, but still we believe. And I dearly love that on that night eight days after the Resurrection, Christ thinks of us, makes mention of all of us who will come after those first apostles.

Both Thomas and Simeon are given to us to encourage us. Simeon believed in the hope of a promise he had received from the Holy Spirit. He saw the Christ child, and he was satisfied. He had seen but a taste of the goodness of God’s promise; it was enough. Thomas doubted the Resurrection (after all, who had ever seen a man come back from the dead of his own power before?) until he had seen it for himself. But when he saw the truth of the Lord’s promises and the Lord’s mercy to his doubt, he embraced both the truth of who Christ was and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. I think that St. Thomas is intended to encourage and support us in our moments of doubt. May we also embrace both the truth of who Christ is and the Lord’s abundant mercy towards us. And may we cry out with him, “My Lord and my God!”

It’s Okay to Mourn

Every year, I have certain expectations of Easter. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but I do expect it to be A Certain Way. Usually, my Easter lives up to my expectations-at least in the spiritual sense.

But this year, real life intervened. Not only was Easter imperfect, it didn’t live up to my expectations. People were late for things. People were sick. Things weren’t where they ought to have been. There were miscommunications.

And Easter wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

Now, is Christ still risen from the dead? Yes! Absolutely, He is. Is Resurrection Matins still the Most Beautiful Thing in the Whole Entire World? Uh, duh. (I had a rough day; I didn’t become a different person.)

But I’m human, and in my humanity, I experienced disappointment. I had been looking forward to certain things, and I didn’t get to experience those things. I was sad.

But I felt bad about being sad because well…it’s still Easter and it’s still Resurrection Matins and even if it wasn’t perfect it still was the basic thing that I love.

(Also, I got to hold a cute baby for a few minutes of Liturgy; that was awesome. I love holding babies.)

Last night, I was sitting there beating myself up for being unhappy because things weren’t exactly as I’d wanted them to be. Resurrection Matins was lovely. Pascha is still the most beautiful feast of the year. Christ is still risen from the dead. Sure, I didn’t get to have the experience that I’d wanted, but that doesn’t change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

And that’s true. No matter how beautiful or ugly your Paschal celebration/experience is, that does not change the essential fact of the Resurrection.

But that does not mean that you’re not allowed to be unhappy or sad if your expectations aren’t met. That doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to set expectations for what I hope Pascha 2018 is. We are human beings who were created with thoughts, feelings, and emotions. God wants us to have hopes and dreams. But He does not want us to get so caught up in our hopes and expectations that we miss out on what is happening in front of us. It’s okay that I was sad about some of my experience yesterday. But I can’t allow that to keep me from experiencing and embracing the joy of the Resurrection.

That’s not just Easter. That’s life. My life may not look like what I might have hoped it would look like by the time I was almost 29. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.) I’m allowed to be sad about that. But I should not allow my sadness to keep me from experiencing and embracing the place in which God has put me. I’m allowed to have plans and hopes for my future. But I should not allow them to keep me from seeking God’s will and living the life to which He has called me.

It’s the second day of the Paschal season, and I think that at this point, the Lord is showing me that sadness is not a bad thing, but I cannot allow it to consume me. I need to share my sorrow with Him and ask Him to show me what He wants to do with my life. I need to continue to be patient and open in my walk with Him.