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Guest Viewpoints

It is the Day of the Resurrection

May 8, 2024
By Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Clapsis

Let us make ourselves resplendent for the festival and embrace one another.

Let us say, brethren, even to those who do not love us: “Let all be forgiven in the Resurrection, and so exclaim: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and bestowing life on those in the graves.”

For the Orthodox Church, the resurrection is not simply the proclamation of what happened to the Crucified Jesus but an event that affects the life of the whole world and humanity. In the festive hymns of Easter, the faithful are jubilant because of Christ’s resurrection. They are encouraged to embrace one another and consider even those who do not love them as their brethren. After they have reconciled and forgiven one another, they proclaim in unity the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Orthodox icon of the resurrection, the descent of the crucified Jesus into ‘Ades’ depicts the risen Christ pulling Adam and Eve out of Hades. It portrays the belief of our church that the risen Christ, provides to humanity a new life into God’s kingdom to the extent that people maintain their unity with Him.

For St. Paul, the resurrection of the crucified Jesus is the epitome of what God, in his abundant love, has done for humanity and the world. The church’s faith indisputably depends on Christ’s resurrection. This is unequivocally stated by St. Paul: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:14).”

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus provide us with a narrative that structures and gives meaning and direction to the believers’ personal and communal lives. Living and experiencing evil and suffering in the present world, one wonders how Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection affects the understanding of our human condition. The pervasiveness of evil and suffering on a personal and global level is one of the most imponderable questions facing humanity. While it is true that the only adequate response to the question of evil and suffering is to do something about reducing its existence, we know that evil and suffering all too frequently overcome our best-laid plans and efforts at elimination.

The human story is marked by tragedy in its origins and its ending. To acknowledge this situation with all honesty and realism is at least to recognize the flawed state of the human condition and envision through hope a better world freed from injustice, suffering, and evil. Hope arises out of a stubborn refusal to give way in the face of so much evil and suffering, out of the extraordinary ability to begin again after being touched by tragedy, and out of momentary human glimpses of transcendence amid pain and joy.

The resurrection assures that evil and suffering do not have the last word. Injustice and inequality do not finally endure, and death is not, in truth, the end. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a statement that good triumphs over evil, that suffering can be transformed into a new life, that justice will take over from injustice, and that death itself is a point of entry into the newness of life.

The New Testament language (I Cor 15) of the “first fruits,” “spiritual body,” “new Adam,” and “new creation” imply change and transformation as well as completion and fulfillment not only of the individual but also of the whole humanity and creation.

Thus, contrary to those who advocate that the world has a futureless future with no content and direction, the resurrection of Jesus marks something new in history. It provides us with a glance at the actual existence of a future after death. The event of the resurrection counterclaims the suggestion that death is the definitive end of life and that the future is empty for the individual and society. In short, the resurrection of Christ is an anticipation of the end (‘prolepsis’) and, therefore, is a disclosure in principle of the future. It is the pre-appearance of the end of time, the arrival in outline of the end of the world, giving us a preview of the life to come. To this extent, the resurrection provides us with a new way of looking at life and reality.

The risen Christ fulfills human hopes and becomes Christian hope’s new ground and object. The cross and resurrection of Christ are the basis for Christian understanding of history as the realm where people experience the frailty of human life through suffering and evil, and, at the same time, adamantly refuse to accept the finality or ultimacy of such experiences because the future belongs to God. Because they understand the present from the perspective of the future, they urgently pray that the kingdom of heaven will come so the world will change, and the risen Christ is the proleptic presence of the future world that we desire to live in.

Fr. Emmanuel Clapsis is a former professor of Systematic Theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.

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