Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
So runs the ancient Easter greeting of the Christian Church. Below my own ramblings here, I’ve posted the Easter sermon of John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople in the fourth and early fifth centuries. Chrysostom’s sermon describes the experience of salvation and celebrating with the risen Christ as a feast to which all who hear are invited, even if they haven’t gone through the spiritual preparation which is represented and embodied by fasting for Lent. I recommend reading it – it doesn’t take long. This sermon is still used today as part of the Easter liturgy of Eastern Orthodox churches. (Incidentally, though the eastern and western (Catholic/Protestant) dates for Easter are often different, they happen to coincide this year.)
Going by my experience of this weekend, I think I perhaps fall under the category of those that have not kept the fast but are still invited to the table, as on Saturday evening I enjoyed a three course conference banquet prior to arriving late for an Easter prayer vigil leading up to midnight, when we began our celebrations. Saturday at least was not very fast-like but I certainly seem to have been feasting since then – after midnight some of us adjourned to an old school diner I think run by some Portuguese people, where I enjoyed my vanilla milkshake but was probably unwise to make myself try to eat anything. Sunday morning I was served a pancake breakfast, I went out for a sushi lunch and in the evening my church’s monthly community meal (called EAT, standing for Everyone at the Table) took on the nature of an Easter feast. Eating and drinking, particularly eating and drinking together with others, is one of those thoroughly ordinary activities whose possible resonances spill out way further than we can comprehend.
Though the timing of the conference I was attending seemed a little odd, even on the pragmatic grounds that people are likely to be away this weekend rather than particularly religious grounds, there were a number of points in the conference which resonated with these themes of fasting and feasting. One of the papers was on the topic of Jewish settlers in Surinam in the seventeenth century, and the speaker quoted part of the Jewish Passover liturgy (the Haggadah), a set of statements and prayers to be said whilst sharing a symbolic meal (the Seder). The one presiding at the table holds up the matzot, the unleavened bread, and says:
This is the bread of affliction
that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.
Let all who are hungry, come and eat.
Let all who are needy, come and celebrate Passover.
This moment perhaps anticipates the reshaping of the significance of the Passover effected by Jesus, who, the gospels recount, “took bread” at the Seder table, blessed it and said “Take, eat; this is my body.” The words of the Haggadah also echo older scriptural words such as these:
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Many of the kinds of resonances I’ve alluded to above can be felt coming through in John Chrysostom’s festival sermon. Enjoy!
The Easter sermon of John Chrysostom
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavour.
The deed He honours and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
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 forever and ever. Amen!