When I was a puppy priest assigned in my first parish, which looked an awful lot like this one, I taught everyone the ancient Christian Easter greeting, Christ is risen!, and its response, Truly He is risen! Still used in certain cultures, it can sound ancient when you say it in Greek, exotic when you say it in Russian, and alarming when you say it in German. But all those languages carry the good news that formed their civilizations, that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead.
To announce that to everyone you meet is an expression of joy, and to receive the joyful acknowledgement is to find deep communion in the encounter. What a splendid manifestation of a society founded upon Christ Jesus!
When Saint Paul was struggling to right the course of the oft-straying Church in Corinth, he reminded them of this bedrock foundation in what is now considered one of the earliest and clearest formulations of the kernel of our Christian Faith. There was no question left as to what was the one indispensible thing: Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast -- unless you believed in vain.
What precisely is this Gospel… in which you stand? It is this: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
Christ Jesus died, was raised on the third day, and appeared to these people, who have passed it on to you. That is the kernel, the core of our faith. Without it, we have nothing, and we are the most ridiculous people on earth: If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Saint Paul, who was never one to mince words, brings everything to a fine point: If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But of course, that is not the case.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (all quotes from 1 Corinthians 15) That is precisely what we celebrate today: that Jesus is raised from the dead, and as we say every Sunday in our Creed: I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Because Christ is raised, and because we are baptized into Christ, then we are raised – and we will rise, in our flesh, on the Last Day.
This reality, this life-changing, world-altering reality, has been handed down to us, just as it was handed to Paul and he handed it on to the Corinthians. It means that we who have received it live differently from those who are not aware, and who have not been raised. This is the source of our liberation (from death) and our responsibility (for eternal life).
That Christ is raised sets us apart from the mass of our contemporaries more than it has since ancient times, for this is the Gospel that we have received, and they have rejected; in which we stand, and which they disdain. For that it is all the more important not only to conform our lives to the reality revealed in Christ, but also to realize why our lives are and must be different.
Not only for divine blessings and favor here, not only for the joys and beauties of a “neighborly” society formed around Christ’s “teachings”; but more: for the life eternal that is already begun in us since our Baptism, and nurtured in us by His risen Body and Blood.
And that, as they say, changes everything. May the reality of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and of you, transform your lives and give you abiding joy. May the Holy Spirit, dwelling within you, guide and fortify you. And may God our Father, who is faithful to His promise, bless you and all your families in these holiest days. Truly He is risen! Alleluia.