He is Risen Indeed

Long ago, in Czarist Russia, Easter came. And if our Russian Orthodox friends know anything––then as now––it’s how to celebrate Easter. The Orthodox are people of the Resurrection, from the very first, to the very last. And out of their homes and hovels––many of them were little more than hovels, frankly––rushed the krepostnyye, the Russian “serfs,” to greet one another. The krepostnyye were, in effect, little more than slaves, who were literally “bought and sold” as it were by landowning nobility, together with the land they worked on. Serfdom in Europe had ended centuries before, but serfdom in Russia persisted right into the 19th century, if not later. In fact a landowner’s estate was measured not by hectares or square kilometers, but by the number of “souls,” i.e. serfs, he ‘owned.’

Nevertheless it was with great joy that they called out to one another––upon Easter morning: Khristos vahskries, or “Christ is risen.” To which their reply, was our reply, this morning, Vaistinu vahskries. In other words, “He is risen indeed.”

The joy of the krepostnyye upon Easter morning frankly mystified the great Russian novelist and landowner Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, and Anna Karenina, who had 300 serfs or souls of his own. Out walking his estates, he did not share the joy of his krepostnyye.

In fact he found this joy entirely without foundation; entirely, beyond reason. “How can you be so happy?” he said to himself, as it were, on watching his serfs greet Easter morn. “How? When you have nothing to live for but servitude? When you have nothing to live for but work, and work, and more work? When you can be bought and sold like cattle? When your very lives are not your own?”

“Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come––they have come already––to those I love or to me; nothing will remain,” Tolstoy later wrote. “Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten: and I shall not exist . . . Then why go on making any effort? . . . Had I simply understood that life had no meaning I could have “borne it quietly,” knowing that ‘that’ was my lot. Had I been like a man living in a wood from which he knows “there is no exit,” I could have lived: but I was like a man lost in a wood who, horrified at having lost his way, rushes about wishing to find the road. He knows that each step he takes confuses him more and more, but still he cannot help rushing about . . .”

And yet it was not the serfs who were unhappy, but Tolstoy. And the secret to this, mystified him.

What is the secret to happiness––if any––in the face of loss, or sickness, or death? When Easter dawns, bright and fair; and yet COVID-19 continues to rage, and death lingers on???

The secret to happiness is to know the One who holds the keys to life, and death, and even life again, within his hands:––grief notwithstanding, suffering notwithstanding; sorrow notwithstanding; COVID-19––dare I say it––notwithstanding . . .

It’s beyond reason, I know––(only too well)––but what has reason ever had to do with it??? If Covid teaches us anything, it is that the reins of existence; of destiny; of time; and subsequently eternity:––lie well beyond our grasp.

We celebrate Easter today, because we know the One who holds the keys to life, and death, and life again, notwithstanding anything!

The story of Easter is an ancient one, of course. But with the raising of Jesus from the dead, so very long ago, the entire course of history changed. In this we join the Apostle Peter, eyewitness to the resurrected Christ. “Jesus of Nazareth was a man,” said Peter, “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him . . .

This man was handed over to wicked people, by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; who put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death––because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”

And what is the significance of this, even today? Why, everything, both now, and in the life to come!!! “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you,” said Paul––“he who raised Christ from the dead”––He will also give life to your mortal bodies, because of his Spirit who lives in you.” In other words, as Christ lived again; you will live again. You will!

You will even have hope again; for what is life, without hope??––hope itself being the gift of God to his people.

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received has brought about your adoption into God’s family . . . For this reason, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life; neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Though hardly highly-educated theologians, the krepostnyye knew this vis-à-vis the Resurrection of Christ, even if Tolstoy did not; and it gave them great joy. Unspeakable joy.

“We’re at a fork in the road,” said Justin Trudeau to the nation, on Thursday, speaking of course of the Covid-19 pandemic––“a fork in the road between the best, and the worst possible outcomes.”

And he was right.

“The best possible outcome is no easy path for any of us,” he went on, “the initial peak, the top of the curve, may be in the late spring, with the end of the first wave in the summer… there will likely be smaller outbreaks for a number of months after that. This will be the new normal, until a vaccine is developed . . . . The path we take is up to us. It depends on what each of us does, right now.”

But I believe there is an even greater fork in the road. And it is this: Do we take the path of trust in God, whom to know, and whom to trust, is life everlasting; or do assume that life has no meaning, bearing this knowledge––so called––quietly,” assuming that to be our lot????

Believe in God, and share the hope of the Resurrection.

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!