Thomas Sunday, April 27, 2014
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Christ is risen! Glory to His third-day resurrection!
Concerning this second greeting, “Glory to His third-day resurrection,” I had occasion recently to look up what the original Greek text for it was. It is always a little irritating that we sometimes have to deal with different translations for liturgical texts, sometimes from the same sources, and since I found different opinions on this one, I wanted to go and check what the original was so that I could have a better understanding of what might be correct.
Having figured out that one particular word that kept getting inserted in some translations was not in fact in the Greek, I also happened to note something a little surprising to me, though it will not be surprising to Greek speakers: The word that’s used in this greeting for “resurrection” is not the one we’re most used to: anastasis, which literally means “standing up.” Anastasis is what’s written on icons of the Resurrection, and Greek speakers wish one another Kali Anastasi before and at Pascha. And of course the names Anastasios and Anastasia are all derived from anastasis. But that’s not the word in the Greek original for “Glory to His third-day resurrection” or the response “We adore His third-day resurrection.”
Rather, the word is egersis, which means “awakening.” So we are literally saying “Glory to His third-day awakening” and “We adore His third-day awakening.” Egersis is mostly used in ancient Greek to refer to waking up from sleeping, but it’s used metaphorically in the New Testament to refer to awakening from death, both when Jesus does it and also referring to the raising of other people from the dead.
So while the most common Greek term for resurrection means “standing up,” we also have the sense that resurrection is about “waking up,” as well, and even though we don’t usually translate it that way, we greet each other at the end of services during this Paschal season with a reference to Jesus’ “awakening” from death.
It is in this light, that resurrection means “waking up,” that I would like us to contemplate the Paschal mystery today.
There have been countless people over the centuries for whom the liturgical, mystical experience of the resurrection, especially the services of Pascha, was indeed a time of awakening for them. Nothing matches the joy of Pascha. Nothing eclipses that bright sun that arises in the middle of the night, that light that is never overtaken by night. It is an old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, but we might paraphrase that by saying that there are no atheists at Pascha.
But just as some atheists in foxholes might throw up a prayer to God to save them in the middle of a firefight yet not return to prayer once the battle is over, some people do come to Pascha or to other experiences of God and then later go away not having really woken permanently up after the experience. But some do wake up and stay awake. There are conversions in foxholes, and there are conversions at Pascha, whether it is that bright night we just celebrated a week ago or the ongoing Pascha that characterizes all of Orthodox spiritual life. There are people who wake up and then stay awake.
And what do we mean by this awakening? In its most powerful sense, there will be a general awakening of all mankind that will happen at the end of time because of Christ’s awakening from the dead. All shall be raised on the last day. It will not be life after death but life after life after death. Many people ask what happens to us when we die, but from a Christian perspective, what happens to us after that is far more interesting. After the temporary period of waiting that begins when our souls separate from our bodies, the two will be reunited, and we will all be raised, all of us rising from that sleep of death.
But there is also another sense that we may awaken even while still living this earthly life, and that awakening will very much affect the manner of that future awakening for each of us. That is, if we truly awaken in this life, then when we awake from death at the end of time, we will experience eternal wakefulness rather than eternal dying.
But what does this awakening in this life look like? What does it consist of? How do we stay awake?
I recently had the beautiful experience of describing the most basic of Christian doctrines to someone who simply did not know them. As the words of the Gospel revealed themselves, this person started telling me things suddenly started making sense that never made sense before, that the Gospel answered questions that he didn’t even know to ask but now made a lot of sense to ask.
When the Gospel of Christ’s coming into this world as truly God and man, with His life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection, is preached and then really incorporated into our basic way of approaching the world and interpreting the world, then it really is an awakening of the mind. Life is still tough, but in the Gospel—in the light of Pascha—life truly has clarity and meaning.
And the most profound awakening in the mind that we see from the encounter with the risen Jesus in Pascha is the one revealed in today’s Gospel with the Apostle Thomas meeting the risen Jesus and crying out “My Lord and my God!” Because of the resurrection, Thomas not only has clarity and meaning for his own life, but he gains ultimate clarity and meaning. He recognizes God when he sees Him. There really is no greater clarity, knowledge or meaning than that.
But the biggest effect that our awakening to the resurrection has on someone is not only what he can see and know, but that he is set free. What does this mean? In our world, ultimate power over people is held by those who can control life and death. There are many ways we are restrained and controlled by this means. It is why tyrants and unjust rulers keep their power, because of fear, because of their ability to control others by threatening them with death.
But if the resurrection is real, then that means that death has no real meaning, no power at all. Yes, we may temporarily die once, but there will be life after life after death. The rulers of first century Palestine colluded with the greatest empire the world had ever seen to put the innocent Jesus to death, yet death could not hold Him. The grave had no power over Him. The Author of Life could not be held by corruption.
This is what it means for us to awaken—whether it is a major awakening with repentance and deep conversion or even just a brief moment when something makes sense that did not before. Because of this awakening, we are set free, perhaps a little or perhaps a great deal, from the power of death.
There is hope and liberation by our embrace of Pascha! We do not have to live in fear, even if our lives on this Earth are short. Because the hope of the resurrection changes our perspective on life. This is not all there is. We will indeed one day come awake, just as Jesus did.
The most beautiful morning to awaken on is Pascha. Yes, it’s beautiful even if we ended up waking earlier than we wanted to because the kids got up or because we just stayed up too late or the neighbors got their chainsaws going or whatever. It’s beautiful because in that awakening, we awaken to a new day, a day when death has been overthrown, a day when clarity and power and meaning have come to our renewed minds, a day when we can take all courage and joy, because there is nothing to be afraid of, for death itself has begun to work backward.
We will all one day awaken to that final and universal resurrection. And then no one will ever need to sleep again, not for the resting of bodies nor the sleep of death. And when we awaken, we shall see our Savior Jesus Christ as He is, and in that awakening, we shall be like Him—fully awake.
Christ is risen! Glory to His third-day resurrection!