Saturday, April 19, 2014

Only one Passover

The world is quite happy to oblige us in helping us celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as if we needed any help. In its grosser, more obvious forms, the pre-Easter deluge of candy, cards, flowers artificial and natural, and the rest is in our faces long before the world is really ready for them. It’s as if it wants to fool itself as well as us, into thinking that Easter is a springtime renewal holiday, a sort of ‘out with the old, in with the new’ holiday, at best a kind of spiritual spring cleaning, as if we could ever really clean ourselves.

But that’s what the world likes to think, and it’d be only too happy if the Christians, for whose sake the world goes to all this trouble, would just settle down and get with the program. Unfortunately, there’s a fringe group of these ‘incredible Christians’ that seems to want to push something else at the world. Well, patience and forbearance isn’t the monopoly of these fanatics. The world can be patient too. Along with its helpers, satan, and the flesh, the world never seems to tire of taking over our lives, even the smallest details.

So we find ourselves going to church services to celebrate Easter, after which many communities have fun activities for the children like Easter egg hunts, and of course, there’s plenty of chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chickies to go around. Those Christians who belong to communities that try to take the season more seriously, prepare themselves with fasting, prayer, confession and good works, then trade all this abstinence for an extravaganza on the night of Pascha.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with celebrating Pascha, the Lord’s Passover, with feasting and other delights. In fact, Holy Church has been encouraging us to do this at least ever since John Chrysostom preached his famous sermon that we still read in Greek and English at the end of the Resurrection service…

Do you honor God? Do you love Him?
—here’s the very feast for your pleasure.
Are you His servants, knowing His wishes?
—be glad with your Master, share His rejoicing.
Are you worn down with the labor of fasting?
—now is the time of your payment.
Have you been working since early morning?
—now you will be paid what is fair.
Have you been here since the third hour?
—you can be thankful, you will be pleased.
If you came at the sixth hour,
you may approach without fearing:
you will suffer no loss.
Did you linger till the ninth hour?
—come forward without hesitation.
What though you came at the eleventh hour?
—have no fear; it was not too late.

God is a generous Sovereign,
treating the last to come as He treats the first arrival.
He allows all His workmen to rest—
those who began at the eleventh hour,
those who have worked from the first.
He is kind to the late-comer
and sees to the needs of the early,
gives to the one and gives to the other:
honors the deed and praises the motive.

Join, then, all of you, in our Master’s rejoicing.
You who were the first to come, you who came after,
come and collect now your wages.
Rich men and poor men, sing and dance together.
You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy,
honor this day.
You that have fasted and you that have not,
make merry today.

The meal is ready: come and enjoy it.
The calf is a fat one: you will not go hungry away.
There’s kindness for all to partake of
and kindness to spare.

Away with pleading of poverty:
the Kingdom belongs to us all.
Away with bewailing of failings:
forgiveness has come from the grave.
Away with your fears of dying:
the death of our Savior has freed us from fear.
Death played the master: He has mastered death.

The world below had scarcely known Him in the flesh
when He rose and left it plunged in bitter mourning.
Isaiah knew it would be so.
‘The world of shadows mourned,’ he cried, ‘when it met You,
mourned at its bringing low, wept at its deluding.’

The shadows seized a body and found it was God;
they reached for earth and what they held was heaven;
they took what they could see: it was what no one sees.
Where is death’s goad? Where is the shadows’ victory?

Christ is risen: the world below is in ruins.
Christ is risen: the spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is risen: the angels of God are rejoicing.
Christ is risen: the tombs are void of their dead.
Christ has indeed arisen from the dead,
the first of the sleepers.

Yes, there is certainly nothing wrong with celebrating Pascha, the Lord’s Passover, Easter (as it is called in English and other Germanic tongues) with feasting and celebration. This is what the Lord wants us to do, though He celebrated it with His disciples at a campfire on a beach, grilled fish on the menu. The world, when it can’t distract us with cheap tricks, still goes in for the big illusions, still hopes to snare us, to make us forget the Truth—or has it already succeeded? There’s a fine line between happiness and joy, between indulgence and celebration.

Let our feasting, like our ikons, be windows into the life of the age to come, reminding us of our destination, letting us see glimpses of it, like the first rays of a sun still below the eastern horizon. Let our feasting not be commandeered by the world, the flesh and the devil, the three of whom delight in deluding us, in denuding us of our covering, the Lord Jesus, turning our anticipation of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb into just another gorging ourselves on the flesh of lambs. We must not be found without our wedding garment, lest we be cast out into the outer darkness.

Brothers, let’s celebrate the Lord’s Passover with spiritual rejoicing and not be satisfied with mere mortal happiness. Let our hospitality toward one another be real and from the heart, for the One who was dead and is alive forever is really in our midst. If we are Jews, let’s live as though the Passover Night and the Exodus from Egypt really happened, for in truth they did, and they still do. If we are Christians, let’s live as though the Passover Night and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened, for in truth, ‘Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down death, and to those in the tombs, bestowing Life.’

There really is, after all, only one Passover.

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