Have you ever had news that was SO exciting and AMAZING that you couldn’t wait to share it with others? That’s how I feel about the Eastern Orthodox Church’s take on Easter! This is the kind of beautiful, mind-blowing Truth that has the power to change lives in the most incredible ways.
Now, I don’t want to make assumptions, because you know what they say about assumptions 🙂 … so, I’ll start at the beginning. Easter is the celebration of Jesus the Christ rising from the dead on Sunday morning after being killed on a cross on Good Friday. Interestingly, while the Bible gives fairly detailed accounts of Jesus’ death and a variety of stories following His resurrection, there is no portrayal of what happened during His death and resurrection. I say that just to note this was a somewhat open question the early Church wrestled with.
We see evidence of this in the artwork in early churches and cathedrals. Since this was over, if not well over, a thousand years ago, it’s important for us to remember the VAST majority of people then could NOT read, so a primary way to communicate important messages to them was via art. Not terribly long into Church history we see two primary takes on Christ’s resurrection. The West viewed it as a singular event, meaning JUST Jesus was/is raised from the dead, though it did mean we eventually would be raised to new life too.
This is where it gets interesting. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam ALL started in the East, so I understand the Eastern traditions and views on things to be older and more original (Quick Note: I’d like to point out while I’m sharing the East’s take on Easter, I’m not throwing out or dissing the West’s, I think they can coexist and both be celebrated). The East understood Christ’s resurrection as a universal event and truth. It wasn’t JUST Jesus who experienced new life, but ALL humanity. We see this in the artwork of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which regularly depicts two AMAZING and life-changing things.
The first of these is Jesus is standing on Death, also known as Hades (which is sometimes mistakenly translated in the Bible as “hell”). The Christ standing on death is a powerful symbol meaning Jesus has once and for all defeated death for EVERYONE. Christ died to go into death to fill death with His self, so that when we die all we experience is Christ.
The second incredible thing regularly depicted in the artwork of Eastern Orthodoxy is as Jesus rises from the dead he is depicted as taking Adam and Eve out of Hades with Him. Adam and Eve are representatives of ALL humanity, so this means in dying Jesus went into the great darkness of death, filled it with His Light, and in His resurrection took and freed ALL humanity with Him. Wow! Good golly, that’s GREAT NEWS! That PUMPS me up and I hope it does you too!
The question is, so what? What’s that mean for us here and now? First, I think it’s SUPER freeing to really feel and let sink in that as we trust Christ and His work, we can more and more enjoy life and not fear death. A second and more day-to-day bit of awesomeness can be seen in Paul’s short synapsis of the Good News of Jesus the Christ below:
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15.1-4, New Revised Standard Version)
I’ll first note that Jesus saves us from whatever we need saving from on an ongoing, daily basis. Salvation is not once, it’s not past, it’s not sometime in the future, it’s always and forever. Christ is continually freeing us from whatever holds us captive, be it fears, worries, insecurities, illnesses, traumas, addictions, our own inner demons, or whatever. I think this is pretty easily seen in the English translation of the above passage (as a side note, it was originally written in ancient Greek, as was the rest of the New Testament). What’s less easily seen is the understandable mistranslation of Jesus being “raised” on the third day. I heard in a podcast sermon the other day, in the Greek this verb is continuous, meaning it’s better (but somewhat nonsensically) translated as: Jesus is rising on the third day. In other words, we could truthfully say Jesus is ALWAYS RISING, which means from the Eastern Orthodox Church’s perspective we are also ALWAYS RISING! How cool is that?
Day by day we can rise with Christ from our losses. Moment by moment we can experience new life from our hurts. Hour by hour we can be transformed into the image and actions of the most loving, kind, peaceful, and caring person ever (i.e. Jesus). Easter, new life, wholeness, a vibrant existence, joy, bliss, and love are truly bursting up all around us and within us ALL the time! Thanks be to God for that!
Grace and peace,