Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

He Did Not Rise Alone: A Sermon for Easter Sunday

When the Fathers speak of today’s mystery, they do so with a powerful optimism. During the last week I read seven different Easter homilies from seven different Fathers of the Church, from both the East and West.1 And one of the common preoccupations of the Fathers is the mystery of man’s restored dignity. A simple thing to see why. Today, something happens to human nature, something for which man had been waiting since his disobedience in the garden. And that is a long time to long for God beneath the weight of that disobedience.

But given what Christ’s bodily Resurrection entails, it was worth the wait.

This is how Chrysostom would have you and I approach the Easter mystery:

. . . let us offer him ourselves, which to God is the most precious and becoming of gifts. Let us offer to His Image what is made in the image and likeness of this Image. And let us make recognition of our dignity. Let us give honor to Him in Whose likeness we were made . . . . Let us become Gods because of Him, since He for us became man.2

At Easter, the tarnished image of the human soul is burnished and remade.

And the Fathers were the least sentimental of men. We are not dealing with fancy, with purely natural hopes. It is theology–theology which, like the lightening of Christ’s face, shocks as it dazzles. All our festival, all our discontinued fast, is meant to shock and dazzle now.

But we object because of our slowness. Does all this really have something to do with me? We ask I cannot feel this theology; I cannot gauge or handle it. I believe that Christ rose from the dead–but will I? Will I, can I really be remade and rise? And if that thought occurs to you now, it was anticipated fourteen centuries ago by Gregory the Great. The great Benedictine pastor reminds us of a passage in St Matthew,3 in which we learn that, at the moment of Christ’s Resurrection, “many bodies of the saints that had slept arose.” Preaches Gregory: “In that hour He died alone; but He did not rise alone from the dead.”4

We came out of that deep sepulcher on that first Easter. It is our Baptism.

Thus St Gregory forbids us to doubt and hedge today. It is theology which the Fathers are always breathing: so I speak to you now not with my authority, but with theirs. We are wading through theology, theology which is always greater and more potent than we are. And what a comfort. As the holy pope says,

Let no one say: No man can hope that [this resurrection] will happen to him which the God-man proved to us in His Body; for here we learn that men did rise again with God.5

And that explains the gold and splendor of today.

[1] That is, sermons from Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Gregory, Maximus, Nazianzus, Proclus.

[2] The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: A Manual of Preaching and Spiritual Reading, vol 2, ed M F Toal (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), p 220.

[3] Mt 28, 52.

[4] Sunday Sermons, p 244.

[5] Ibid.

{Art Credit: Nikolay Koshelev, Harrowing of Hell, 1900}

Homilies & Sermons