Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Resurrection and the Cross.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom.

   We must at no moment forget that the end of our journey is our meeting with the Risen Christ. Some people, whilst admitting the importance of the Resurrection in the experience of the Apostles, wonder how this apostolic experience can have the same central significance for us. But is it enough for us simply to believe in the words of others and to found our faith on something totally unverifiable?. Of all the historic events in the world, the Resurrection of the Lord belongs equally to past history and to present reality. Christ dead on the Cross on one particular day, Christ risen from the tomb in His glorified human flesh on one particular day belongs to the past as an historic fact; but Christ, once risen, living forever in the glory of the Father belongs to the history of each day and each instant, because living, according to his promise, he is with us, now and always.
Christian experience from this point of view is essentially attached to the event of the Resurrection, because it is the one event in the Gospels which can become part of our own personal experience. All the rest we, receive from tradition, written, or spoken - the account of the Crucifixion, the different events told us by Holy Scripture – but the Resurrection, this we know personally, or else we are ignorant of the primordial, essential fact of the Church's life and the Christian faith. St Symeon the New Theologian, said: "How can one who knows nothing of the Resurrection in this life, expect to discover and enjoy it in his death?". Only the experience of the Resurrection and Eternal Life can make the death of the body into sleep and death itself into the Gate of Life.
   If such a plain, peremptory statement arouses questions, demands a response, demands of you that you ask yourselves whether you are within Christian experience, so much the better!. Here is the central experience without which there are no Christians, there is no Christianity, without which our faith is not faith but credulity; not "the certainty of things unseen" but the capacity to accept the witness of others, an unverifiable witness, a witness which is based on nothing more than that someone has said something which seems incredible but which, nevertheless, for reasons equally incredible, we are prepared to accept.
   Let us now turn to this event of the Resurrection to ask ourselves why it is so central, why St Paul could say: "If Christ was not raised we are of all men the most miserable, for our faith is vain". Indeed, If Christ was not raised, our whole faith, all our conviction, our inner life, our hope, all is founded on a lie, all is founded on something which never took place and which cannot serve as the foundation for anything.
   For the Apostles, Good Friday was the last day of the week and the last day of life as they had known it; on the following day, the day which preceded the Resurrection, the darkness was as dense, as obscure as impenetrable as it had been on Good Friday, and if the Resurrection had not happened, all the days of the year and all the days of their life would have been days of total darkness, days when God was dead, when God had been conquered, when God had been definitely and radically exiled from the community of men. And if you bear in mind the unity which was gradually created between Christ and his disciples, so that the life they lived was His life, in Him and through Him they moved, saw, perceived and understood, you will grasp that His death was not only this total and irremediable darkness of Good Friday-for them the last day of history-but it was also their own death because Life had been taken away from them; they could no longer live but merely exist.
   Thus you will understand why, for the Apostles, the Resurrection was such a complete renewal, such a decisive event: when Christ, on the third day, ap­peared to them, all the doors being shut, their first thought was that it was an hallucination, an appari­tion. And Christ on that occasion, as on all the oc­casions of His appearance after the Resurrection related in the Gospel, insisted on the fact that He was not a ghost, not an illusion, but a true corporeal presence. He shared food with them. And we also understand why Christ's first words are words of peace: "Peace be unto you!". He brings them the peace which had been taken from them by His death, which was their death; he released them from the utter, hopeless confusion in which they were submerged, this twilight state wherein Life was unrecognisable, this transitory life from whence Eternity had been driven; and He gave them that peace which He had promised, that peace which only He could give, that "peace which passeth all understanding", the peace of reintegration into Life, beyond all doubt, beyond all hesitation - the certainty possessed by men who, because they are alive, cannot doubt Life, the life of the world to come, already come, by means of Christ's Resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
   The joy of the Resurrection is something which we, too, must learn to experience, but we can experience it only if we first learn the tragedy of the Cross. To rise again we must die. Die to our hampering selfishness, die to our fears, die to everything which makes the world so narrow, so cold, so poor, so, cruel. Die so that our souls may live, may rejoice, may discover the spring of life. If we do this then the Resurrection of Christ will have come down to us also. But without the death on the Cross there is no Resurrection, the Resurrection which is joy, the joy of life recovered, the joy of the life that no one can take away from us anymore!. The joy of a life which is superabundant, which, like a stream runs down the hills, carrying with it heaven itself reflected in its sparkling waters. The Resurrection of Christ is reality in history as His death on the Cross was real, and it is because it belongs to history that we believe in it. It is not only with our hearts but with the totality of our experience that we know the Risen Christ. We can know Him day after day as the Apostles knew him. Not the Christ of the flesh, not Christ as he was seen in bewilderment by people who surrounded him in the days of his earthly life, but the everliving Christ. The Christ of the spirit of whom St Paul speaks, the Risen Christ who belongs to time and eternity because he died once upon the Cross but lives forever. The Resurrection of Christ is the one, the only event that belongs both to the past and to the present. To the past because it did happen, on a given day, in a given place, at a given moment, because it was seen, and known as an event in time, in the life of those who had known . But it belongs also to every day because Christ, once risen, is ever alive, and each of us can know him personally and, unless we know him personally we have not yet learnt what it means to be a Christian.
   The Lord himself has thus taken upon his shoulder the first cross, the heaviest, most appalling cross, but after him thousands and thousands of men, women and children have taken upon themselves their own crosses, lesser crosses, but how often do these crosses, which are lesser than Christ's remain so frightening for us?. Innumerable crowds of people have lovingly, obediently, walked in the footsteps of Christ, treading the long way, the tragic way which is shown by our Lord, a way tragic but which leads from this earth to the very throne of God, into the Kingdom of God.
   They walk throughout the centuries knowing that Christ has foretold us that they will have sorrow on this earth, but that the Kingdom of God is theirs. They walk with their heavy cross, rejected hated, because of truth, because of the name of Christ. But where are we?. Are we going to stand and look; to see this long procession, this throng of people with shining eyes with hope unquenched, with unfaltering love, with incredible joy in their hearts, pass us by?. Shall we not join them, this eternally moving crowd, that is marked as a crowd of victims, but also as little children of the Kingdom?. Are we not going to take up our cross and follow Christ?. Christ has commanded us to follow him. He has invited us to the banquet of His Kingdom and He is at the head of this procession. No… He is together with each of those who walk. Is this a nightmare?. How can blood and flesh endure this tragedy, the sight of all these martyrs, new and old?. Because Christ is Risen, because we do not see in the Lord who walks ahead of us the defeated prophet of Galilee as He was seen by His tormentors, His persecutors. We know Him now in the Glory of the Resurrection. We know that every word of His is true. We know that the Kingdom of God is ours if we simply follow Him.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh (1972), Meditation on a Theme, Popular Christian Paperbacks, Mowbrays, London & Oxford, U.K.