THE SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
THERE are many speculations about the origin of the word Easter. If you Google it you will find how people have gone to great lengths to connect it to pagan words and rituals. They do so in hopes of discounting our holy Christian faith, of showing that it is nothing special, that it is but one contender among many and can thus be safely ignored. That way they can be rid of the cross and the judgment on our sins that was there displayed; and of the Lord's words that on the last day all graves will be opened and a great judgment will occur. Such things are too frightening to contemplate, thus the effort to minimize earth's holiest and happiest day.
Rather than sort through all the explanations it is best if we simply forget them and connect Easter to its most likely origin, the word East, the direction of the rising sun, the direction that has symbolized the Lord's resurrection and anticipated return from the earliest Christian times. The prophet Malachi refers to Jesus as the Sun of Righteousness who rises with healing in his wings. The Magi saw his star in the East and came to worship him, and the Lord Himself says "...as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." It is for this reason that Christians have, whenever humanly possible, built their churches facing the east, the direction of the rising sun, from which the new creation will come for that is what Easter is, the first day of the new creation!
The faithful women were the first to hear the Easter gospel. It was preached to them when they went to the tomb very early in the morning in order to prepare the Lord's body for burial. The job had been hastily begun by Joseph of Arimathia shortly after the Lord died, but because he was still living under the old covenant, even under these extreme circumstances, he had to complete the work as best he could before the Sabbath began at sundown. That gave him about three hours to request the Lord's body, remove it from the cross, transport it to his own grave, wrap it in a linen cloth, and lay it in its final resting place.
So, he thought.
So, they all thought!
But when the women arrived that morning the evangelist reports that they found two things: they found the stone rolled away, and they found an empty tomb. We can never know the range of emotions that raced through their minds that morning. Surely the events of the last three days had left them emotional wrecks, but now all that was about to be reversed. Now everything was about to change. Now the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard as our Old Testament lesson would come true: "For behold...the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create..." They came expecting one thing, but found another. That is how it is with God, and that is why our holy Christian faith is sweeter than honey and more precious than gold; because it gives us heavenly consolation no matter what horrors earth can bring to our door. As St. Paul says, "I can bear all things through Christ who strengthens me." These women came expecting to find a dead body brutalized beyond recognition. Whatever the evil mind of man could conceive, whatever indignity it could conjure, it was all done and perpetrated and carried out on the holy flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, who bore these things for our sins, but that is not what they found! Instead they found the grave empty, and two men dressed in apparel as dazzling as the message they preached, "Why do you seek the living among the dead, He is not here, He is risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise."
These are the facts of Easter and the church must believe, teach and confess them until the end of the age, for they are the foundation of our faith, and the cause of our own resurrection, but our faith is not frozen in time; quite the opposite! In the church's earliest centuries, before the liturgical year was developed, every Sunday was Easter, and it is still true today. Every Sunday is the first day of the week, the first day of the day of the new creation when God's people recall the Lord's resurrection and look forward to His grand return when all things will be renewed. It is the day we are raised from the depths of earth, the depths of despair and the death of our heedless sins to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Here, on the first day of the week, the church revels in the Easter gospel and receives the body and blood of the risen and glorified Savior.
The sacrament we receive here each Sunday, and which three young Christians will receive for the first time today, the first time of many, is the body and blood of the same Christ who was crucified and raised again. He is the Bread of heaven given on earth. The eternal Lord given in time. Tomorrow's Food given today to all who long for life everlasting. He is the living Lord who left the grave victoriously behind. The glorious Lord who will return on earth's final day to suffuse us with His splendor, and to renew us in His image so that: what is now perishable will be raised imperishable; what is sown in weakness and dishonor, will be raised in power and glory, what is sown a natural body will be raised a spiritual body. Exalt Oh Dust and Ashes! For as in Adam we all die, even so in Christ we shall all be made alive! And so He is the object of our faith, hope, love, worship, adoration, praise, honor and thanksgiving, our Lord and our God, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, to whom be glory, in the church, both now and unto the ages of ages. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!
Rev. Dean Kavouras