• Fr. Peter Kavanaugh

Savor the Light of Pascha

When the disciples woke up in the morning and went to the Tomb, what did they find?

Mary Magdalen came to the tomb early in the morning, just as the sun was beginning to rise and the fresh dew carpeted the grass. We often feel a freshness and rebirth at this time of day. But that morning was different. The whole world had a freshness to it which it had not known before. At some point in our lives, all of us have experienced the promise of a sunrise. Yesterday is over. Today is begun. But this sunrise was unique. It wasn’t a faint promise or a glimpse into a romantic phantasy. This sunrise was the first true sunrise, which not only hinted of a promise to come but poured in that promise in a way the universe had never known.

Something was changed. What was it? And the apostles wondered at the mystery.

We’ve asked before, ‘What is faith?’ Well, faith is what happened to the disciples on that new day. Little by little, each woke up to the reality in front of them. Their eyes adjusted to the light of the morning’s sun and the veil over their faces was torn down just like the veil over the altar.

Yesterday, Christ was crucified and buried in the tomb.

Today, that tomb is empty and Christ is Risen from the dead.

What kind of mystery is this? The disciples wondered over it, and gradually woke up to discover what it meant. That morning, when the sun rose and it’s light poured into the empty tomb, was the first morning of a new creation.

The rays of that sun ushered in a new day, a new heaven, a new earth, and a new kind of humanity.

The morning, so long ago, when God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve was just a faint shadow compared to this morning when He walked once again in the semblance of a gardener.

The snake deceived the first Adam, who ate the apple and ushered humanity into brokenness and death. But the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, killed that snake and ended the divorce between humanity and God.

The first Adam pulled down a veil between this country and God’s country. But the second Adam tour apart that veil.

The first Adam buried humanity beneath stones of despair and hopelessness. But the second Adam broke open those stones, and the disciples found the tomb empty.

As the sun’s first rays poured across creation, the disciples discovered a wholly new creation. This is the first morning of a world without death and despair, where God is wed to humanity. It’s the first morning of a world where Goodness, Beauty, and Truth is the King and the sun never sets.

But what does this mean to us today?

Isn’t there still brokenness, hunger, and death around us? Don’t our hearts still ache at times just as Adam’s did after his exile? Isn’t there still hurt and separation? Don’t we still fail to love the people closest to us, and wound the hearts of those who most need love? As Christians, we all have to ask, “Where is this new morning and new creation?”

That morning, the sun’s early rays poured into the empty tomb and slowly spread across the earth, little by little, filling the world with light. Christ’s Resurrection spreads in the same way. From that day when the tomb was broken open until the last day of earth and the Final Judgment, God is giving the world a chance to receive the Paschal Light or to reject it. We each have the free will to walk into that Paschal Light or to cling to the shadows.

There was one crucifixion and one resurrection for all of time – but we must each participate in these eternal events in our own free and separate ways.

We cannot rise up in the resurrection, without first going down into the crucifixion, and this is what we felt as a family in Lent.

Forty days of fasting has a way of working on the nerves. When the body is tired and week, our facades come down. When the stomach groans we’re all too easily reminded that we aren’t nearly as nice or loving or strong as we thought. Sometimes, fasting simply makes us tired, and our thoughts can become heavier and our despair more tempting. Then why go through this process?

The tomb can’t let in the light until the door is rolled away.

Our hearts can’t receive God’s Grace until we realize how deeply we need it.

There is no resurrection without first a crucifixion.

And so, in Lent, we all tasted death just a little. You know the difference between Christianity and the other world religions couldn’t be greater on this point. As Christians, we aren’t striving to escape death. Neither do we believe that it’s natural and just a part of life. There’s never been anything so unnatural as death. No, Christ came not to soften death but to destroy it entirely.

The theme of Lent was given to us on Ash Wednesday: “Remember, O man, that dust thou art and dust shalt thou return.” But now we see more clearly what that means, for Jesus Christ offers us a way out of that dust, into light and life eternity.

“If ye then be risen with Christ,” St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-3).

This means that all of our sorrows and losses are really very small in the light of the Resurrection. That even now, we can pull our minds out of this dust, and begin to see life in that Light. We can let go now, and simply choose to live a Pascha Life. We lit the Easter Fire yesterday even. Today, it’s up to us to carry that fire in our hearts every day.

In his homily we read last night, St. John Chrysostom tells us:

“Enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.

“If anyone has labored from the first hour let him today receive his just reward…If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour let him not fear…For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first.

“Enter, therefore, all of you into the joy of our Lord…O rich and poor, one with another, dance today with joy. O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate together today…For the table is rich-laden, feast royally upon it all of you. The calf is fatted, let not one of you go away hungry. Let all partake of the feast of faith, let all receive the goodness of His kingdom…

Christ is risen and the angels rejoice; Christ is risen and life reigns; Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tomb!

Lent is over and death is over. Today the gates of heaven are opened to us and the delicious fragrance of God’s grace pours through the room.

For forty days we joined Christ in the desert and last week we joined Him in His Crucifixion. Today, and for the next forty days we join Christ in the heavenly banquet. Today, as a family here at St. Benedict parish, and with the Church triumphant and militant, we get to share a glimpse into the Feast that we will all share together for eternity.

This is what St. Gregory the Great meant when he preached on this Easter Sunday. Though he taught so many hundreds of years ago, it was the same Easter day as this one today – for there is only one Easter as there is one Resurrection: “Yesterday I was crucified with Christ;” he tells us, “today I am glorified with Him. Yesterday I died with Him; today I am given life with Him. Yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise again with Him.”

So rejoice and embrace this Paschal Joy. Don’t let it go, and if you find you have, pick it up again. Before you filled your days with fasting. Now fill it with feasting.

The heavens are raining God’s love, all we have to do is receive and savour it’s taste.

Feast your eyes on the blue bonnets, the Indian paint brushes, the thistles, and prairie verbenas, blooming this spring all across Texoma. Let their beauty remind you of the beauty of paradise regained. Feast on the rays and colors of the sunrise each morning which remind us of that first sunrise which revealed the empty tomb. Feast on the taste of your favorite meats and sweats and wines. Savour every bite as best as you can, and let that taste cling to your palate and remind you of the deliciousness of the Kingdom of God. Baptize each of your senses, so that with every yearning in your soul and body, you may “Taste and See that the Lord is Good.”

Today is the day of salvation!

But this day is not just one day long. In the Orthodox Church, our Easter Sunday lasts for 8 days. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Tuesday is Easter Sunday. Each of these next 7 days are still the same day. As the disciples wondered about the empty tomb, perhaps we wonder about this mystery. Pascha is the eternal day, and because of His love for us, God allows us to enter Pascha each year at this time, when we can experience just a dose of what he has prepared for us for eternity.

For forty days the Church invites us to feast on God’s Goodness, Beauty and Truth in the world. Let God’s love and peace bathe you as the sun’s light bathed that world that first Pascha day.

All the brokenness that still exists around us is really just a shadow, dust and ashes, in comparison to the Paschal Light which is Jesus Christ and shines for eternity. The sun began to rise for the first time that day when the disciples found the tomb empty, and it is still rising. The day that we experience here on earth will pass so quickly. We'll blink and find ourselves standing together in the next world, watching the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautiful dressed for her husband…that day which we get a brief glimpse into every year on Pascha, the day when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. On that day, we will all look at each other’s eyes and share the same thought, “It all went by so quickly, and none of our suffering back then begins to compare with this awesome Pascha Joy.

Let us rejoice and revel in this 40-day feast, and let your rejoicing pour out of you like a cup overflown. Let your friends and neighbors wonder, what is up with you? Why are you feasting? Why so joyful?

We lit the Paschal fire yesterday eve so that all of Wichita Falls could see it. So nurture in your hearts daily the joy of the resurrection and let it shine before your friends and family. What is Pascha Sunday? It is a glimpse into the eternal Paschal Joy and Paschal Feast, which is God’s promise to all who give their lives to Him.

“O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is risen and you are overthrown; Christ is risen and the demons have fallen; Christ is risen and the angels rejoice; Christ is risen and life reigns; Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tomb. For Christ, being raised from the dead has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and might, unto ages of ages. Amen.”

Saint Benedict Orthodox Church

3808 Seymour Road

Wichita Falls, TX, 76309