Chalice of Joy
“Shine! Shine! O New Jerusalem! The glory of the Lord has shown upon you! Exult and be glad! It is the day of resurrection! Let us be illumined for the feast! Pascha! The Pascha of the Lord!”
There is no joy without Pascha, and there is no Pascha without joy. Christ has broken open the tomb. It was once a place of death. It is now a womb of light. The doors shut against the tomb were the doors shut against our souls. Now they are open as the gates of heaven are open. There is no sweeter joy than the joy of Pascha, and it pours out for us to take. If we let that joy in our heart, we will taste the resurrection in every drink and hear its music in every breeze. Pascha is a chalice of joy, and we must never stop drinking from it.
What did they see in the tomb? “An angel of the Lord…his countenance like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow” (Mat. 28:2-3). Artists travel the world to find the right kind of light and spend their lives in hope of capturing it. Imagine the light on that morning when the angel announced the news. Lightning is thrilling and sublime. Snow is pure and refreshing. This is the light of the resurrection. His words are no less profound: “Do not be afraid” (Mat. 28:5). There is no room for fear in the resurrection light. It is thick with Joy.
The angel’s countenance was like lightning, but what did that compare to the voice of Christ, whose first word was: “Rejoice!” It is not a trite greeting. He is announcing something new. In the beginning, God spoke and created the heavens and the earth. Today, God speaks, “Rejoice!” describing the quality of a new heaven and earth. When the prophet writes, “The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed in majesty” (Ps. 93:1), he is speaking of Pascha. Today, the world is lit in beauty; it is beauty permeated with the Paschal Light. Rejoice! It is Pascha! We may enter that New Jerusalem today and no longer turn back.
He spoke, “Rejoice!” and they knelt at his feet and worshiped. Wonder is not a strong enough word for what they felt. Adoration does not do it justice. “Into the region of awe, in deepest solitude there is a road right out of the self, a commerce with…the naked Other, imageless…unknown, undefined, desired” (C. S. Lewis). The mystics all grasp at words to explain their encounter with God. Everything falls short, yet the encounter is always at hand. You do not need to climb a mountain or retreat to a cave to find it. When the resurrected Christ first spoke, “Rejoice,” he offered us a new life. We can enter that joy now and any moment when we bring our heart to Pascha.
Christ’s first word, “Rejoice,” gives us a direction. We cannot call ourselves Christian if we are bitter and glum. There is no room for grumbling in paradise. If we spend our lives now with our eyes cast at our feet, then we will remain with our eyes at our feet for eternity. A grumbler will grumble even in heaven, so that heaven becomes hell. No, Christ invites us to a different life, and that is the life of Pascha.
The Pascha light has been lit and burns in our hearts. We must feed that flame day and night. This is our work in Pascha. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure…think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). For forty days we fasted. Now, for forty days, we feast. Our labor through Lent was to detach from our pleasures, from food, drink, and celebration. Now, the Church tells us to return to our pleasures, but with a new mindset. With the same vigor that we fasted, we must now cherish the good in creation. What is the universe, but one banquet table laid out for our joy. Feast and give praise.
Jesus met the apostles saying, “‘Rejoice!’ So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped” (Mat. 28:9). Worship is the only attitude fit for the soul. Worship Christ when you savor your coffee and accomplish your daily routines. Worship Christ when you step outside and feel the sunlight or the shade of the clouds. Worship Christ when you meet your loved ones, coworkers, or enemies. It is the Day of Resurrection and there is no room for bitterness. It is Pascha, and there is not enough time to waste in hurt and sadness. Our God who says, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10), offers us the chalice of Pascha joy. Open your hearts and He will pour.
A philosopher once insisted, “Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy). This is the Pascha theme. We should come through this season as changed men and women. We must spend our lives learning to see in the simple apple and common stream the light of Pascha. Everything is beautiful in Christ. Everything is transformed in the Paschal light. Christ is risen from the dead and we are risen with him.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Is. 61:10).
Are you tempted to be dour and depressed? Do you know what Pascha means? The tomb is empty and there is no longer death. St. Paul told us to be Pascha Christians when he wrote to the Corinthians: “The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly” (1 Cor. 15: 27-28). When we were dead, in the tomb, choked by sin and fear, we were made of dust. Christ saved us from that dour life when he resurrected from the dead. We need no longer turn back to the dust. Let the dust be dust. Let yesterday keep its hurts. Let yesterday keep its bitterness. Today is the day of Resurrection.
In 1940, the priest, Fr. Gregory Petrov died in a Soviet prison camp. Among his torn possessions was found a poem, the Akathist of Thanksgiving. Behind those frozen walls, the saint wrote these piercing words:
Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavor and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest…
Glory to Thee for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature.
Glory to Thee for the numberless creatures around us.
Glory to Thee for the depths of Thy wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it.
Glory to Thee; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Thine unseen hand.
Glory to Thee, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life.
Glory to Thee for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality.
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age.
How could a man write these words, tortured in a concentration camp? How else, but through the indelible joy of Pascha? We too must drink from that chalice. We must turn to the joy of Christ and let it take us.
Christ is Risen from the dead!
Christ is Risen! The light of Pascha shines in everything!
Christ is Risen! The hope he offers burns in our hearts!
Christ is Risen! There is no more death, all if beautiful!
Christ is Risen! Glorify Him!