Saturday, March 30, 2013

He is Risen!

When I was growing up, the first thing I heard on Easter morning every year was, 'He is risen!' (To which my sister and I were to respond, 'He is risen, indeed.') This was how my mother would greet us and everyone she saw that day.

In our family, Christmas was fun but Easter was holy.

When I was a seminary student in New Jersey, there was a small group of us who needed a break from the constant study of the Presbyterian Church and responsibilities we had on Sunday mornings. We needed a way to actually be able to worship - something that is hard to do when you are leading or assisting in worship every Sunday.

We started attending a nearby Greek Orthodox mission church on Saturday nights for vespers as a way to worship before we led worship the next day. It was foreign and yet so beautiful and moving to be worshipping the same God in a very different way; surrounded by the scent of incense, the sound of a different language, and icons that portrayed Jesus in ways I had not previously experienced. It was an incredibly visceral way to experience and worship God.

Holy Week had always been a special time for me because of my mother's affinity for it, but it wasn't until I participated in the Greek Orthodox church's celebrations of Holy Week and Easter did I really experience the full emotional depth of this Christian celebration.

The entire week was filled not just with worship services, but with vigils, in which the congregants stood for hours. The reality of our sin and Jesus' need to die for and because of us was a physical weight in those days. When Good Friday came and Christ was crucified, it was dreadful. "Great and Holy" Saturday night's vigil ended at midnight as the priest led the entire congregation out of a darkened and stripped sanctuary in a procession around the outside of the church three times that was filled with an energy of expectation. At the end of the procession, the priest led the congregation back to the door of the church where this was said :

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Then the priest knocked at the door and it was opened. We re-entered into a sanctuary that had been restored of its 'decorations' and re-lit. Everyone was kissing and hugging and so incredibly joyous that Easter and the resurrection of the Lord had come. A literal feast followed in the actual sanctuary until about 2am with people saying to each other  'Christos Anesti' (Christ is risen) and  'Alithos Anesti' (truly, He is risen).

Easter is not just a date on the calendar or an excuse to buy chocolate bunnies and hold egg hunts. It is not just a day to put on your new clothes and look shiny and happy for the other Christians. It is a day to be reminded of how shocking it was for the women and disciples to find the empty tomb and realize that Jesus was so much more than just a teacher and leader.

It is a day to remember that God loves us so much He allowed himself to become human and accept a painful death on the cross as payment for our sin.

It is a day to be crazy with joy and thankfulness to the God who came and dwelt among us and loved us anyway.

I hope that your Easter has been more than a chocolate fest. I pray that your Easter has reminded you of the joy of your salvation!

Christos Anesti!

- Chesney Szaniszlo

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. - 1 Corinthians 15: 1-8