And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid. (Revised Standard Version)
See also: Matthew 28:1-8, Luke 24:1-10, John 20:1-12
Based on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ: Զատիկ), the following are suggested themes for sermon topics:
Today is the Resurrection of Christ
When we allow a secularized linear view of history to dominate our thinking, the life and events of Christ become reduced, nothing more than calendar events, annual memorials celebrating an historical event locked in the past. But when the Church prayerfully and liturgically recounts the resurrection of Christ, we enter into God’s time where there is no “before” or “after,” only an unending “today” in which both the event and the powerful consequences therein become present. In other words, during Liturgy, we don’t just mentally recall the events of Theophany, Pentecost, Transfiguration, Resurrection (Zadeeg), rather we transcend the limits of space and time and truly and mystically participate in those eternal events! Therefore, for the Church, the resurrection of Christ is not a past event, but “today!” This perspective is pronounced in many of the hymns of the Armenian Church, including Զատիկ:
Today the immortal and heavenly bridegroom has risen from the dead…Today is our Passover through the sacrifice of Christ. Let us…celebrate, saying, “Christ has risen from the dead!”
Through his resurrection, we are a “new creation” (II Corinthians 5:17) and now he commissions the Church as such to do the work that awaits us. What tasks are involved in Jesus’ command to “preach the Gospel” (Mark 13:10)? What is the mission of the Church that flows out of his resurrection? What does Zadeeg compel us to do today, right now? Celebrate and proclaim, not just the message that Jesus has risen from the dead, but the living person of Jesus Christ by radiating the same love, humility, and forgiveness to the world that he first showed us and demonstrated throughout Holy Week: his celebration of the Last Supper, washing the feet of his disciples, praying to his Father, sacrificing his life on the Cross, forgiving those who nailed him to it, descending to Hades to set free those chained by death, and conquering death to share new life with his creation. Live as though we have been forgiven, loved, healed, and set free to be and do what we were created to be and do: to be the Church, to worship God, to live as citizens of his Kingdom, forgiving and healing the world, giving thanks for everything, walking with others through their suffering, celebrating the resurrected life Jesus shares with us, and preparing for his return.
Peter, addressing the crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 2:31-33), said,
[David] foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear.
In this moment, the resurrection of Jesus is being accomplished as he continually liberates souls from death (Hades) and sin. Indeed, in this moment, today, as disciples of Christ sealed with the Holy Spirit from baptism, when we celebrate and share Holy Communion, when we experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the life of the Church, even we are witnesses to the resurrection of Christ! The resurrection is made present and we are witnesses to it even now and whenever we greet one another with the words:
Kreesdos haryav ee merelots! Քրիստոս յարեաւ ի մեռելոց՜
Orhnyal eh harootyoonun Kreesdosee! Օրհնեալ է յարութիւնն Քրիստոսի՜
Christ is risen from the dead!
Blessed is the resurrection of Christ!
Baptism and Badarak
So what does the resurrection of Christ mean in our lives today? First of all, it means we should daily, momentarily walk in the “newness of life” as promised by our Baptism (Romans 6:4). Baptism is not just an outward expression of our inward belief, nor is it a symbolic gesture (in the modern sense) of being buried and raised with Christ. In baptism, we are united in a real way to his death and resurrection so that we might no longer be enslaved to sin, but slaves to Christ (Romans 6:22). Therefore, to live our baptism, we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God by not allowing our bodies to become instruments of wickedness and evil, but rather yield ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness (see Romans 6:5-13). St. Paul further tells us,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above…Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3).
The event of Passover in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Passover Lamb (John 1:29). Setting aside an offering – a sacrificial Passover lamb – was part of the larger event that ultimately delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and slavery as they passed through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. That event inspired the Jewish people to annually celebrate their deliverance from the Egyptians with a feast, the Passover meal (Exodus 12:3,11). The fresh reality of Zadeeg (translated as Passover) is that those baptized into the Church are forgiven, freed from the slavery of sin and death. As St. Paul writes (I Corinthians 15:17),
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
The Church, then, celebrates Jesus as the Passover meal when, during Badarak, we share his body and blood, and receive his forgiveness. Fittingly, the word Badarak means sacrifice or offering. As we sing during Badarak, “Christ, the spotless Lamb of God is offered in sacrifice of praise.” Because he first offered himself to us, we offer ourselves back to him.
The resurrection of Christ as depicted in Church icons shows Jesus rescuing Adam and Eve (an image of all of us) from the clutches and enslavement of death and sin (Hades) so that we no longer have to succumb to its corruption. He takes us by the hand and leads us to the Promised Land, his Kingdom. He reopens the door to the Garden where we can freely feed from the Tree of Life, the fruit of which is the body and blood of Christ. Catholicos Zakaria on the resurrection of Christ writes,
I have come for Adam, but I shall not overlook you who are from Adam. Just as you have been gathered here because of him in this place of torment, so because of him will you enjoy once again the delights of paradise which was prepared for you from the beginning of the world.
Zadeeg stands in the center of our faith as a proclamation of the victory over death. In Baptism and in Badarak, we announce, participate, and share in the death of Christ, but also in his victory over death. It is this victory, his resurrection over death that stands in the face of Satan and the forces of evil that threaten to deceive and enslave, and renders them powerless! Jesus has ushered in a new world, a new Kingdom, one in which he is the End of all things, not death. As St. Paul, wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians (15:55, 57),
“O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
What did the women in the Gospel reading expect when they set out for Jesus’ tomb early that morning? Bringing spices with them and wondering who would roll the stone away for them to anoint his dead body tells us they certainly were not expecting what they found. Sure, Jesus predicted his resurrection more than once, but it fell on deaf ears. We read in the Gospels that it was unclear as to what Jesus was really saying to his listeners when he said to them (John 2:19), “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” As to the contemporary belief in the resurrection (by some), it was expected that there would be a final rising from the dead of all God’s people, but certainly not to one person, and not in the middle of history. When the women arrive at the tomb of Christ and find the stone rolled away and are confronted by an angel who tells them they will see Jesus in Galilee, given their expectations, they rightfully experience astonishment, fear, confusion, and awe.
The Gospel is never quite what we expect, even for those with mature faith and experience. Perhaps when we place ourselves at the center, Jesus becomes the unexpected Savior, reflected in how we pray, for what we pray, and the questions we ask about faith and the Church. We expect him to serve our needs, grant our desires, and relieve our suffering. In another way, he is an unexpected Savior in that he turns our tragedies, pain, and sorrows into joy. In fact, that is precisely what he prophesied he would do. At the beginning of His ministry, reading from the prophet Isaiah (61:1), Jesus said of himself (Luke 4:17-21):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
The chapter in Isaiah goes on (61:2-3) to say, “To comfort all who mourn…to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning.” If Jesus, through his resurrection, fills even death with his eternal life, then perhaps we should shift our expectation to be one of seeing his grace present in all things, that the opposite or underside of everything that is bleak, ugly, painful, and grim can be exquisitely beautiful.
Just as Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as the unexpected Messiah, one who was expected to deliver the Jews from political oppression, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and immediately remove suffering in one single moment. Rather, as the Church, we implement his victory the same way he unexpectedly gained it – through suffering (II Corinthians 6:4-10, Romans 5:3-5), walking the way of the Cross, the path of sacrificial love rather than the path of conquest. Interestingly and appropriately, what marks the victory and growth of the Church is the crown of martyrdom! For Christians, to be a “conqueror” is to unite with God in love (see Romans 8:34-38) and to live as citizens of his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
The Gospel, Jesus Christ, is not someone who is obvious, and what Jesus brought about through his resurrection is not something we are inclined to believe, understand, or comprehend. The renewed Temple was unexpectedly a person, the New Israel is the Church (Galatians 6:16), and the inheritance of the people of God is not just the land of Israel, but the whole world (Romans 4:13). But like the women at the tomb, we are fearful and confused, so we allow things to distract us and prevent us from experiencing communion with God, from loving and forgiving one another, from believing. Absurdly, we repeatedly prefer death to resurrection, as it may be what we expect. After all, death has become a normal and expected part of life. But the Church has something else to say about death! It is the abnormal, unnatural, and ugly consequence of the disease of sin, and as such it is an enemy to be destroyed (I Corinthians 15:26). Jesus said to Martha, the sister of Lazarus,
I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?
The risen Lord asks us the same question today. What expectations get in the way of our faith, blocking us as a community and as individuals from living, sharing, and proclaiming the resurrected life of Christ? What should we expect?