The Victory over Death

Posted by on Apr 20, 2014 in Feature Article

By Father Panayiotis Papageorgiou, Ph.D.

bearersAll ancient cultures sought to connect their lives with the natural events they experienced. Hence, ancient peoples like the Greeks saw springtime as a time of renewal and regeneration and sought to explain its existence by mythological stories. The story of Demeter and Persephone, for example, was the result of such an effort.

The ancient Hebrews, however, connected springtime with their liberation from Egyptian slavery, a historical event. The feast of the Passover is a remembrance of God’s gift of freedom to the Hebrew people as He brings them out of 400 years of oppressive slavery. That event occurred during the spring at a specific time and was celebrated every year on the 15th day of the Jewish month Nissan.

It just so happened that it was at the time of the Passover (during springtime) that the last chapter of the life of Jesus Christ on earth unfolded. He was arrested around midnight, a day before the Passover, crucified in the morning of the day of preparation and buried right before sunset as the feast was commencing. He rose on the morning of the first day after the Passover.

Christian thinkers and theologians have seen the connection of springtime with the resurrection of Christ not as coincidental, but rather as providential. In God’s providence for us, they thought, even the natural event of spring, as the time of renewal and regeneration of nature, has always been a prefiguration of the renewal and regeneration of humanity, which God always intended to bring about through Christ. As for the overlap with the Jewish Passover, early Christians (who were mostly Jewish) also saw it as not a mere coincidence. They actually considered the original Passover of the Jewish people from slavery to freedom as a prefiguration of the final Passover of the people of God from the slavery of sin and death to the freedom of the life in Christ.

This understanding, of course, brings out something very special about this period and this event (celebrated by Christians around the world during springtime), which appeals to the heart, touches the mind and reaches deep into the soul. This special, unique effect on us is at the essence of the Feast of Easter (or Pascha, as the ancient Christians called it). As human beings, we have always been very aware of our mortality. Most often than not, we fear the prospect of death. But on this day, as we participate in the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, we feel good about the possibility that we might be able to transcend what we fear and overcome death, the most inevitable event of our life.

According to both Jewish and early Christian understanding, death was not a natural part of what God intended for us in the beginning. Death is a result of our separation from Him. Hence, we cannot overcome death without His help. We cannot even overcome our own fear of death without Him.

This is the primary reason why God became man; He wanted to take our humanity upon Himself and heal it from sin and death. He came to repair the damage we brought about with our disobedience. He came to bridge the gap between humanity and Himself. All of that was accomplished in the person of Jesus Christ, who was fully man and fully God, in whom the two natures (human and divine) are united harmoniously in the manner which God always intended – harmony of the creation with the Creator. The natural union of divinity and humanity in Christ could not be broken by the unnatural sting of death, hence Christ rose from the dead.

It is the mystery of this strong bond between God and man in Jesus (which defies the passion and crucifixion and leads to His resurrection), that has captured the human heart and mind for the last 2,000 years. This mystery contains those existential elements which humanity is looking for: it reveals to us an assurance for the future; it proclaims the continuity of life as we have hoped it to be – eternal and joyous; it shows the loving care of the Creator who has not abandoned His creation, but has Himself come seeking us like a shepherd looking for his lost sheep, offering his own life to protect ours.

Again this year, on Holy Friday we climbed onto Golgotha with the bruised and humbled Christ. We watched Him as He was raised up on the Cross, as He was mocked and ridiculed by the crowds, as He prayed for forgiveness for those who crucified Him, as He surrendered his spirit to the Father. Holy Saturday was a calm and silent day full of anticipation. We pondered over His promise that He will rise again! We paused and waited. Finally, early in the morning on Sunday, we followed the women to the tomb at sunrise.

We now stand again in awe in front of the empty tomb! He is Risen! This is an eternal event! The eye-witnesses cry out from the depths of time and their voices reach us even today: “Christ is Risen!”

Once again we join in to sing with them “Christ is Risen from the dead trampling death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life.”

As we ponder again over this event on this Easter Sunday morning we feel that we have a better grasp as to what it all means; we have come still closer to the mystery of Pascha than ever before.

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