It is tradition to preach the Paschal or Easter sermon of John Chrysostom at the Easter Vigil. This custom was begun in the very early years of the church and maintained in the Orthodox tradition. That makes since as Chrysostom was the Archbishop of Constantinople which would retain its orthodoxy after the schism with the Catholic Church at least 600 years after he had preached this beautiful homily.
And though Chrysostom preached these words in the late Fourth Century, I cannot but be reminded of their poignant beauty and relevance for this moment in our own history as I am reminded of all the moments of plague and hardship, war and suffering that these words have born witness too in the last two thousand years.
The homily begins with an invitation to those who have been devout and faithful and, in its inclusiveness, extends that invitation to all who come to Jesus even in this late hour—the eleventh hour as he calls it:
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
Chrysostom goes on to remind us that though we may be different, we are still one in the Lord, called together to feast and celebrate regardless of our circumstances:
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
And then, Chrysostom’s words convict me of a greater truth. A truth that speaks to us even in our current circumstances. A truth that reminds me that the Gospel is always relevant and the Church is not obsolete as long as it preaches the victory of Christ:
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
or the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
or forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!
COVID-19 is the distraction. It is Hell’s attempt to keep us from knowing and remembering the victory of Christ. This week, the hardest hit areas of our nation have seen their greatest spike to date in number of cases and in deaths. But we have also seen the goodness and compassion of people who won’t give up or give in to disease. Instead of bemoaning our circumstances we have fought not through violence but in ways that promote healing—social distancing and hand washing, sewing face masks, sharing supplies, finding ways to be together even while we remain apart. Our battle cry has been a song shared on social media to bring joy and hope. That is the victory that Christ won for us. That if the victory John Chrysostom reminds us of, “Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!” Amen.
Saturday, April 11, 2020 at 7:12pm
Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
Rev. Candice B. Frazer