Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

The Reading from the Acts of the Holy Apostles. (5:12-20) and the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (20:19-31)

Christ is risen! In today’s epistle and gospel readings we see two sides of the same coin. Some of the same people mentioned in the passage from Acts are also mentioned in the gospel passage according to St. John.

In the gospel according to St. John we are told that the disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews. Yet in the reading from Acts we hear that the apostles were doing signs and wonders and that multitudes of people were following them and being added to the Lord and to His Church. What was the thing that changed between these two events? How did the disciples go from being cowardly and terrified to being courageous healers and preachers of Christ and His saving work?

There is no logical explanation but one. The most obvious answer is probably the correct answer. Their demeanor and attitude changed because their reality had changed. Their world had been turned upside down by the arrest and crucifixion and death of their Master whom they had followed faithfully for 3 years. But not it seems that their world was turned upside down once again. What changed was their understanding in light of the appearance of the crucified and risen Lord. The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything. It changed their whole world. It changed their conception of what was possible and what was impossible. It changed their conception of true power. It changed their conception of God. It changed their perception of the words life and death. All of it was changed and transformed and redeemed in the light of the risen Lord.

The disciples received the joy of the resurrection and they also received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The first time we see a foretaste of this grace is in this passage of St. John’s gospel where we are told that Jesus appeared to them and breathed on them and said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Incidentally, this would most certainly be among the verses that would be in a book if it was titled “Verses that Protestants like to ignore.”

In light of receiving this grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see the Apostles sent out into the world to preach to the whole world. The fact that you and I are Christians today has much to do with their efforts and their synergy and cooperation with the life of the Holy Spirit. And it has to do with the power of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The resurrection isn’t something, it’s the only thing. In light of the resurrection, everything is changed and many of the former things no longer hold weight. They are overcome. We celebrate the example of martyrs. Martyrs are the perfect demonstration that in light of the resurrection, everything is overturned. Even the most terrible things like torture, suffering and death can be overcome by the love of God and the resurrection of His Son. We know it to be true and the Apostles lives witness to this fact. Death itself is defeated and overcome in the risen body of the Lord Jesus. Let us live with this renewed and healed understanding of the whole universe. Death is nothing for us because we belong to the One who conquered death by His love.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh writes,

“Today death has become for us something else. Now it is a falling asleep. In the body we fall asleep to the anxieties of the earth, and peace descends upon our flesh. Our body now lies there like an icon of Christ lying in the grave on that mysterious, blessed Saturday when the Lord ceased from his works, from the work of saving mankind, from the labour of suffering, from the Cross, from crucifixion. Everyone who dies now, falls asleep in Christ, he falls asleep until the day his body rises at the last trumpet, on the day of the resurrection of the dead.

Blessed are they who die in the Lord’, as John the Theologian says in the Apocalypse.

This is why for the Christian, death is not something terrible. This is why someone who meant a great deal to me was able to say to me: ‘Wait for your death as a young man waits for his bride’. With the same kind of trembling, with the same rejoicing of soul we can say to death: ‘Come, open for me the doors of eternal life, so that my rebellious flesh may find peace, and my soul may soar up to the eternal dwelling place of God’. This is why we can say truly and rightfully proclaim that ‘there is not one dead in the tomb’. For the grave has ceased to be a prison, a place of final and terrible captivity. It has become a place where the body awaits resurrection while the soul grows, to the extent it can, into eternal life.”

He continues saying “To live the Resurrection is possible only for someone who has passed through death and is on the other side of death, not the death of this world, not material, bodily death, but the death which is also called love, when a person forgets about himself and loves so much that he lays down his life for his friend…..This is the standard shown us by the Cross — and by the Resurrection, for one is inseparable from the other. And so, from Sunday to Sunday, when you hear the news that Christ has risen, remember that we are all called to be, on this earth, people risen from the dead in love. But for this to take place, we must so love each other as to pass through the gates of death, to descend through the Cross into hell, to share through Love in the suffering of the other, to forget ourselves — and then suddenly discover that I am alive, alive with the life of Christ! Amen.”

Source: Sermons