On the third day he rose again from the dead
Here it is. The turning point of the ages. The mystery of mysteries. The truth of truths. Dorothy Sayers called it “the only thing that has ever really happened.”
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead: everything else in the creed radiates from this centre. The church lives from this source. The church pledges itself to this confession. If this isn’t true, then nothing is true. If this didn’t really happen, then the whole of history is one big non-event. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). Without the resurrection there would be no church, no faith, no life, no hope, and no future.
One Easter Sunday around the end of the fourth century, the Syrian pastor John Chrysostom preached a very short sermon on the resurrection. The preacher begins by inviting the congregation to turn from the sombre fast of Lent to the joyous feast of Easter:
If anyone is a devoted lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival. If anyone is a grateful servant, let them enter rejoicing into the joy of their Lord. If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense. If anyone has laboured from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.
If anyone has come at the third hour, let them feast with thanksgiving. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they will miss out on nothing.
If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not worry because of their lateness. For the Master is gracious and receives the last the same as the first. He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour and to those who have laboured from the first hour. He has mercy on the last and cares for the first. To the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He accepts the deed and commends the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord! And, whether first or last, receive your reward!
O rich and poor, dance together for joy! O you who are spiritual and you who are lazy, celebrate the day! You who have fasted and you who have ignored the fast, rejoice today! The table is richly laden: feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted: let no one go away hungry! Let everyone partake of the feast of faith! Let everyone receive the riches of goodness!
Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one grieve over their sins, for forgiveness has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
He who was taken by death has annihilated it. He descended into hell and took hell captive. Hell was embittered when it tasted his flesh. Isaiah anticipated this and exclaimed: “Hell was embittered when it encountered You in the lower regions.”
It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was plundered! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains! It took a body and discovered God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what was unseen!
O death, where is your sting? O hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To him be glory and might unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Ben Myers is Lecturer in Systematic Theology at United Theological College