An Easter People
One of the most wonderful stories of the Christian Church in the 20th century, especially the Christian Church on Easter Sunday morning, comes from the early 1950s in Communist Russia. Where early on Easter Sunday morning a village was gathered together by the Communist officials to hear a public debate between a skilled Communist orator and an aged local Orthodox priest. It was to be a debate between this skilled academician and this simple country priest of the Orthodox faith.
The Communist orator brought forward the same old, tired arguments to disprove the Christian faith and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. He then gave way, with a cynical smirk, to the aged priest, and said to him, ‘Now, prove your risen Savior, if you can.’
The priest stood before these people, whom he had known all his life, some of whom had known him almost all of their lives. And he spoke the simple words from the great Easter liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox church, ‘The Lord is Risen!’ And like thunder, the villagers replied, ‘He is risen, indeed!’
The debate came to an end.
For centuries, Christians have used this so called “Paschal Greeting” on Easter morning and throughout the fifty-day season of Easter. It originated in the Eastern Orthodox Church, but now Christians in many traditions have adopted the practice of greeting one another in this distinctive way, thus celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. You may wonder where this tradition started. If we look into the gospel accounts of the resurrection, we find that the angel(s) at the tomb were the first to announce that Jesus “has risen” (Luke 24:5). The first humans to proclaim this good news were the women who had gone to the tomb in order to anoint the body of Jesus with spices (Luke 23:55-24:1). When they found the tomb empty and heard the angelic announcement, they immediately told the eleven remaining disciples of Jesus the good news that he had risen from the dead. The disciples, however, did not respond with “He is risen, indeed!” On the contrary, Luke tells us that “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). Peter, however, decided to check things out for himself. So he ran to the tomb and found it empty (Luke 24:12). What comes next in Luke is the story of Jesus appearing to two people on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-22). We don’t get a description of what happened to Peter. But, in Luke 24:34, the eleven disciples report, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”(see 1 Cor. 15:5). Apparently, this appearance to Simon Peter persuaded the other disciples that what the women had initially reported was in fact true.
Notice that our translation says, “The Lord has risen indeed.” The Greek word means “indeed, really, certainly.” Thus, the Paschal greeting goes back to the earliest hours after the resurrection of Jesus. Our traditional wording, “Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!” has a liturgical elegance to it. I’m glad to use it in my celebrations of Easter. But most of us don’t use the word “indeed” in this way in ordinary speech—unless, I suppose, we’re characters in Downton Abbey. We don’t say, for example, “It’s raining today, indeed!” Where I live, we’d tend to say something like, “It is really raining today.” So, for us, the Paschal Greetings could be informally rendered, “Christ is risen! Really!” Or, we might say with the Common English Bible, “The Lord really has risen!” (Luke 24:34).
No matter which words you use today, the point remains. Jesus rose from the dead . . . really! And this makes all the difference in the world. In case you’re wondering how the resurrection relates to life in the broken world in which we find ourselves, I invite you to join us this Easter morning as we talk about an Easter People from Luke 24:36-49.
He is Risen,