The Afterglow of GloryFr. Barnabas Powell
Christ is risen!
The week following Pascha (the ancient and venerable name of the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ) is called Bright Week. This week launches us into the 40 day celebration of the Resurrection. It is a week of light, laughter, celebration, feasting, and joy. It truly is a Bright Week!
But, there is caution in this Week as well. The caution rises from our human weakness to allow both despondency and euphoria to “intoxicate” us into delusion. The “bright sadness” of Great Lent is followed by the “bright joy” of Pascha, and both seasons of the Church year bring us to the same conclusion: both difficult times and celebratory times are a call to faith and action, not the mindless slavery of sadness and happiness.
The reason we humans are so susceptible to these extremes is because we fear death. The fear of death permeates our lives in both subtle and not so subtle ways. We fear death and our own mortality so very much that we are easily captured by the circumstances of our lives, whether good or bad. And in that slavery we discover all sorts of spiritual poverty about ourselves. The glorious wisdom of our Orthodox faith asks us to not ignore this insight into our own souls, but to face this with the Good News that death has been overcome by Him Who is Life Himself. As the great Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom declares:
“It took a body and came upon God!
It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!
It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy 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 a tomb!”
Our Scripture Lesson today shows us the path to both sober joy and sober sadness. This sobriety is the key to a mature Christian life!
In the Acts of the Apostles 1:12-17, 21-26 we see the disciples getting down to business after they experienced the Resurrected Christ. They had just spent 40 days with Christ after His resurrection. They had watched Him ascend into heaven. And now they are returning to Jerusalem in obedience to Christ’s command that they stay in Jerusalem until the coming of the Holy Spirit. Look how they deal with the afterglow of the glory of these amazing days.
First, they obey. The Lord told them to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to comes and that is exactly what they did. If we are ever going to reach that place of sober joy and sober sadness, we are going to have to prioritize obedience as the number one reaction to both good times and bad times. Any police officer will tell you that in stressful situation, training kicks in and you almost go on “automatic pilot.” This is our path as well. When both good times and bad times come to us, we must be so well versed and well practiced in our faith that neither of these life circumstances tempt us to intoxication with the moment.
Second, they devoted themselves to prayer. But not just any prayer – corporate prayer. They were together, about 120 of the Lord’s disciples and they stayed together to strengthen one another and to pray together while they waited for the promised Comforter to come. Our communion together holds the key to our mature sobriety as believers. It is learning how to be “Church” together that sets us free from “me” mentality that so paralyzes us during times of difficulty and elation. It’s the hard work of communion that sobers our souls to stay awake and aware in both good times and bad. And it is that very wakefulness, awareness, that makes it impossible for the evil one to trick us into the slavery of the moment.
Finally, they got to work. The disciples had a missing member of the apostolic band. Judas, unlike Peter, just couldn’t bring himself out of the despondency of his betrayal and it cost him his life. Both men betrayed Christ, but Peter’s sorrow turned to joy as his repentance led to freedom. But, the apostles didn’t just sit around together and sing kumbaya. No. They looked among their company and found another to take the place of Judas in the apostolic band. And they chose Matthias as the 12th Apostle. The great danger in both difficult times and happy times is the temptation to lethargy. Either you’re too sad to do anything or you’re too happy to bother. Both places are traps. They key to a sober sadness or a sober joy is to be so awake that you keep doing what you are called to do no matter what the circumstances of your life. Keep going!
Today, dearest, we bask in the afterglow of that wonderful Holy Week and the amazing events of Pascha. We are stuffed with the good food. We look at the pictures of our celebrations and smile and cry and rejoice. Our emotions have been on a rollercoaster ride from the sadness of Good Friday to the elation of Pascha. We greet each other with “Christ is risen!” and we rejoice. Good. This is how it should be.
But, in the midst of our joy, let us make sure we aren’t setting ourselves up for the “crash” of the end of these celebratory days by being joyful with sobriety and staying on course to spiritual maturity.
Christ is risen!