Christmas Advent HERO

Anastasis: the Greatest Story of God’s Saving Power

When I’m trying to think of Bible stories to use as examples in sermons or Bible studies, I often fall back on to my earliest biblical training: Sunday school. As memories of puffy paint and silly songs come flooding back, I’m also remembering powerful stories of God’s work among our faith ancestors. David and Goliath. Daniel in the lion’s den. The great saga of Abraham and Sarah. The crossing of the Red Sea.

The great stories we tell one another share a great theme. When it looks like all is lost, when it looks like the future is hopeless, God saves. Since ancient times we have collected these stories and told them over and over again to remind each other of who God is. These stories remind us of the consistency of God’s character, from ancient times till now, and on into the future. God hears us when we cry out in fear and despair, and God makes a way when there seems to be no way.

During this great season of Easter, we focus on the greatest story of God’s saving power: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Yes, in the Lutheran tradition – and the Catholic, Anglican, and others who follow the same liturgical calendar – it is still Easter. The season of Easter lasts for 50 days, making it the longest season in the Church Year.

I love that this 50-day tradition gives us such a long time to focus on the story of Christ’s resurrection. It is the greatest story, because it changes the world in a way no other story does. The other stories we tell – crossing the Red Sea, the return home from exile – these tell about God’s saving power at one time and place in history, for one specific group of people. We cling on to their message and meaning for us in different times and places (and so we should!), but they really happened way back then.

But Christ’s resurrection happened to the whole world. I mean, Jesus of Nazareth was the only one literally raised from the dead that day. But the resurrection is not just about Jesus being raised from his death; it is about God breaking the chains of death for all of us and all creation. In Christ’s resurrection God broke through the walls of time and place to pull all of time and all of creation into its saving power.

Fresco from Kariye Camii, Anastasis – showing Christ and the resurrection of Adam and Eve

Since the beginning of the church there has been a tradition of showing this power of Christ’s resurrection in art. (The tradition has been especially preserved in the Eastern Church.) These paintings show Christ, who has just broken down the door to the world of the dead, busted locks and hinges scattered all around the ground. He stomps down on Hades or Satan while he holds out his hands to Adam and Eve, pulling them up out of their graves and into the new life he’s giving to the world. A crowd of others – including other Old Testament figures – are queueing up to rise up with Jesus.

We often refer to this image as “The Harrowing of Hell,” but another title – and the words most often included in Eastern iconography – are simply “H Anastasis” or “The Resurrection.”

In the resurrection, God again made a way where there seemed to be no way. God made a path through sin and death, into the promised land of God’s new creation. And this path wasn’t just for Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus holds open the door for all of us. Jesus holds open the door for the power of the new creation to come rushing in to reform and renew the world even now.

We experience that new life now as we tell and retell the stories of God’s love and as we baptize people and welcome them into God’s new creation life. We live that new creation life as we go about our days knowing that God is with us; as we share the love God has given us with one another; as we share our material goods; as we love even our enemies; as we strive for justice and peace. 

And when we do feel afraid, when we feel like there is no way forward …even then God comforts us with God’s perfect love. For God has already made a way for us through the resurrection of Christ into new life.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Pr Kate

April 21, 2021

Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay serves as university pastor at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and takes turns writing weekly devotions with University Pastor James A. Wetzstein.