We climbed out of the bus, and immediately someone said, And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem (Ps 122:2); a few steps later, through the Damascus Gate, it was true. I had been the ninth student to respond to my theology professor’s email which had said something like, “My wife and I are going to the Holy Land during fall break and the first ten students to write back expressing serious interest can come with us.” So it was that I went up to Jerusalem that morning, praying the Song of Ascents—Psalms 120–134—just as Jews of old did, generation after generation, as they traveled to the Temple for the three pilgrim feasts (although they didn’t pray them on a crowded Palestinian bus).
A few days later, on the last day of our pilgrimage, my companions and I made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the third time that week. We had already had the thrill of stepping inside the Aedicule—the large structure built over our Lord’s tomb and directly under the main dome of the church—and of venerating the tomb which has remained empty since the day death was destroyed there on that very stone. But on this third and final visit to the church, we met one Fr. Fergus, the guardian for the Franciscan community at the Holy Sepulchre, who gave us a tour. As he walked us around, he frequently paused to muse on the reason the church is there, the reason so many people come to visit it, the reason he became a Franciscan, the reason he and his community are so solicitous to take good care of that church, the reason they wake up at two o’clock each morning to pray there, the reason we pray at all, the reason for our faith: “It’s the Resurrection!”
It was a moving thing, to be in that ancient church, listening to that holy and wholly friendly friar as he told us, hardly able to contain his excitement, “This was the most important event in human history!—it was an actual event, which actually happened, and it happened here. It happened right here.” And this refrain which he kept repeating, “It’s the Resurrection!”, as if simply beside himself with the sheer joy of it, was a powerful reminder that belief in the Resurrection is something constant and all-encompassing. And he was right, of course: the Resurrection is the reason for our faith, for our hope, for our praying, for our joy. This is straight from St. Paul: if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:14). In vain. Not worth a single thing. Utterly useless. If Christ has not been raised, what have we to hope for, what have we to live for?
But in fact Christ has been raised (1 Cor 15:20). He has passed from death to life, and through this unfathomable miracle of mercy we ourselves have been born anew to a living hope and thus rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy (1 Pet 1:3, 8).
In St. John Chrysostom’s famous Easter homily, which is so beautiful that Orthodox and Eastern Rite Churches read it aloud on the morning of Pascha (Easter) every year, he exhorts all the faithful—and the unfaithful too—to rejoice in the Resurrection of the Lord:
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honor the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
Let no one bewail his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
for the Savior’s death has set us free.
Yes, the feast of faith has arrived, and our joy is unutterable; for with the Psalmist—and with Christ himself—we may now say, I shall not die, I shall live (Ps 118:17). We will of course die; but the Resurrection transforms death, destroys death, makes of it not an end but a beginning of life.
And as today I rejoice that Christ is truly risen, that death has lost its sting, that Life reigns, I can almost hear good Fr. Fergus saying, in a voice soft yet full of jubilant faith, “It’s the Resurrection!”