“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marvelling at what had happened.” (Luke 24:1–12)
If you were to attend a matins service on Easter morning at an Eastern Orthodox church then you would find yourself standing at a homily from the late fourth or early fifth century is read out. This the Paschal Homily of John Chrysostom, which celebrates the victory of Christ over death. To quote the Eastern Orthodox hymn of the Resurrection: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”.
The use of this ancient sermon serves to remind us that at the core of the faith are timeless truths, which are reverently handed down from generation to generation, so sermons from the fourth century still ring out in the twenty-first century. The Scriptures are a deposit which we guard, and which have formed the church (and Christian) throughout the ages. This living link back through time to the Apostles, and to Christ, is the great strength of the Church.
We don’t know when this sermon of Chrysostom’s was first preached, but it’s a fair assumption that it dates from the time when he was Patriarch of Constantinople.
Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Are there any who are grateful servants? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord! Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay. For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavour. The deed He honours and the intention He commends. Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it. He destroyed Hell when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below." Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!