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Homily Easter Sunday 2018

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Easter Sunday---------“Easter is Also About Us”         

One of the great tragedies of Christian History is the rupture between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.  Popes and Patriarchs have longed to mend this breach between two great churches.  The arguments between the two culminated in schism in roughly 1,000 A.D. The argument was supposedly about Theology, but really it was more about politics. 

Eastern Orthodox Churches are in many countries; Russia, Greece, Egypt, Armenia are a few examples.  The clergy in the two churches dress in their own unique way.  The liturgies are different. Sometimes Easter is even celebrated on a separate day. We would expect all this After 1,000 years of division.

But there is some good fruit that comes from this split between the churches.  Sometimes there is a different Theological emphasis that challenges the way we think about our faith.  We Roman Catholics, have something to teach our Orthodox brothers and sisters. And our Orthodox brethren have a lot to teach us.  Both churches can kind of start to veer off course in our Theology.  Dialogues between the two churches can remind us of what is sound theology is as well as what is not so sound.

One of the ways that the two churches are different is in our religious art.  In the West we use stained glass.  We use statuary.  The paintings that decorate our churches are usually very realistic.  We remember artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.  Michelangelo is best known for his ceiling in the Sistine Chapel that depicts creation so magnificently.  Da Vinci is known for his depiction of the Last Super.   People recognize these works even if they know nothing else about art.

In the Eastern Orthodox church, the art is much less realistic.  We have all seen religious icons where the figures seem to be crushed flat on the wood or paper.  The Orthodox church is much more concerned about the truths the art portrays rather than being realistic.  The art that was painted 1,000 years ago is still used today and you cannot tell the difference between it and what was just created. 

The orthodox proclaim great truths with their art. The theological emphasis is often different.   One difference between Western and Eastern religious art is how the Resurrection is portrayed. In Western Art the resurrection of Jesus from the dead most often is shown with Jesus as a singular figure.  He ascends to heaven by himself to glory.  If anyone else is in the picture it is usually soldiers cowering to the side.  We are to be awestruck by this great event, but is there some important truths that are left out that would be helpful for us?

In the Iconography in the Eastern Church the Resurrection is usually portrayed in another manner. Orthodox Christians take very seriously the words from the creed which say, “Jesus descended into Hell and the third day he arose again from the dead.”  For them it is all one event.  Most of the time Jesus is painted in Eastern Art rising off the smashed gates of Hell.  Hell is the abode of the dead. Hell was not a place of torture for the Jews, but a spot where the dead wait in meaninglessness.  In these pictures, the broken gates of hell land in the form of a cross.  Jesus grabs two people by the hand as he rises toward the sky, Adam and Eve.  He pulls them from their tombs, into heaven with him.  Behind Adam and Eve are numerous other people who are coming out of nether world to follow behind Jesus.  Some of the figures we recognize from the Old Testament. Some we do not. 

For the painters of the Iconography the Resurrection is not just about Jesus, but it is a cosmic even.  The old reality is changed.  For the ancients there was a separation in the universe.  God lived in the heavens.  Mortals walked the earth.  The dead lived below the earth.  Jesus broke down those separations. He came to earth to make our world divine, to be Lord of the Heavens and the Earth and what is under the earth.  He descended into hell to lift all the dead out of the place of waiting into eternal life with God.  What power Jesus had!  He transformed the cosmos by his life death and resurrection. 

We are reminded, this Easter Day, that what we recall is not just a truth about Jesus.  No, this day concerns a truth about all who believe in Jesus.  On the last day Jesus Christ will drag us into heaven with him.  Jesus died and rose, but not he is not by himself.  He rises to glory pulling us with him. He wipes away sin and death forever. He says to us as he said to the woman who looked for him Easter morning at the tomb, “Be not afraid.” I will come back to take you with me.


Please note, this is a rough draft, grammar may not be perfect!