The great journey to Pascha
This year’s Lenten journey has been different for all of us. The cancelation of church and Holy Week services has challenged us to reach a little deeper into our faith. Without the power and majesty of traditional church, how do we “trample down death by death” in our own homes and workplaces?
I would suggest by going on the great journey to Pascha, which begins with the incarnation at Christmas and marches through Lent. The hope of the Saviour’s coming, declared for centuries by prophets, was fulfilled by the Angels’ proclamation on Christmas night: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests”.
With that song, coming literally from Angels in heaven, the earth is filled with joy. The Kingdom of God has come, bringing our salvation and the bliss of the afterlife. Our joy is genuine!
In Zephaniah 3:14-17 we read that Yahweh has repealed our sentence, which we incurred through Adam, and has taken away the evil we feared. Yahweh is in our midst, a victorious warrior. Yes, he will exalt over us and renew us by his love. He will dance with shouts of joy, for us.
Jesus came to offer himself for us and to experience our suffering. Jesus alone can touch the inner restlessness and longing of our hearts. The pleasures and physical joys of this life do not give us the lasting joy that Love does. In fact, they are hollow and meaningless without the love that came to us in the crib at Bethlehem.
Christ’s suffering was for the salvation of all. Our suffering, too, can be part of this salvation plan as we offer it for our sins and the redemption of all. Where there is suffering, Christ is close by. When the thief hung on the cross, Jesus said, “This day you will be with me in Paradise”.
Through Lent and Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection as something that still happens to us. Each of us receives the gift of new life and the power to accept it and to live by it. This gift changes everything in this world, including death.
Our very lives have changed. Knowing Christ in the paschal mystery, as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke might say, “deepens the red of my blood.” It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20).
“Death is no more! Oh, death is still there, to be sure and we still face it and someday it will come and take us. But it is our whole faith that by His own death Christ changed the very nature of death, made it a passage—a ‘passover,’ a ‘Pascha’—into the Kingdom of God.” (Great Lent: Journey to Pascha, Alexander Schmemann).
Without the Paschal mystery, Schmemann warns, “We simply forget all this … immersed in our daily preoccupations.” Our forgetting leads us back into failure and sin, our meaningless old selves. We forget even death until all of a sudden, in the midst of our "enjoying life" it comes to us: horrible, inescapable, senseless.”
The “bright sadness” of Lent leads us to the “Joy of Easter”, Schmemann promises. It is through her liturgical life that the church reveals to us that which "the ear has not heard, the eye has not seen, … which God has prepared for those who love Him."