Period of Resurrection

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Rev. Dr. Prof. John Moolan

The death and resurrection of Jesus is the central focus of Christianity. Until fourth century, the Resurrection was the only feast in the Church. In the second century, the annual feast of Pasch was established among Christians, which later became the centre of the Church calendar for its further growth towards the cycle of a year.[1] The English word Pasch derived from the Greek term Pascha with its Aramaic form Pesach means the passover from the slavery of death and sin to the freedom of life. Christians substituted the Jewish annual feast of Pasch (Ex 12:1-13; 21-32) with their annual feast of the resurrection of the Lord, the true Pasch, who gave ultimate freedom to the humanity.

The English word ‘Easter’ was originated from the pagan feast of Éostre, an ancient Greek goddess of light, celebrated at the spring equinox on March 21, the sun’s reaching/crossing the equator. Since the Pasch was celebrated during the spring season, Christians changed this pagan name to Easter indicating the resurrection of Jesus, the true light of the world (Jn 1:9). Easter marks the end of Great Fast, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. The present date of Easter on the Sunday following the full moon after March 21 is the fourth century development.[2]

1. The Week of Weeks

In The Syro-Malabr Church of East Syrian tradition, the first week of Easter is known as the “Week of Weeks.” This week was a period of festivities for the newly baptised.[3] On each day, the Eucharist was celebrated with solemnity. The lessons and songs of the Eucharist stressed the theme of baptism. At daily Eucharistic celebration, the newly baptised occupied a place of honour in the Church, and they wore their white garments[4] throughout the week. Byzantines call this week “white week.” The close of this festive week is the New Sunday or the St. Thomas Sunday. Latins call this Sunday “Dominica in albis (white Sunday), because it was apparently the last Sunday on which the neophytes appeared in their white garments.

2. New Sunday

The second Sunday of Easter or the eighth day after Easter is known as the New Sunday in liturgical traditions. The newness of this Sunday consists in two new experiences that brought Christian life to new dimensions in faith.

a. Apostolic Experience

It was on this Sunday, the Apostle Thomas proclaimed, a new faith in the risen Lord. With Thomas there started our faith not only in the resurrection of Jesus, but also in our own resurrection and the future life with Him in heaven. “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28) is the profound Christian profession of faith in Jesus, the victorious hero, the risen Lord and God. The word “Mar” (Lord) refers to the historical Jesus and the word “Theo” (God) refers to the theological Jesus. This is a Christian confession to the risen Jesus that we all belong to Him as His willing subjects. This shows a new relationship with Jesus other than that of human relationship. This divine relationship consists of worshipping Jesus as the Lord and God both here on earth and in heaven.

b. Catechumens’ Experience

In the early catechumenate background, this is the very first Sunday for the newly baptised to have a full participation in the Eucharist, Until this Sunday they were sent out after the Eucharist of the catechumens, because only those who were baptised were allowed to participate in the Eucharist of the faithful. Even though they were baptised on the Easter Sunday during the Holy Eucharist, the first part of this baptismal Eucharistic celebration took place on Holy Saturday before midnight when the catechumens were led to the nearby pool or pond where the baptism took place. After baptism, all go back to the church and continue the second part of the Eucharist, the Eucharist of the faithful. Thus, only the Eucharist of the faithful happens to take place on the Easter Sunday, since the other preparatory part is conducted before the baptism around the midnight. The whole Eucharist as a unit together with baptism is arranged to take place on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday in order to indicate the symbolical significance of baptism as the participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Even though they participate fully in the daily Eucharistic celebrations of the preceding weekdays, the very first Sunday of their full Eucharist experience had a special place in the life of the newly baptised. The day of resurrection is the basis of Christian faith and the expected day of our own resurrection.[5]

3. St. Thomas Sunday

The second Sunday of Resurrection is dedicated to the Apostle Thomas in most Churches in memory of his faith proclamation in Jesus, “My Lord and My God”(Jn 20:28). Due to the fact of proclaiming the new Christian faith in the risen Lord for the first time by the Apostle Thomas, the Malabarties call this Sunday “the New Sunday.” On this Sunday, they make pilgrimage to Mount Malayattur, because they believe that the Apostle Thomas spent forty days in fasting and prayer on this mountain.[6]

The Friday of Confessors

The first Friday of Resurrection dedicated to all saints, is known as the Friday of Confessors. This feast originated during the time of the persecution of Christians by the Persian King Sapor II (309-379).[7] On Good Friday in 341, he killed Mar Simon Bar Sabbae, Catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphone, and many other bishops.[8] Christians began to celebrate this day as the feast day of martyrs. Since Good Friday was the commemoration day of our Lord’s death, the Friday after Easter was set apart for these martyrs who entered this mystery in the most radical way possible, offering their own lives for their faith in Christ. Gradually this day became All Saints’ Day. Mar Isai (540-552), a Syrian writer of the school of Nisibis, speaks of this Friday after Easter in his treaties on the martyrs:

Last Friday (Good Friday) we heard the Jews calumniating Christ and blaspheming Him. This Friday we see martyrs really confessing Christ and proclaiming His glory. Thus, we pass from the memory of the passion of our Redeemer whom the wicked ones have crucified because of the truth of His doctrines, to the commemoration of confessors whom the torturers have put to death for having taken hope in the resurrection… Last Friday Christ signed a sacrament with His own blood (Heb 9:13-16); this Friday we come to know the courage of the blessed martyrs who proclaimed the resurrection of Christ before the whole world, and affirmed the testament through their profession of faith signed with their own bfood. So the Holy Fathers, having considered the wonderful works of the holy martyrs and the marvellous patience of the confessors, have established this feast to be celebrated immediately after the glorious resurrection of Christ our Redeemer.[9]

Thus in instituting this feast, the Fathers intended to present for our consideration the relation between the Cross and the Resurrection, that is the realisation of Christ’s Resurrection in our own resurrection, and thereby to stimulate our hope in future glory. Easter joy is the joy at the beginning of a new life, and its fulfilment is at the end of life. Saints are those who have realised this joy by attaining the glory of Christ.. Therefore, their commemoration at the very beginning of this season is an assurance of our hope in future glory (Heb 6:11) and guarantee of our redemption in Christ Jesus (Heb 6:19-20).

4. Ascension Day

The feast of the Ascension falls on the 6th Thursday after Easter. The Ascension signifies our own elevation and the confirmation of our possession of Paradise in Christ. The Old Testament lesson of this day, the taking up of Elija to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-1 5), is the type of this theme. In the propers of the Ascension Day,[10] the Syriac word malka (king) for Jesus appears frequently. It indicates that this is the feast day of the kingship of our Lord for the Syro-Malabar Church of East Syriac tradition. Having control over all the forces of nature, Christ revealed His kingship over everything. Therefore, this is the more suitable day to celebrate His kingship in the East Syrian tradition.

On this day, according to Hudra,[11] during the evening prayer (ramsa) at the beginning of the hymn Laku Mara (to you O Lord), all go out to the church courtyard in procession with Cross, the Gospel, lights, and incense. From then until the period of the Dedication of the Church, the prayers and the first part of the Eucharistic celebration until the Gospel lesson are conducted outside the church. This East Syrian practice, unknown in Malabar, is due to the heat of summer. The hot climate makes the church uncomfortable for doing prayers. The Onita d’Evangelion (Gospel hymn), a hymn related to the Gospel and used only during this season from Ascension to the Dedication of the Church,[12] is sung to accompany the procession from the church courtyard to the bema[13] where to proclaim the Gospel lesson.

5. Liturgical Themes

            The propers of this season bring forth the paschal dimension of the season to be experienced in day-to-day life. The main themes are the great joy of redemption, victory over death and sin, and new life in Christ.

a. Great Joy

This is a period of joy and enthusiasm in memory of the possession of the Promised Land of heaven. This divine enjoyment has got its Jewish background. Among the Jews, this was a period of intense zeal and gladness in harvesting their crops. The harvesting started on the day after the Passover Sabbath, i.e. the present Easter Sunday (Lev 23:1 0-11,1 5), and ended on the fiftieth day the Pentecost, the feast of harvest or the feast of the weeks, when the first fruits are offered in the temple. This means that the harvesting or the days of joy started on Easter Sunday lasted for seven weeks to reach its climax. Likewise, for a heavenly harvest of hundred folds, the whole season needs to be linked closely as if it were a long day of the Lord or a Big Sunday of fifty days.

In order to attain the peace and happiness that we lost in Paradise by Adam and Eve, we need a long time of a period without interruption as if a unit of a Big Sunday from Easter day to the Pentecost. According to St. Athanasius (296-373) the great victory over death and sin needs a special lengthy occasion for its full experience. Resurrection is only an opening up into this new phase of victory.[14] For Narse (d.504) the whole season as a unit is to enjoy the heavenly inheritance. It contains in a walking through a proper way and entering into the eternal life. The resurrection opened the door to heaven. This means that the feast is only the beginning of a new life where one starts the way to Paradise, and the whole period aims at walking towards His risen glory in heaven.[15]

b. Victory over Death and Sin

The resurrection of Christ is the centre of the whole salvation history. Old Testament history converges towards it and the new economy of salvation proceeds from it. His resurrection destroyed the reign of death among us and prepared the way to the Kingdom of heaven. Thus He destroyed death and prepared life as St. Paul says, “O death where is your victory, and where is your sting” (1 Cor 15:55). Therefore, we mortals have every means to rejoice and be consoled. Thus, onita d’sapra on Wednesday of the week of weeks prays:

On the day of your resurrection death was conquered and Satan fell down. Angels and men sing glory to your eternity, because in your resurrection, you have made them free and filled them with joy. Behold! They offer up glory to your Lordship.”[16]

Onita d’ramsa on the fourth Friday of resurrection declares that “the death will say, ‘O murderous death, where is your victory? (1 Cor 15:55) because, behold! Your power has failed among us through the One among us who conquered death and prepared the way to the Kingdom.”[17]

Resurrection manifested Jesus the author of life and death, who can give and take life. He indicated this truth earlier during His life giving life back to the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:21-24, 35-43) and to the Lazarus (Jn 11:38-44). This great victory of Jesus made everybody happy. The mortals became happy because the death is conquered. The Church is happy because the Master of life is shown forth. All people became happy because the One among them opened the door to heaven. The angels and men sing glory to Him because the resurrection made them free. If we put complete trust in Him, He will raise us also with Him. Therefore, in this season real faith is called forth for attaining eternal life.

c. The New Life

The Resurrection is the beginning of a new life. We receive this life through baptism. (Gal 6:15; Eph 2:15-16). Onita d’mautba on the second Sunday of Resurrection speaks on the destruction of death and the construction of life:

Rejoice and be comforted, O mortal ones, because His suffering has annihilated the power of death. Christ has conquered death and promised life through His resurrection. Heaven and earth rejoice, and groups of angels give praise to the One who through His resurrection has given life to the human race.”[18]

 St. Ephrem compares this newness of life in Resurrection with the sweetness of honey that Samson found in the corpse of lion he kitted (Judges 14:5f). The Resurrection annihilated death and produced the honey of eternal life. The whole period aims for enjoying this newness of life acquired through the resurrection of the Lord. This new life is the life in the Spirit with righteousness, peace, and joy that are the characteristics of the Kingdom of God (Rom 14:17). This is nothing but a rebirth or a new creation by a perfect renewal of the ethical and moral order of our Christian life. It is through faith and baptism that we come to this new life (Jn 3:5, Rom 6:4-11). The giving up of the present life and the winning of eternal life by a total conversion is the price of discipleship (Mt 1 6:25, Jn 1 2:25).

To love one another is the message of this season. The loving aims at giving (creation), manifesting (revelation), accepting (incarnation), saving (redemption), remaining (Eucharist), offering (sacrifice) and glorifying (resurrection). Living is love when the loving is sweet. Therefore, love one another in order to live happily as a sign of the new life obtained in resurrection. The real Easter joy consists in the sharing of a new life of love, peace, and joy with all around us. The world cannot give this true Christian joy. Thus, onita d’raze on the first Sunday of Resurrection prays, “You are baptised in one Spirit. You have put on the only Spirit and grasped the one Lord in whose name you are called. With Him you will rejoice in the dwelling filled with happiness.”[19]

6. Lectionary Theology

            The resurrection of Christ is the center of salvation history: Old Testament history converges towards it and the New Testament economy of salvation proceeds from it. The lectionary arrangement for this season from Sunday to Sunday Eucharist unfolding the diachronic and synchronic settings of scripture lessons, together with the paschal mystery of the redemption of humanity through Christ’s resurrection commemorated in the liturgical propers, enable a dynamic encounter with gospel values to be practiced in daily life. Reincorporation into the Paschal events reminds the faithful of their commitments to lead a new life in Christ. The resurrection of Jesus summons to spiritual progress of a redeemed community for a further renewal of life.

In the lectionary of this season, the book of law from Qeriyane is replaced by the Acts of the Apostles, since it elucidates the resurrection experience of the apostles; therefore, three of the four lessons are from the New Testament. The sequence for proclamation is the prophets from Qeriyane, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistle (Sliha), and finally the Ewangaliyon. Since the resurrection of Christ is the guarantee of our own resurrection, the lectionary system here represents resurrection theology.

a. Diachronic System

Diachronism indicates the chronological, thematic, and linguistic agreement of scripture lessons showing the progress of scripture lessons on Sundays by establishing an agreement between the Old and the New Testament scripture lessons within the periods of the liturgical year. The seasonal Sunday lessons bring out a gradual unfolding of the chronological order of the Christ event in salvation history. In this respect, the theme of the first Sunday gets a further development on the second Sunday; the third Sunday proceeds from the second Sunday, and so on. For this purpose, the scripture lessons in the lectionary system are anamnetically and epicletically interpreted. The whole system follows a historically ordered sequence of gospel events to which the other lessons are oriented as follows.[20]

Sundays

Anamnetic Lessons

Epicletic Lessons

Type

Real

Apostolic Experience

Apostolic exhortations

1. Paschal Sunday: Vigil

    Eucharist: Isa 60:1-7 The   glory of the LordLuke 24:1-12 Resurrection

John 20:1-18 Empty tomb, the appearance to the Magdalene 

1 Sam 2:1-10 Hannah’s prayer of praise 

Rom 5:20-6:23 The new life in Christ2.Isa 55:4-13 Zion, the spring of lifeJohn 20:19-31 Appearance to the Ten and to ThomasActs 4:32-5:11 Ananias and SapphiraCol 1:1-20 Thanksgiving, the crown of creation3.Isa 56:1-7 Salvation for allJohn 14:1-14 Jesus the way, truth and lifeActs 5:34-42 Apostles’ joy in suffering for ChristEph 1:1-14 Redemption, forgiveness in Christ4.Isa 49:13-23 Deliverance of  IsraelJohn 16:16-33 Sadness and gladnessActs 8:14-25 Gospel preached in SamariaEph 1:15-2:7 Christ, the Savior5.Isa 49:7-13 Messiah’s commission  to deliver IsraelJohn 21:1-14 Tiberius appearanceActs 9:1-19 The conversion of PaulHeb 10:19-36 The danger of rejecting Christ6.Isa 51:9-11,52:7-12 Jerusalem rejoices in God’s deliveranceJohn 17:1-26 Jesus’ prayer for the disciplesActs 10:1-16 Cornelius’ vision and Peter’s tranceEph 2:4-22 All are one in Christ7.Isa 6:1-13 Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory in the templeMark 16:9-20 Post-resurrection appearancesActs 1:15-26 Selection of MatthiasPhil 1:27-2:11 Jesus our model of Christian life

(1) Anamnetic Lessons

            The prophet Isaiah spoke of the Lord arising in the midst of his people. Mount Zion (Jerusalem) as the center of God’s presence and the Jerusalem temple as the center of God’s delight with Israel are types of glory signifying the source of life to come through Jesus as the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah encourages the people to sing joyful hymns to the Lord in remembrance of his ineffable gifts toward humanity. Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly glory in the temple sanctified him to lead the people toward the redemptive glory of the Lord that was to come.

            The gospel events present the resurrection as the assurance of our own resurrection in the age to come. The empty tomb, the post resurrection appearances, and the promise of heavenly glory all point to the participation of Christians in the risen glory of Christ, who has gone in advance to prepare a place and will come again to take the faithful to him. The Apostle Thomas professed this faith declaring, “My Lord and my God.” The Christian life should always aim at this future glory in heaven.

(2) Epicletic Lessons

            The Acts of the Apostles present the tremendous joy of the apostles in proclaiming the glorious resurrection of Jesus. The apostles even took up their sufferings joyfully for the sake of the risen Lord. The joy in suffering for truth manifests a theology of suffering. The resurrection was the victorious celebration of the establishment of truth. Nobody can bury the truth, since it is the perennial reality that will come out by itself. The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a terrific warning for those who hide the truth. Paul’s conversion, Cornelius’s vision, and Peter’s trance show the unlimited capability of the risen Lord. The election of Matthias by the apostles with earnest prayers shows the need to depend on the risen Lord for a successful life.

            The apostolic exhortations explain this new life in Christ through redemption and forgiveness. Rejecting Christ closes the door to salvation. Resurrection unites all in Christ; there is happiness in following Jesus, the perfect model of Christian life. The apostles commend Christians to lead a life worthy of the Lord and so by bring others to happiness by encountering Christ.

b. Synchronic

            Synchronism is indicated by the relationship of the lectionary system to the totality of the chronological and thematic arrangement of the Paschal mystery commemorated in the liturgical propers. This dynamic relationship between lectionary and propers highlights the biblical and theological coherence of the salvation economy: the lectionary system illustrates the gradual unfolding of salvation history at the biblical level, while the liturgical propers speak to the mystery of salvation at the theological level.

The scriptural themes fit together with overarching theological theme of the mystery of redemption voiced in the season’s liturgical propers.[21] Contributing to this principal theme are such sub themes as victory over death and sin, new life in the risen Lord, and redeeming love, all of which accentuate the need for a daily encounter with Christ.

Conclusion

            According to Paul, the entire Christian faith hinges upon the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus and the hope for a life after death (1 Cor 15:14, 17, 19-20). The Resurrection is a kind of ‘birth’ for Jesus into a new identity.  By natural birth, Jesus is the Messiah descended from David, while by resurrection He is the Son of God through the Holy Spirit in power.  This two steps Christology do not believe that Jesus became something at the Resurrection, rather was revealed to the disciples through the Resurrection that what He had always been. The central truth of resurrection is that Jesus is alive today. That means a relationship with Jesus is possible even today through the Holy Spirit as it was for the disciples two thousand years ago.

Resurrection was the rejection of world’s power system and the vindication of Jesus power as the Lord. Now the victory, peace, and prosperity of resurrection contain in the Christian spiritual warfare girded with truth, putting on the breastplate of righteousness, shoed with the Gospel of peace, taking the shield of faith, bearing the helmet of salvation, and taking the sword of the word of God (Eph 6:13-17).

The revelation of the way to a new life in resurrection discarded the old life dominated by self and sin, and took the long walk into the new life of Christ. As St. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live by the power of Christ who died for me” (Gal 2:20). A Christian life is a death to self and a life in the risen Lord.


[1] J.A.Jungmann, The Early Liturgy: To the Time of Gregory the Great (London, 1976) 25-27; T.J.Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year,  1-26. A.Adam, The Liturgical Year, 57-63.

[2] M.Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica II (Milan, 1955) 208-209.

[3] J.Mateos, Lelya-Sapra: Les offices Chaldéens de la nuit et du matin, OCA 156  (Rome, 1959) 241; J.A.Jungmann, The Early Liturgy, 264.  

[4] J.Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy (Michigan, 1956) 49.

[5] Canon 2 of the Doctrine of the apostles, a 4th century Syriac document of pseudo apostolic teachings on the liturgical feasts and commemorations, says that on the first day of the week He will appear in the end with the angels of heaven;  see  W.Cureton, ed.& trans., Ancient Syriac Documents, (London, 1864) 26, trans. 26; A.Vööbus, ed.& trans., Synodicon in West Syrian Tradition,  CSCO 367, Scriptores Syri 161-162 (Louvain, 1975) 201-202, trans. 189;  P.Kannookadan, The East Syrian Lectionary (Rome, 1991) 157.

[6] V.Pathikulangara, “The Liturgical Year of the Syro-Malabar Rite,” Ephemerides Liturgicae 90 (1976) 186, note 59.

[7] J.M.Fiey, Nisibe Métropole Siriaque Orientale et ses suffragants des origenes à nos jours, CSCO, subsidia 54 (Louvain, 1977) 26.

[8] A.Scher, Histoire Nestorienne inedited (Chronique de Séert), PO 4.3 (Paris, 1908) 304; J.Mateos, Lelya-Sapra, 242; A.Baumstark, Festbrevier und Kirchenjahr der syrischen Jacobiten, Stidien zur Geschichte und Kultur des Altertum 3 (Paderborn, 1910) 251, 253.

[9] A.Scher, ed., Traités d’Isai le docteur et de Hnana  d’Adiabene sur les Martyrs, le Vendredi d’Or et les Rogations, et confession de foi a réciter par les évêque Nestoriens avant l’ordination, PO 7.1 (Paris, 1911) 27-28.

[10] P.Bedjan, Breviarium II, 495-510.

[11] P.Bedjan, Breviarium jxta Ritum Syro Orientalium id est Chaldaeorum, vol. 2 (Rome, 1886-1887) 495; S.Pudichery, Ramsa: An Analysis and Interpretation of the Chaldean Vespers  (Bangalore, 1972) 121.

[12] S.H.Jammo, La structure de la Messe Chaldeenne du début jusqu à l’anaphore: Étude historique, OCA 207 (Rome, 1979) 120; R.Taft, The Great Entrance:A History  of the Transfer of Gifts and other Pre-Anaphoral Rites of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, OCA 200 (Rome, 1978), 41-42

[13] A raised platform called Golgotha (calvary) at the centre of the nave; see R.Taft, “On the use of the Bema in the East Syrian Liturgy;” ECR 3 (1970) 30-39; Id., “Some Notes on the Bema in the East and West Syrian Tradition,” OCP 34 (1968) 326-359.

[14]  PG 26, 1 366.

[15] Homily on the Manifestation of our Lord and the World to Come 2.9.

[16] P.Bedjan, Breviarium II, 422

[17] P.Bedjan, Breviarium II, 475

[18] P.Bedjan, Breviarium II, 446.

[19] P.Bedjan, Breviarium II, 391.

[20]Ordo celebrationis “Quddasa” iuxta usum ecclesiae Syro-Malabrensis (Rome, 1959) 51-52.

  [21]Supplementum Mysteriorum, 86-107; and Breviarium II, 390-704.

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