The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Passage to newness

Living in hope as Easter people

Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness! God has brought forth Israel into joy from sadness, loosed from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters; led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 363; John of Damascus, ca. 696-754; tr. John Mason Neale).

Fourteen centuries after John of Damascus wrote this Easter hymn, we still sing it to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. As we sing, we remember the passing of the Israelites through the Red Sea following the passing over of the angel of death and the passingthrough death of the crucified Christ to be raised up by God.

This is our paschal (derived from Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew for “passing over”) feast: Easter, the feast of new life, of new beginnings, a passage from death to life, from chains to freedom, from night to dawn, from tears to celebration. And all at the hand of God.

God brought, God loosed and God led, we sing in John of Damascus’ hymn. The earliest Christian Easter proclamation was not “Christ is risen,” but rather “God has raised him up,” as the angel proclaimed to the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb. This journey, this passage to liberation and joy, is from the hand of God.

God brought. God loosed. God led. God raised Christ from the dead. God is at work then and now in our lives. The resurrection is not only a historical event but also a present-day rising up to new creation through God’s deep and loving connection with each of us. Here is the beckoning and instigation of a loving, compassionate God who is always urging God’s people toward newness, toward becoming. Every stumble in life, every conflict, every death, every tragedy can become a passage to new life and new creation through God who loves us.

Consider the “Descent to Hades,” a traditional Orthodox icon of the resurrection in which the resplendent Christ stands upon the broken gate of Hades and reaches out his hands to Adam and Eve, who step out into the new day beyond death (page 30 art). In the poem “Easter,” George Herbert (1593-1633) writes: “Rise heart; thy Lord is risen … who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise with him mayst rise .…” 

Christ’s resurrection is a passage from death to new life for all creation. Christians are an Easter people, living in the hope of resurrection from all the possible deaths in life: the death of hopes, the death of relationships, the death of certainties, the death of control, the death of joy, and ultimately the death of body. Christ takes us by the hand that we likewise with him may rise.

What then do our lives as Easter people look like? How does our passage through death into newness shape us for living our lives in this time and place? What are the signs of such life?

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