Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
There is a large hole in the ground under a sinking overpass located somewhere underneath the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx. In it used to live a few homeless people. Iíve gotten to know a couple of them who made it their home for about twenty-five years. I never knew how they could have lived there. By their reports, it was a rather dangerous place to live. The overpass is slowly sinking into the ground and could fall in anytime. They said that inside they lived with wild creatures- squirrels, rats, raccoons, stray dogs and cats. During the winter time, it could be freezing down there, and luckily no one had ever frozen to death; in the summer, there was a lack of good air, and indeed, the air could be suffocating. It is no surprise that some of the men who lived there were rather ill. When one peeks inside from the outer gates of this tomb-like structure, one canít see anything inside for the place is very dark. These men have a friend who would often visit. Iíve come to know her and admire her. She is a nice but tough nun, who has been a nun for twenty-five years, and had made it her mission to live her life in the service of the homeless poor in the South Bronx. She had befriended the homeless men and so often, would go down there to check up on them and to give food and other necessities for survival. But, she would always see them just right outside the structure. One day, however, when there was no answer from her friends living inside, she decided to enter the place to look for them and see if they were okay. She did not go alone but took an assistant with her. She said it was totally dark, cold and smelly, and she felt scared for she did not know what to expect. Suddenly, both she and her assistant, who happened to be a man, found themselves rolling down fast a steep decline because unbeknownst to her, there was a sudden drop in the ground, and she held on to her assistant. She said, ďNoel, let me tell you. I never touched a man in my life, much less a manís behind. But there I was, Noel, I swear I did not mean it, I held on to that manís behind so tightly and I was scared and I would never let go of his ass. I mean, Noel, here I am, a nun, and I found myself holding and clutching tightly to a manís behind!Ē Bless her indeed. She has been an instrument of Christís resurrected grace that enabled her to save souls and life in a place of desperation and meaninglessness.
Our homeless outreach team collaborated with her in trying to convince the men to give up their life from this rather deadly place and to seek a new life, a better life outside of it. We finally were able to obtain the services to assist these men to get the help they needed. I do remember the day when one of the men decided to come out of this tomb to go into his new home with us and I remembered saying to myself as this man emerged out of that dark place that if there was a glimpse of the resurrection, it was happening then. He emerged out of his old life into a new life outside, out of darkness into light, from ugliness to beauty.
I want to share with you a few art representations of the resurrection of Jesus-some well-known while others are not-, and these representations could be grouped in two types. In the western type, the resurrected Jesus is often portrayed as emerging from his tomb. It emphasizes a historical event, that is, the bodily resurrection of the Savior. It emphasizes a particular historical, earthly moment- the Saviorís exit from an earthly tomb. In the western type, Jesus alone emerges from the tomb. Jesus is the only figure portrayed as the resurrected one. The focus is on Jesus and Jesusí resurrection alone.
Contrast this to the eastern type that developed in the tradition of the Eastern Church. First, here, the Christ does come out, does not rise, from his earthly tomb, but rather, Jesus rises from the depths of hell. Here, is Jesus portrayed as rising from hell. In a few minutes, we will all rise to affirm our faith by saying the baptismal Creed, the Apostleís Creed, and in it we shall say ďHe descended to hell on the third day he rose again from the dead.Ē Hell is not only the place of the dead, but it is a place where humanity is in utter dominion of Satan. When Christ died on the cross, the Evil One tried to claim his soul and brought him to hell, but unbeknownst to Satan, the power of the Son of God is infinitely greater than his and he could not conquer the Son of God. So, here depicted we see the resurrected Christ rising from his death, rising from hell freeing himself from reign of Satan. But he does more than free himself; he also conquers the Devil and all the forces of hell, binding him and his angels forever so that they could no longer wreak evil in the universe. In these icons, we see him trampling the doors of dark hell beneath his feet, and the devil bound forever. Death and hell has no more dominion over him. In this eastern representation of the resurrection, Jesus is not the only one who is resurrected. He resurrects Adam and Eve, both representing all of humanity, and he frees them from the dominion of Satan and death. Not only Adam and Eve, but all of humanity with him as seen in the background. The picture is not called the resurrection of Christ, but simply ďanastasis,Ē ďThe resurrection.Ē Why? Because the Church believes that it is not only Christís resurrection but also OUR resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is simultaneously the resurrection of humanity. The victory of Christ is also OUR victory. The triumph of Christ over hell is OUR triumph. This is the Good News of Easter, my brothers and sisters: Whatever hell we have in our lives, when life is hell, the Good News is that the Son of God is in the midst of that hell, with us, working in and through us, seeking to liberate and redeem us. Resurrection is happening when we are in the midst of our hell. Even as the Son of God descended to hell and on the third day rose again, we who have descended to our own hell shall rise with him. Our hell shall be overcome. That is the supreme promise we have received in our Baptism- that nothing shall ever separate us- not death not even hell- can separate us from God, from his love, and from his dominion of grace. No one is ever, ever outside the dominion of God; no one is ever, ever outside the dominion of his love, no one is ever, ever outside the grace of God. Easter is not only a celebration of Christís resurrection and victory, but it is the celebration of OUR resurrection, OUR final victory, OUR triumph over the things that oppresses and assails us.
Yet, there are those still around us and among us that waits for the word of hope of redemption. Still, pockets of hell exists around us- people in great poverty, the homeless, the victims of our wars and injustices. At Baptism, we have received the grace and power of the resurrected Jesus and in his Name, we promised to work out justice, peace and love wherever we may be. And like the Lord who descended to hell in order to redeem, we must, armed with the grace of the resurrected Christ, WE MUST go to places of hell on this earth to assist God in his work of redeeming and liberating humanity which finds itself still in shackles. Our work is to lead people from whatever darkness they find themselves into Godís light; to free people from forces of death and bring them life. From meaninglessness existence to hope. From hatred to love. We are to be like that young man we read in the Easter Gospel today- who announced the Good News of the resurrected life to the women who came searching and hoping for new life in a place of death and darkness Ė the tomb. We are the People of the Resurrection. We are the Easter People. Ours is the promise of final victory in Christ. Not only by words but by our actions must we proclaim then with gladness and boldness to the world: Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
2011 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a gay Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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