Bishop WolfeThe Seventh Sunday of Easter
The Rt. Rev. Dean E. Wolfe, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas

Sheer Wonderment
The Ancient Story

Come, Holy Spirit,
and grant us the courage to peer into the empty tomb.
Grant us the strength to hear the angels say,
“He is not here.”
And grant us the hope which sends us out into the world
proclaiming the joy of the Resurrected Christ.
In His name we pray,

You just have to love this night! Tonight is that night when the Light eclipses the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

In the middle of a night long ago, a miracle occurred and tonight, more than two thousand years later, we still celebrate that miracle.

More than two thousand years later we’re still trying to understand the story we’ve been celebrating all these years. We’ve put it into words, into music, art, theater, poetry, and even architecture. In every cathedral, every soaring arch is a reminder of Christ’s rising from the grave.

So, what miracle then, merits this ornate liturgy in the midst of this beautiful cathedral?

Well, I believe we are celebrating the end of fear.
Not that we won’t ever succumb to fear again… not that we won’t still find ourselves trembling over things that go bump in the night. We are fully human and being afraid is, I’m afraid, part of the human condition.

But we celebrate this night because we have no reason to fear.
Ultimately, the source of all our fears has been vanquished.

William Sloane Coffin, of blessed memory, wrote,

“Too often the churches have taught that the opposite of love is hate, just as they have taught that the opposite of peace is conflict. What the opposite of peace is, I am not sure. I know it is not conflict, maybe not even violence; perhaps it is injustice. But as regards love, I am sure the Bible is right; the opposite of love is not hate but fear. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

Tonight is a celebration of the love which conquers all fear.
Tonight, we remember with profound gratitude a God who loved us so much that he gave his only Son to us; a God who loved us so much that God’s Son not only overcame the grave, but triumphed over the fear of death itself.

Over the centuries people much more gifted than I am have proclaimed this story and tonight I’d like to share with you a famous sermon by a famous preacher. It was written approximately 1400 years ago by a man who was constantly in trouble for his prophetic teachings to those in authority.

Saint John Chrysostom is considered the greatest preacher of the ancient church. I believe him to be one of the greatest preachers of all time. His surname, in fact, is translated, “Golden mouth”: a name given to him in recognition of his rhetorical gifts.

Probably no sermon he ever preached is a well-known as his powerful and eloquent Easter Homily. In some Eastern Orthodox traditions it is still recited as part of the Easter liturgies. And while some of John Chrysostom’s sermons lasted between two and three hours please don’t panic; this rare gem runs less than three pages.

You will note that in this sermon he speaks to that part of the Creed which states, “Christ descended into hell.” This was an important part of early Christian theology, also known as, “the harrowing of hell,” because it was crucial to their understanding of the universality of Christ. The early Christian Church wanted to make it absolutely clear that there was no place in existence, neither in heaven above, nor on the earth, nor in hell below, where Christ’s presence was not known and felt.

The Easter Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom
Circa 400 A.D.

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he, who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as he greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter in the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of his flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O, death, where is thy sting?
O, Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!