Christ is Risen! Again we turn our hearts to our tradition of morning prayer known as Matins, and we are focusing on how it is that we have beheld the Resurrection of Christ. In a special way, this viewing of the resurrection comes to us through this service where we sing that hymn. Today, instead of focusing on some of the stichera which celebrate the resurrection and explain to us, we will turn our gaze to another section that is connected to the Gospel at matins. Before doing so, I want to ask this question: when do we hear about Christ after the Resurrection on a Sunday Gospel during the Divine Liturgy? Apart from Thomas Sunday and the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing women, we don’t! We focus on Christ’s life before He was risen from the dead. Matins comes to us again to help us behold the resurrection, because in stark contrast all Eleven Gospels at Matins are focused on the Resurrection. Today we will reflect on the ways that Christ appeared to His disciples after the resurrection. We will hear what they were commanded to do by Him, and we will also note what that encounter was like. We will learn about the uniqueness of His resurrection as compared to others such as Lazarus who was really resuscitated, not resurrected. Sometimes the encounter was confusing, sometimes it was challenging, but it was always the beautiful reality of Love and Life that Christ brings through His resurrection.
First, I want to point out that we are used to 8 tones, doing some things 3 times, or 12 times, or 40 times. Why 11 resurrection Gospels at Matins? One answer may simply be that there are 11 stories that fit into the four Gospels? I am not sure. More importantly, what are these stories about? We can list the 11 Gospels in terms of the passages that they quote, and they are here on this handout. But what’s more important perhaps to understanding these Gospel passages is again coming to us from our Byzantine tradition. Liturgically, the Gospel is read at Matins, and then later in the service there are 2 narratives that come after the reading. First, there is the hymn of light. On a Sunday, these are normally based on the Gospel. So if you show up after the Gospel reading but before this section, pay attention and you can learn something. Though of course it’s better to be there for the whole service! After the hymn of light, we eventually arrive at the Psalms of Praise, which were our focus last week. If you remember, the 4 stichera that we read were from the last hymn prior to singing “Glory to the Father…” Today, we will focus on the special stanza or hymn that comes after that “Glory”, because there are 11 of those stanzas. Like the hymns of light, they are an exposition on the 11 resurrectional Gospels read at Matins. Again, last time we focused on the reality of the resurrection. Here we come face to face with what it was like to see Christ after his Resurrection. We will focus on three stanzas which all come to us from the end of the Gospel of Luke, though of course all 11 readings from all 4 Gospels are worth meditating on. This is yet another reason why celebrating matins is so important, you can get through all 11 several times a year if matins is celebrated regularly! But I digress…
As we focused upon the scene at the tomb with the stichera from last week, we will begin our Gospel passages with the fourth resurrectional gospel, which is from Luke 24:1-12. In this passage, we hear about the myrrh-bearing women meeting two angels and finding the stone rolled away from the tomb. The angels announce that Christ is Risen and they move from fear to faith. However, as they return to the Eleven disciples they are met with doubt. Peter, however, goes to the tomb and wonders upon seeing the stone rolled away and the linen cloths lying in the tomb by themselves. Our stanza from the “Glory” reflects on this by saying the following: “The women came at early dawn to your tomb, O Christ, but they did not find your venerable body. As they were perplexed, an angel in shining clothes said to them: Why do you seek the Living among the dead? He is risen as he foretold. Have you forgotten what he said? Being assured by the words of the angel, the women preached to the disciples about the things they saw. But their good news was received with ridicule, for the disciples were still without understanding. Peter, however, hastened to your tomb, and then glorified your wonders, O Lord.”
We see very clearly here what it was like for Christ’s followers after he died. He had promised that he would not remain in the grave, but this was forgotten by the men and women following him. The women went from doubt to faith upon hearing the angels’ words, but this preaching to the men (apart from Peter, it seems) fell upon deaf ears. This demonstrates that the message of the Gospel and the Resurrection was not easy to receive at all times. And it still isn’t! However, this testimony speaks to us, that one can behold the resurrection of Christ as the women did, and come to faith. Peter had to see the linens for himself, which may remind us of Thomas and his doubt that often gives him an unfairly bad reputation. But the common thread is that after the doubt and uncertainty, the revelation of Christ’s resurrection came to the believers. As we go through the Resurrection accounts of Luke, we will see other examples of this doubt coming to faith.
The fifth resurrectional gospel takes us through the Gospel of Luke, from chapter 24 verse 12 through verse 35. Here we have the famous passage often referred to as “the road to Emmaus”, where Christ meets two disciples, one is named in the text as Cleopas and the other is identified by Tradition as Luke, and as he speaks to them they do not recognize him. As he talks to them and walks them through the Scriptures of the Old Testament, they realize through his words that the Christ was to die and rise from the dead. With all of this discourse, they still do not recognize him as Jesus until they beg him to dine with them. At the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened that it was indeed Jesus, and the text says that He immediately vanished! Here is how the Gospel stanza takes us through this passage: “How wise are your judgments, O Christ! You granted Peter the understanding of your Resurrection by the burial wrappings alone. Even though you accompanied Luke and Cleopas and conversed with them, yet you did not reveal yourself. You were taunted by them as though you alone were a stranger in Jerusalem, not knowing what had recently happened there. But since you ordained all things for the good of each, you explained to them what the prophets had spoken concerning you. In the breaking of the bread they recognized you because their hearts were already burning with the desire to know you. When they came together with the disciples, they proclaimed openly your divine Resurrection by which we ask that you have mercy on us.”
This hymn focuses on our faith and the way Christ reveals himself to people. Note that with Peter, he was granted to understand by just the linen cloths. Likewise, Christ does not initially reveal himself to Luke and Cleopas. They are not alone in this point of obscurity. In John 20 we read that Mary does not recognize Christ at the tomb, thinking he was a gardener. Likewise in John 21 the apostles are fishing and do not recognize Christ until he reveals himself. Perhaps a key lesson comes from this hymn when it states that “you ordained all things for the good of each”. Christ will reveal himself to all people, but the manner and timing may be different. Maybe you were born and raised in the Church? Your faith may be like the myrrh-bearing women. Maybe you doubted and the smallest amount of research was needed? Your faith may be more like St. Peter. Maybe you needed to really wrestle with the faith to convert to it? That is more like what we read here. In addition to wrestling with the faith, however, note what really opens their eyes. The prophecies of the Old Testament and the discourse around them led their hearts to burn within, but they did not know it was Christ speaking to them. It is the breaking of the bread that opens their eyes, through the grace of God. The Holy Eucharist, the nourishment of our lives, is arguably the clearest means to open our eyes to Christ. Also note that in this account we hear that Christ vanishes. His revelation to people is done in a new way, and his body is a new body. This never happened with others such as Lazarus. They returned to a mortal life, still as a mortal person with a mortal body. The relics of St. Lazarus are still with us, but Christ ascended. Christ’s body was like ours in that he is able to eat as he broke the bread, and yet at the same time he is able to vanish. Or in the account of the faith of St. Thomas, he is also able to suddenly appear in a room. His resurrection is unique and other miracles where people are brought back to life are more akin to a resuscitation. Moreover, his resurrection is the source of life for all, which is really the most unique aspect of Christ’s resurrection which we behold. This life and the message of the resurrection is what is shared to the other disciples, and our stanza ends with us in the 21st century asking for the same mercy to come to us. We behold the resurrection of Christ when we live our liturgical life of the Scriptures which come to us. Our hearts can burn within, and our eyes can be opened so that we can proclaim to the world that Christ is Risen.
Our third gospel stanza which completes the resurrectional narrative of St. Luke’s Gospel is the sixth resurrection gospel, Luke 24:36-53. There are many parallels to the end of the Gospels, in that there is a focus on Christ giving his last teachings to his apostles. Matthew is famous for recording what is known as the Great commission to go out into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that He has commanded. Mark has a similar call to baptism and belief, with some verses focusing on miracles that will be wrought by those apostles. John’s gospel is more mystical and personal, so the commands there are focused on the ministry of Peter and the call to feed the sheep, with the poignant account of Christ asking three times whether Peter loved Jesus. The close of Luke is more broad, in that it tells us that Christ appears to the disciples, eats with them to show that he is not a spirit, and then he goes on to teach them as he taught Luke and Cleopas, and the Great commission is spoken, with an emphasis on repentance and forgiveness of sins. Lastly, Christ gives his promise that they will receive the promise from the Father to be clothed with power from on high (implying the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost), and he then ascends into heaven. How does our Gospel stanza at Matins speak to this? We sing: “Since you are the true peace of God for us, O Christ, you gave your peace to your disciples after your Resurrection. They were frightened when they thought that they were beholding a spirit. But you removed the anxiety of their hearts when you showed them your hands and feet, yet they were still in doubt. But when you took food with them, reminding them of your preaching, you opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. You made the eternal covenant with them; you blessed them and rose, ascending into heaven. Therefore, with them we worship you; O Lord, glory to you!”
This stanza beautifully summarizes the last verses of the Gospel of Luke. It shows again that we can persist in doubt but that Christ lovingly reveals Himself to us when we listen to His words. One important phrase not seen so clearly in the scriptural text is the summary of Christ’s actions as “mak[ing] the eternal covenant with them”. Teaching them what he had accomplished by his resurrection and giving them a mission to spread the message is truly a covenant making endeavor. Salvation was accomplished, but as we have seen, there was a great deal of confusion and doubt. When Christ came to the disciples, the clarity and vision of the new covenant truly came to them. May that same clarity and mission come to us!
In closing, we can really see how much of our faith comes to us in just a small portion of matins. We could have focused on other stichera, or the canon at matins, or the sessional hymns, or the hymns of light. We could have read other Gospels and their accompanying stanzas. I hope that this glimpse into matins gives us a glimpse of the Resurrection. May we behold it with more and more light as we journey together in the faith. Christ is Risen!