The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ not only brought about victory over death, Satan, and sin but also marked the beginning of a new resurrected life to be lived fully here on earth and continued and glorified in eternal life. That is why during the fifty days after the Resurrection, and while waiting to celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit, as promised by our Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples, our beloved church filled, directed and inspired by the Holy Spirit continues to reveal to its members who that Person of Jesus Christ their Savior truly is; and what He, in essence, has procured for them. This the church does in such a significant, related manner throughout the seven consecutive weekly Gospel readings.
The Church Gospel Readings
Thus the fifty day period between Resurrection and Pentecost becomes a period of meditation on the Holy Person of Jesus Christ: who He is, and how essential He is for us during our Journey in this life in order to reach our ultimate destination which is the heavenly Jerusalem where we will see Him face to face and be for ever with Him.
First Sunday: Christ Our Faith (John 20:28,29) Second Sunday: Christ the Bread of life (John 6:35) Third Sunday: Christ the Water of life (John 4:14) Fourth Sunday: Christ the Light of the world (John 12:46) Fifth Sunday: Christ the Way to life (John 14:6) Sixth Sunday: Christ the Conqueror of the World (John 16:33) Seventh Sunday: Christ announcing the Comforter (John 15:26)
1. Christ Our Faith (John 20:28,29)
The new life that exists in Christ’s Resurrection becomes ours only by and through faith. St. Paul stresses this fact clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:14 “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” That is why the first Sundays Gospel reading revolves around this point. Our Lord Jesus Christ appears to Thomas saying to him “put your hand in the place of the nails…and be a believer” (John 20:28,29). In order for this belief to be genuine belief, it does not require seeing as an evidence. On the contrary, blessed are those who believe without seeing. A good example of believing without seeing is the faith that the Israelites exhibited when they agreed to leave Egypt (Egypt being a symbol of our life before the Resurrection) and head towards the yet unknown promised land (the latter being a symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem). For the Israelites the crossing of the Red Sea was like crossing from death unto life, a resurrection (1 Corinthians 10:1,2). St. Paul considered that crossing of the sea a baptism which in essence is a symbol of Resurrection. Romans 6 describes baptism as burial and resurrection with Christ. It was with faith that the Israelites started their journey knowing the hardships and potential enemies that were lying ahead of them in the wilderness. Likewise, the journey with Christ starts with faith. It is only through faith we find courage to denounce the world and its pleasures; knowing that by following the Resurrected Christ we will be able to reach our goal which is Heaven. However, the road will not always be easy; and trials, hardships, and obstacles are bound to cross our way. The answer is clear in the Lords words: “believe also in me” (John 14:1).
2. Christ the Bread of life (John 6:35)
After the Israelites had left Egypt, God immediately catered for their physical need for food. So, He sent the manna from heaven to feed them on daily basis. Likewise, in our new resurrected life in Jesus, the need for spiritual food is catered for through the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:48-54). This is what the Church resounds in its Gospel readings on the second Sunday after Resurrection to remind us, believers, of the need for that Spiritual Food which is given to us as for salvation, remission of sin, and eternal life to those who partake of Him (the prayer of the confession).
3. Christ the Water of life (John 4:14)
Just as God provided the Israelites with water procured from the rock “and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4) that God had ordered Moses to strike with his staff, so did He provide us with living water through His Son Jesus Christ from whose side had run that water while on the cross in order to quench the thirst of humanity. On the third Sunday the Church reads the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman reminding us of what the Lord had said to her “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13,14). This is the thirst-quenching, living water, (His Grace and Mercy), that is given to us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. Augustine says, You created us to yourself and our souls will remain restless until we find comfort in you. Trying to satisfy our thirst to worldly desires is just like drinking from salty water; we end up thirstier than before drinking. Gods Word to Jeremiah in this respect is “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns–broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
Pursuing the pleasures of this world is like drinking from salty water; it brings about more thirst, whereas drinking from the Water of Life, Jesus Christ, brings about everlasting satisfaction. The living water is the Holy Spirit that He sent to us after His ascension to Heavens “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38,39).
4. Christ the Light of the world (John 12:46)
“He who walks in darkness does not know where he is going” (John 12:35). In the midst of the dark wilderness the Israelites needed light to find their way out. God, in His divine mercy provided them with a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21) that went constantly before them. Without that pillar it would have been impossible for them to survive. Similarly and symbolically we, the sons of the Resurrection, in order for us to know the direction in the wilderness of our life on earth, and how to reach our goal which is Heaven, we need to walk in the light of the Resurrected Jesus Christ and His divine Word. Our Lord called Himself and us the light of the world thus putting us on the same footing with Him. This is to be understood better when we remind ourselves of the unity that we have with Him, this unity being achievable only through having Him as the center of our life. One of the early Fathers described this unity by saying that Jesus Christ is the Sun, the source of righteousness and light. We are the moon which, being in itself with no light, derives its source of light from Him and in turn reflects this light to the earth. If the earth comes between the sun and the moon, this light is eclipsed and stops being reflected. That is how it is when the worldly desires come between Christ, the Sun of righteousness and us who are to reflect His light to the world; we then become dim and useless to the earth. That is why it is important that we keep the love of the world out of our hearts in order for us to continue reflecting the light of Jesus Christ to the world. Our church, in its insightful thinking, has arranged a ritual called The Bathing Prayer to be administered by the priest to newly born babies. The priest prays over water to which salt and oil have been added in compliance with our Lords words You are salt to the earth and light to the world, signifying the importance of an early realization of who we are and what our role is here on earth.
A man walking in darkness is very much similar to a blind man. That is why St. John reiterates the prophet Isaiah’s words “Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them” (John 12:38-40). The blindness that this verse refers to is actually the resultant outcome of having refused to obey His Word. God never imposes Himself. As St. Augustine says God who created you without you will not save you without you. The first step to walk in light is to have the will to do so. Gods Word to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). The difference between the will and the ability is like the difference between night and day. God appreciates weak ability more than a weak will since He can function within the first but not the second. St. Paul describes the status of unwilling people as “God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:28) which is scary. That is why a blind man with an enlightened spirit is luckier than a man with natural sight but suffering from spiritual blindness manifested in stubbornness and lack of repentance. St. Anthony described this condition best in his words to St. Didymos the blind by telling him do not grieve, my brother, because you lost the eyes that you share with all creatures, human and non-human. Rather, rejoice, because you have the enlightenment of your heart by which you can search the depth of God.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the Logos. It follows that the light of the world is also the Word of God. The best person to attest to that is David the Psalmist who pictured his love for the Word of God by saying “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path!” (Psalms 119:105), hence he became educated in and by the word of God and could boldly say “I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts” (Psalms 119:100).
5. Christ the Way to life (John 14:6)
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). In Christ, the only Begotten Son, we become children of God the Father; and in Him we can inherit the Kingdom of God. This is the readings and the theme of the fifth week before the descent of the Holy Spirit. In order for us to reach the Father, we have to become sons to the Father. The only way to achieve this sonship is through unity with His Son Jesus Christ who is the real Son of God who has raised us to the status of adopted sons to God the Father. St. Paul says, “if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Unity with the Lord Jesus Christ has not only adopted us to the Father but also made us inheritors in the Kingdom of God. This unity with Christ is achieved by the Holy Spirit through His work in the mysteries of the Church.It is important for us to understand our relation with the Holy Trinity which can be explained as follows: we are children to the Father in His Son Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit in the church and its Holy mysteries. For example, during the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Spirit changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we receive Holy Communion, we unite with Christ. In the same manner, in baptism, the Holy Spirit sanctifies the water of baptism so that when we get baptized in it we receive the new life in Jesus Christ “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). These are two examples of how the Holy Spirit, through the church Mysteries, unites us with Christ.After this unity we can boldly pray calling God our Father. In the past only baptized believers were allowed to pray this prayer after having received the sonship from the Holy Spirit through the church Mysteries.
6. Christ the Conqueror of the World (John 16:33)
The last week of the holy fifty days is about Jesus Christ our Victory. In the world well have a lot of hardship “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Among such hardships and tribulations, there are some coming from within us such as love of the world and love of praise. The Holy Bible tells us that “even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42,43). They could not confess Christ as their redeemer, nor could they preach the Gospel of the good News to others. They cared more about staying in the synagogue and receiving the praise of men rather than living in the victory of having all these bondages broken off of them. St. Paul said it explicitly that “for if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
If the Lord overcame the world for our sake, in Him we too can overcome all tribulations and complications and become victorious. I say this to all the youth who do not find the courage to say no to bad company, bad places, and bad habits and urge them to be able to say with St. Peter: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Of course we need to have love for and reconciliation with every one. However, if need arise, forcing us to make a choice; then we must choose pleasing God repeating with St. Paul, “for if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
7. Christ Announcing the Comforter (John 15:26)
The seventh week is the celebration of the long-waited-for coming of the Comforter, Teacher, Interpreter, Intercessor, Knowledgeable, Infallible Holy Spirit that our Lord Jesus Christ had promised to send; and on whose coming depended the understanding and revelation of the secrets of the Kingdom of God.
In order to appreciate the Holy Spirit we have to understand His role in the Church and in our lives as members in the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the: Our Lord Jesus Christ left a lot to be done by the Holy Spirit because the former knew that without the latter the disciples would not be able to understand nor bear to hear the secrets of the kingdom of God. Without the Holy Spirit we would be orphans. The adoption to the Father occurred by Christ, the son, through the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the human failing memory would have rendered Christ an old forgotten episode instead of a live everlasting Redeemer.
Teacher: “He will teach you all things” (John 14:26). Interpreter: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20,21). Intercessor: “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26). Reminder: “bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
Our Lord Jesus Christ left a lot to be done by the Holy Spirit; because the former knew that without the latter the disciples would not be able to understand nor bear to hear the secrets of the kingdom of God. Without the Holy Spirit we would be “orphans”. The adoption to the Father occurred by Christ, the son, through the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the human failing memory would have rendered Christ an old forgotten episode instead of a live everlasting Redeemer.
May the period between the Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit be a period of contemplation upon the Person of Jesus Christ: who He is, and what He has done for us; as well as an appreciation of the work of the Holy spirit in us to bring us closer to the Father, help us witness to the Son and keep Him, the Holy Spirit, always alive and kindled in us. Amen.
— His Grace Bishop Youssef
Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States