By Dr. Tony Kireopoulos
As many people know, this year’s Easter celebrations (in the west, for Catholics, Protestants, and Anglicans, and in the east, for the Orthodox) are four weeks apart. The dates, which infrequently fall on the same day, and usually are separated by one to five weeks (with the Orthodox celebration always falling on the later date), are both determined by a mix of calendars and lunar cycles, and related to the date of Passover. Hearkening back to scripture (Mt 26:17ff), the resurrection of Jesus took place following Passover.
Another word for Easter, and still used mostly by the Orthodox, is “Pascha,” which in fact is derived from the word “Passover.” The Jewish feast commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in, and their exodus from, Egypt. In a very real sense, it is a celebration of moving from death to life.
Likewise, Pascha is a celebration moving from death to life. In commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial, and then celebrating his resurrection, Christians witness to this movement from the seeming finality of death to the reality and mystery of new life.
In no way has the pain of death been more felt in the last year than by the spread of Covid-19. Since the discovery of this virus in late 2019/early 2020, to date there have been 133 million reported cases and 2,89 million deaths worldwide. Stories of grief have filled our newspapers and alarming statistics have been reported on our television news programs; increasing numbers of victims have stretched thin our hospital systems and mounting bodies have overwhelmed our mortuaries; systemic inequalities have taken their toll on minority communities and community safeguards have threatened livelihoods. The fear has been palpable.
And yet, glimmers of hope abound. Relatively early in the pandemic, scientists demonstrated that masks, hygiene, and physical distancing prevented the spread. Now, more quickly than ever before, scientists have produced vaccines that offer less infection and illness, and less death. Is this not, in a very real sense, a liberation from bondage? Is this not, in a profound sense, a passing from death to life?
The long lines at vaccination centers testify to the anticipation of renewed life in the minds of so many people. Rolled up sleeves reveal, not only the arms where the vaccines will be injected into our bodies, but the thankfulness so many of us feel in our hearts. It may only be symbolic, but the real meaning of “symbol” is one reality making another reality present. Through the marriage of faith and science, we have turned from fear to hope, and are experiencing a very real change from death to life.
In the Orthodox world, there is no greeting characterized by more anticipation than “Good Pascha!” (said in the days leading up to Easter) or one that conveys more joy than “Christ is Risen!” (said on the Feast and on the days following).
And so, to our Orthodox family and friends who are still waiting to celebrate Easter, “Good Pascha!” To our western Christian family and friends who have already celebrated Easter, “Christ is Risen!” And to all – Christians, friends and family of other faiths, and those who ascribe to no faith – may this season of new and renewed life bring joy!
Dr. Kireopoulos is Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA.
About this blog: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the original author and were prepared in the author’s personal capacity. These views and opinions do not represent those of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, its member communions, or any other contributors to this site.