Christians pay tribute to Jesus Christ, whom they believe to be God-incarnate, during the holiest three days of the year: Holy (Good) Friday, Holy Saturday, and today, Pascha (the ancient term for Easter).
Friday was the annual commemoration of Jesus' death by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman government, in concert with his own people.
On Saturday, "the Great and Holy Sabbath" as it is called in ancient Christian hymns, Christians believe Jesus rested in his tomb (of showing humanity how to be human), as well as descended to the dead to bind the devil and release the captive deceased.
And then on the third day, today, he conquered death, making it no longer a permanent state for any human being.
The Christian does not take Pascha for an idea or a metaphysical concept, a philosophical viewpoint, or naive well-wishing. The "Paschal Mystery" of Jesus' death and resurrection either makes sense of the world or makes Christians fools at best, or liars at worst.
The Christian celebration today is not wishful thinking about an invented past. Like a good Charlestonian who trusts great-grandmother's personal testimony about all the family before her, as well as the family letters she has maintained, so Christians take on the reasonable faith of a trustworthy family who were at the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and then wrote about it.
Neither is it simply a representation of some event of long ago, like a religious Carolina Day. Somehow, though a once-for-all event of 2,000 years ago, we are permitted today to "enter into it" in a divinely mysterious way. As in the Jewish celebration of Passover, the Exodus is "today," so likewise, this radiant feast is a "living memorial."
Since Easter is rooted on the front end by Jesus' death on the cross, it confronts each human soul with the universal reality of death. It gives one pause to consider his or her own death: meaningful or meaningless?
It challenges all to consider existence through a different set of lenses, one different from "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die." It is an invitation to consider the cold, dead corpse, taken down from the cross and placed in the virgin tomb of a rich man named Joseph. It invites the world to consider the Christian proclamation that God died a human death and then was resurrected from that death.
This remarkable, profound and humbling mystery is seen all over Charleston in the created world in recent weeks. The deadened wood of trees, recently weighed down as if in iron fetters by unseasonable ice, now blossom forth.
Countless Lowcountry yards are ablaze with brilliant azaleas. Even the cracks in the brick paths at our church have flowers growing out of them.
Thousands of seeds, fallen dead into the earth, now bring forth new life. In the Paschal view, these are temporal reminders of an eternal truth that happened in time: That God, creator of the world, became human, voluntarily died a human death, was buried in the earth and conquered death. So that whatever you and I may face in this life - fame or fortune, poverty or want, happiness or sorrow, joy or pain - death no longer holds mankind captive.
And therefore Christians proclaim: Christ is risen, truly risen.
Therefore, we feast and celebrate, and are merry, for today, life reigns - death is conquered.
Fr. John Parker is the pastor of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in the I'On community in Mount Pleasant. He can be reached at email@example.com or 881-5010.