In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom He had chosen. To them He presented himself alive after His passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, “you heard from Me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 1: 1-8 (Epistle of the Paschal Liturgy)
It is the Tradition in the Orthodox Church to celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection in the middle of the night. We know from the Gospel account from St. Mark that is read at the service, that the women found the tomb empty “when the Sabbath was past” (Mark 16:1) and “when the sun had risen.” (16:2) At midnight, “very early on the first day of the week” (16:2), we will be invited to “Come receive the Light”, we will hear the Gospel of the Resurrection from Mark (16:1-8) and will proclaim “Christ is Risen.” In many churches this takes place outside of the church doors. And even churches where there is no outside procession, the Resurrection service takes place with great pomp and circumstance. We joyously proclaim the Resurrection of Christ.
And then one of two things happens.
Some people head for their cars. And many of those will not return for many months. It is as if they translate “Christos Anesti” as “The End.”
Of course, we know that the Resurrection of Christ was not the end. Rather it was a beginning. And for those who re-enter the church, a glorious Liturgy awaits. The church is now in bright lights. The hymns are upbeat and joyful. Despite the late hour, the mood is light. While the Resurrection marked the end of Christ’s Passion and is the last significant event of Holy Week, the Scriptures at the Divine Liturgy remind us that Pascha is a new beginning. The lesson of the Paschal Liturgy is not “Hooray, we’re done,” but rather “Let’s begin anew with an even greater sense of purpose and joy. This is why the Scripture readings are from the first chapter of Acts (The Epistle) and the first chapter of the Gospel of John.
In the Book of Acts, traditionally held to have been authored by the Evangelist Luke, he is writing to the unknown “Theophilus”. The Book of Acts is the “second book” by Luke. His first book is obviously his Gospel, and the Book of Acts is the second book, which gives the history of the early church.
The selection of Acts that is read at the Liturgy summarizes “the first book”, stating that the Gospel “dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles whom He had chosen.” (Acts 1: 1-2) This could very well be used as a summary of our now completed Holy Week journey—we have received again the instructions on all that happened during that week of Christ’s life. And just as the Book of Acts spoke of the establishment of the Church, with instructions to all followers of Christ that we are to spread His message, the message we leave Holy Week with is the same—you’ve heard the message, now go out and live the message and share the message.
Acts 1:6-7 seems to be a distraction from the main thrust of these verses but it mirrors a genuine distraction we will all have at times. In fact, I refer to these verses more than just about any others in Scripture when counseling people.
The Disciples, who had followed Jesus for the better part of three years, and who had left their homes and their families, who had seen the scary events of the Passion and crucifixion and who rejoiced in the Resurrection posed a fair question to Jesus—“Will You at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) To them, it seems a logical next step to regain some political freedom. The answer Jesus gives them must seem like a punch in the gut—“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” (1:7) What may seem logical to us is not necessarily God’s plan for us or for others. I can’t tell you how many times in my life, I’ve thought what I think the next logical step is, or I’ve tried to connect the dots of things that have happened in my life to make sense out of certain things. Jesus tells us not to do this. God’s ways and God’s plans may not necessarily agree with our ways and our plans. We are reminded in Acts 1:8 that however God’s specific plans for each individual life pan out, that God has one universal plan for everyone, which is for us “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
So, while the Holy Week journey may be over, the plan continues—the plan where we continue to live in His grace and to be His witnesses.
Though You went down into the tomb, O Immortal One, yet You brought down the dominion of Hades; and You rose as the victor, O Christ our God; and You called out “Rejoice” to the Myrrh-bearing women, and gave peace to Your Apostles, O Lord who to the fallen grant resurrection. (Kontakion, Feast of Great and Holy Pascha, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
See today not as an ending but as a renewed and refocused beginning!