On the first day of the week

When the Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate the Easter Vigil, they include a text from an Easter homily of St. John Chrysostom (c. 344-407 C.E.). Here is an extract, as reproduced by Frank Schaeffer in his book Patience with God:

Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward…First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!…Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness…

If you prepared for Easter with Lenten discipline, and it worked for you and made today better for you, then that’s awesome. I’m happy about that. I really am. Certainly Easter can have special meaning for those who come into it with their houses all swept, as it were.

But the key word is “can.” Not “can only.” Just “can.” For those who did not vacuum, who did not throw out all their garbage, who might qualify as the last and the slothful in Chrysostom’s sermon, know this: Easter is for the bad boys and girls as much as the nice ones.

I want you to know that. You need to know that. Chrysostom says it himself. He must have been thinking about the first Holy Week and Easter.

At the first Eucharist, the disciples did not go to confession or make acts of contrition beforehand. They had no idea Jesus was going to do what he did, and he did not ask anything of them except that they all take it and eat it and drink it. Peter was not turned away, even though Jesus could smell his weakness on the breeze. Judas was not turned away, even though Jesus pretty much knew what he was going to do, too.

The disciples ran away after Jesus’ arrest and stayed away, shivering in the upper room and peering out through the cracks of a locked door, with the apparent exceptions of a few women and the Beloved Disciple. But the resurrected Jesus did not appear to his loyalists only, the way my Chicago White Sox give out free caps or beach towels “to tonight’s first ten thousand fans only.” Everybody got to see him when he dropped by Sunday night to say hello.

And on that night, when Jesus passed through the upper room door, the first thing out of his mouth was, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). He did not say, “Now aren’t you sorry?” Forgiveness was all on his initiative before it occurred to anyone to ask.

Jesus had special patience for Thomas. Not only did Thomas flee on Thursday night like the others, but he seems to have hid alone somewhere before finally dropping by to see how everybody else was doing. And then he didn’t have the decency to believe a word they said. Jesus’ response: make a special visit and let Thomas stick his hands wherever he wanted. They may be blessed who believe without seeing, but when somebody needed to see, Jesus good-humoredly obliged.

The days leading up to the first Easter and away from it—and of course the first Easter itself—were days of gratuitous abundance for people who were in no sense “properly disposed to receive.” Jesus waved that off. And Jesus now is as Jesus then. There is no difference. Yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, all times and all ages.

If you are a sinner or a tax collector, come to the feast. If you are Peter, stop crying about the freaking rooster. If you are Judas, walk away from the noose, stat. If you aren’t Mary Magdalene, and therefore didn’t show up first thing in the morning, it’s okay. It really is. First and last alike, receive your reward.

Alleluia.

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