Pressure's on. This Sunday is Easter, and I'm in deep preparation mode. I don't mind admitting to feeling a bit anxious. Heck, it's the Final Four of the Christian year, or maybe I should say last night's national championship game was the Easter of NCAA basketball. Those guys SHOULD have been a bit nervous and highly tuned, wanting to do their best on an important occasion. I'd worry about any preacher who doesn't feel that way about Easter.
In my preparation, I ran across The Most Popular Easter Sermon Ever. That's because the Eastern Orthodox churches around the world have read this sermon sometime during Holy Week for hundreds of years. It was written by another one of my odd heroes - St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey) in the late 300's.
I studied John's life and preaching a few years ago, seeking ancient models of pastoral leadership for larger churches (his church held thousands, its still there and I visited it two years ago). I found that as pastor of a large church, John managed to live his life, faith and work to be known for these four things: 1. Preaching the Word of God. 2. Personal holiness/above reproach. 3. Training and resourcing clergy to serve many other churches. 4. Charity to the poor (led his church to found hospitality houses for the poor to stay in and receive care). A powerful model for me and other pastors today. So here it is - the most popular Easter sermon ever - beautiful, biblical, lyrical, theological, celebratory. Enjoy!
Every Easter Orthodox churches around the world read this sermon by John Chrysostom (349-407), the early church's famed preacher and archbishop of Constantinople at the great Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia).
Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
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;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast (i.e Lent), and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!