Sunday, April 15, 2012

Christ is Risen, Even in a Tornado!

It was time.  The lights were turned off and the candles were all blown out, save one. Slowly we spread that one flame from candle to candle as we sang a solemn chant. Then, just as we walked out the front door of the church, an eerie sound joined our singing: the menacing wail of a tornado siren. A few people ran to the church basement, but most of us carried on, singing those ancient words:

Thy resurrection O Christ our Savior
The angels in heaven sing
Enable us O Lord
To worship thee in purity of heart.

We processed around the church, as we always do at midnight on Pascha, but our words were lost in the wind and the blare of the sirens. As we stood at the door of the church, our solemn chant turned into joyous song:

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down death by death
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Christ is risen!
No, it wasn’t a normal way to celebrate this most joyous of Christian feasts, but somehow it was appropriate. After all, the procession commemorates Christ’s harrowing of Hades. We believe that when Christ died, he went down to Hades, the place of the dead, and preached to the souls there. My friend Ray Richards said that when the sirens went off, “it was as if Hades itself caught sight of Jesus and was shrieking out with terror . . . it was as if we were literally with the Lord during his descent and harrowing of Hades.”

Father James banged on the door of the church. The doors opened, the light streamed out and the bells rang, and we proceeded into the church. The joyous celebration that followed was punctuated by more sirens, but the choir kept on singing, even though half the congregation was out in the narthex, ready to run for the basement at a moment’s notice. And then Father Nick read those beautiful words from the Homily of St. John Chrysostom:

"Let no one fear death, for the Savior's death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen."

How appropriate that we were facing the fear of death in the midst of this celebration.  Just as Christ’s resurrection drowns out the fear of death, our joyous singing drowned out the wail of the sirens. To quote Ray: “we were truly immersed in the experience and reality of the redeeming works of our Savior. For scream, kick, and resist as it might, nature, sin, death, Satan and his demons are no match for God and His True Church.”

Quoting St. John Chrysostom: “Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen."

In the end, no tornadoes touched down. Perhaps it was our singing that kept the tornadoes away.

In this video you can hear the sirens:

Here's a video of our choir singing excerpts from "Christ is Risen" and "The Angel Cried": No sirens in this one, just joyful singing.

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