The two disciples joined by Christ on the way to
Emmaus.
The Liturgy of Death and Resurrection

The Christian liturgy, the Orthodox liturgy according to St. Chrysostom in particular, offers a
new way of understanding the meaning of death and resurrection for the believers living in
the in-between time of ‘already’ and ‘not yet,’ the time between the first Easter and the Last
Day when Christ is to return finally and triumphantly.  The liturgy presents the resurrection
reality that has already been effectuated but not yet been fully realized.  What is the
resurrection reality in the in-between times?  The Eucharist offers an answer The reality of
resurrection presents itself concretely in the bread and the wine offered as a sacrifice for
the many at the Eucharist table as the ‘substitutional’ death of Christ to be re-enacted and
to be joined by the believers.  Christ’s resurrection continues the work of His death, the work
of substituting for others and becoming “a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45).  In
short, the resurrection reality is effectuated as ethics marked by kenosis (Phil. 2:7) insofar
as time remains in the in-between times.

The idea of the glorious and victorious resurrection must be reserved for His final coming.  
In the meantime, the resurrection reality presents itself in the sacrament of the Eucharist, as
a continuing work of the “lamb of God” (John 1:29) or the suffering servant (Isaiah 53:3-4,
7).  Christ’s resurrection did not eliminate the mark of his suffering. His hands and side still
had the stigmata when he appeared to the frightened disciples after the first Easter. What
does it mean to carry the wounds of the cross in the risen body? Does resurrection
vanquish suffering? Does it refer to a heavenly existence completely severed from, but
overpowering, the earthly existence, like the transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-9)?  I will try to show,
on the contrary, that the resurrection reality comes to be effectuated in the broken flesh and
spilled blood in the Eucharist.  The sacramental death embodies resurrection in the in-
between times.  

Christians have always maintained that the risen Lord is present in our midst in the
sacrament of the Eucharist.  It is his resurrection that makes possible his presence on the
Eucharistic table.  The reality of his redeeming death made efficacious through the ministry
of the Eucharist is in turn made possible by the power of resurrection.  Beyond the
symbolism of the Eucharist, there is in the liturgy an exhibition of the post-Easter ‘presence’
of the risen Lord who ‘presents’ himself as the sacrificial lamb of God to be given over “for
the many.”  The sacrament of the Eucharist brings forth the reality of resurrection, the post-
Easter event of Christ, who appears not as the Christ triumph but the Christ the suffering
servant who dies the atoning death at the Eucharist table.  

What does it mean to say that the risen Lord is present in the sacrament of the Eucharist?  
In the order incomprehensible to the order of causality, Christ’s resurrection transforms
Christ’s Passion; the Good Friday returns after the Easter, transformed and renewed, as a
sacramental reality of the bread and wine.  Until Christ returns, the reality of resurrection
can only be tasted as the broken flesh and the spilled blood of the suffering servant.  The
taste is hard and bitter.

In the sacrament Christ’s resurrection continues his work that began as “the lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Resurrection does not end Christ’s
Passion.  It continues it as the sacramental reality.  The proclamation of John the Baptist
continues to echo even after Christ’s resurrection and because of His resurrection.  It is as
though the Baptist’s utterance becomes performative in the administration of the Eucharist,
creating the sacramental reality of Christ’s death.  The risen Lord appeared to the two
disciples on the way to Emmaus in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:13-35).  The
Eucharist is a post-Easter event, the event of the risen Lord, the reality of resurrection.  If
resurrection enables recurrence of Christ’s death in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the
sacrament de facto produces Christ’s death as the post-resurrection reality.  In short,
Christ's resurrection exhibits itself concretely in his death on the Eucharist table.  The
believers do not merely “remember” the historical and empirical death of Christ that took
place some 2,000 years ago (as the Protestants do at the Lord’s supper) but re-live Christ’s
death as (if) it occurs once again in the present on the Eucharist table.   If the
transubstantiation means anything, it obliterates the category of time and space so as to
congeal Christ’s death in history with his sacramental death in the liturgy and to present His
resurrection in His sacramental death.  The sacramental event of the “bloodless sacrifice” is
the resurrection event that, as the two disciples experienced on the road to Emmaus, must
be encountered at the Eucharist table, to be repeated and proclaimed again and again until
Christ’s final return (I Cor. 11:26).  The paradox of proclaiming His death until His coming—
as if death is a necessary phase of the arrival—is forced upon us by the liturgy of the
Eucharist.  We cannot glow in the victory of His resurrection.  Rather, we are to solemnly
proclaim His death—until His coming.

The paradox is that Christ’s sacramental death is enabled by His resurrection; and that His
resurrection is realized in the sacramental death.  How are we to understand this paradox?  
The risen Lord dies on the Eucharist table in sacrifice—not only symbolically but really in the
sacramental reality; but this sacramental reality is made possible by the power of
resurrection.  Once again, the liturgy offers an answer.  In the Eucharist, the duality of death
and resurrection or that of sacrifice and rebirth occurs as one sacramental event.  In the
liturgy, the Christ the risen Lord becomes the Christ the lamb of God, slaughtered and
sacrificed.  In the sacramental reality, the risen Lord undergoes death, not only a symbolic
but a real death, a death not in the sense of a cessation of being but death as substituting
for the others, as a sacrifice offered and ransom paid for the many.   

The idea of a new life associated with death is nothing new, as many religious symbolisms
refer to it.  In the Gospel of John, in particular, Christ's death is described in terms of a grain
of wheat that falls and rots in the ground in order to bear a new life ("unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit"
John 12:24).  The regenerative death or the life giving death is not foreign to Christianity.   It
is not a contradiction, therefore, to conceive of resurrection in terms of the regenerative or
redemptive death.  But what does it mean to be redemptive and regenerative, except to be
sacrificial?  I will come back to this notion later.  

Christ's death is unique and sufficient as a sacrifice offered "once for all" (Hebrews 9:12, 10:
10).  This is so not only because He is God himself (so that his sacrifice is qualitatively and
quantitatively adequate to bear the sin of humanity as a whole) but also because He is risen
by God.(1)   Unlike the offering of animals that merely appeased God (the appeasement and
reconciliation made possible by the logic of exchange), Christ's death brings about His
resurrection in the order of (re)creation.  His death became efficacious and empowering
because of His resurrection. Apostle Paul in this vein can thus declare that it is Christ’s
resurrection that brings about our justification ("[Christ] was handed over to death for our
trespasses and was raised for our justification" Rom. 4:25).  

Because he is risen, Christ comes time and again in the liturgy as a lamb of God to be
slaughtered and to be given over as a sacrifice for the many.  The Eastern Orthodox liturgy
(in the liturgy according to St. Chrysostom, in particular) makes Christ’s death explicit and
pervasive in the rite.  The liturgy begins (at least for the congregation) with the blessing of
"the kingdom of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Sprit," where only the "blessed" are
qualified to enter—those who, according to the choir that sings the Beatitude text, are poor
in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the
merciful, the peacemakers, and the pure in heart (Matt. 5:3-10).  Before the Great Entrance
(where the priest enters the nave holding the chalice in the procession), the priest prays to
make himself worthy to bring the "bloodless sacrifice to all your people."  A bit later, while the
choir sings the cherubim hymn, the priest again prays so that he may "stand before your
holy table and sacrifice your holy and pure body and precious blood."  He then continues:
"For you are he that brings, and he that is brought, he that receives and he that is given."  
After the Apostolic Creed is recited, while the choir sings: "Blessed is he who comes in the
name of the Lord..." the priest declares: "On the night when he was betrayed... he took
bread, ... gave thanks, ... broke and gave to the disciples...., saying: Take, eat.  This is my
body...  Likewise, after supper, He took the cup, ... saying: Drink.  This is my blood..."  Then
while the choir sings "We praise you, we bless you, we give thanks to you...," the priests
prays: "We offer you your own of your own, in behalf of all for all" and then offers the prayer
of epiclesis, where he invokes the Holy Spirit to turn the elements into Christ's body and
blood.(2)   The Anglican liturgy in the similar prayer of epiclesis (as recorded in the
Eucharistic Prayer B) adds the dimension of the believers sharing in and thus becoming the
sacrifice themselves ("Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice..." the American Book of Common
Prayer).  

If Christ's resurrection is realized in the sacrament of the Eucharist as a sacrificial death, the
meaning of resurrection must be fundamentally changed.  Resurrection does not signify the
glorious victory over death in the manner depicted by many artists: a triumph of the
conquering Lord to be crowned the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  The symbolism of
conquering Lord, to be sure, was indelibly sealed in the mind of the early Christians,
especially after the great persecutions they suffered at the hands of the Romans and after
the triumphant victory of Constantine, when the religion of the victim (for good or for worse)
transformed itself to be the religion of the victorious conqueror: Christus Victor.(3)

The Christian liturgy that boasts of Jesus himself at its source (not only on the night before
his death but also in the morning of first Easter on the road to Emmaus) does not share the
triumphant sentiment of a comedy (where the narrative ends in happy resolution or
salvation, as opposed to a tragedy) as often depicted in the Easter sermons and paintings.  
Rather, the liturgy, as briefly summarized above, almost entirely consists of the procession
of and preparation for Christ’s death, the lamb of God who is to be slaughtered on the
Eucharistic table.  The liturgy reaches the climax with the death of Christ, as his body is
broken and his blood shed to be given to those who are worthy to receive them. The
Christian liturgy that hosts the post-Easter sacramental reality is riddled with death through
and through.  It is largely a ritual of death.   As referenced above, Christ arrives in the
liturgy, as the choir sings, like the people of Jerusalem did, “Blessed is he that comes in the
name of the Lord,” in order to be sacrificed, as he was some 2,000 years ago.

What does the Christian liturgy show about death in general?  It shows that the meaning of
death lies in the sacrifice.  Death is but a life lived for others to the point of death.  Christ
offers the first and the perfect example of the sacrificial death.  The fact that we, too, are
capable of such a death rests on the power of resurrection, which renders Christ's sacrificial
death in the Eucharist possible.  Insofar as we are united with Christ, in his death as well as
in his resurrection, we, like Christ, are capable of dying for others in sacrifice. By
participating in the Eucharist that re-enacts Christ’s death, we participate in his sacrifice
offered for the others and for the world.  We become “[u]nited to the Son in his sacrifice,” as
the Anglican liturgy recites.  

But what does it mean to sacrifice?   It means, I submit, ‘substitution’ in the sense that
Emmanuel Levinas gives to the term in his brilliant and vigorous analysis of the ethical
subject encumbered with responsibility for the others.  His terminology such as ‘hostage,’
‘expiation,’ ‘incarnation,’ ‘kenosis’ in addition to ‘substitution’ is strikingly close to the biblical
notion of the sacrifice.(4)   The sacrament of the Eucharist further re-enforces this ethical
interpretation.  Christ is risen from the death so as to substitute in death for the many, to
substitute to the point of death, and to do so time and again—as long as the Eucharist is
celebrated—until His final return (I Cor. 11:26).   

We have said that by the power of resurrection, Christ death becomes redemptive and
regenerative.  What does ‘redemption’ or ‘regeneration’ mean here?  The Eucharist signifies
our new life in Christ, our participation in His death and in his resurrection.  ‘Christ lives; and
he lives in us,’ we say.  But the ‘new life in Christ’ assumed in the participation in the
Eucharist is not a glorious life in the kingdom of God, a heavenly life where there is no
mourning, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4).  The new life assumed in the Eucharist is a life lived
by joining Christ’s death, a life lived in order to die for others, a life whose chief mode of
being is to empty itself (kenosis) to the point of death (Phil. 2:7).  To live a new life is to
participate in the sacramental death of Christ.   Resurrection does not vanquish death but
renders it meaningful for all believers.   It renders death an act of sacrifice undergone for
the sake of others.  That one can sacrifice for the others, as Christ did and still does in the
Eucharist, is the miracle of resurrection.  Resurrection renders sacrifice possible.  It renders
my participation in His death possible.  It renders Christ’s death redemptive and
regenerative in the sense of the ethical sacrifice.  Ethics is redemptive and regenerative.  It
is life giving—not only to the individuals but to the world.

The ‘substitutional’ death of Christ made present in the Eucharist as the reality of the risen
body of Christ, broken for the many, can now be understood.  Christ’s presence in the
Eucharist, a post-Easter event, signifies a new way of being whose essence is to die for the
others, whose destiny is to be given over to death for the salvation of many, a being whose
essence is to empty himself (kenosis) to the point of death (Phil. 2:7).  Christ lives in us in
our joining him in his death.


Chungsoo J. Lee
Lent 2016


Endnotes

(1) The Bible makes it clear that Christ’s resurrection is an act of God.  This is indicated by
the frequent use of the passive tense of the verb in referring to Christ’s resurrection.

(2) The Divine And Holy Liturgy According to Saint John Chrysostom.  (Grass Lake,
Michigan: The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America), 2005.

(3)  Christus Victor is a phrase associated with the theory of atonement in which Christ is
said to have conquered the power of evil and thus rescuing humanity from the grips of death
and evil.  See Gustaf Aulén book by the same title translated by A. G. Herber, Christus
Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, (Eugene,
Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003).  Along with ‘Christ the King,’ and ‘Christ the
Emperor,’ the phrase is inscribed on the imperial Sword of the Holy Roman Empire (Emperor
Otto IV) dating back to AD 1198 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Sword).  

(4)  See the famous Chapter 4 in his Otherwise Than Being Or Beyond Essence.  I hope to
show the close association of terms and concepts elsewhere.


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