Easter Mysteries

by Lisa Allgood

“He is not here; he has risen!”   – Luke 24:6-7

That there are mysteries in our faith – perhaps a redundant statement? – there can be no doubt.

One of my favorite types of reading are the early (Catholic, pre-Reformation) holy fathers and mothers.  One of them is St. Ignatius of Antioch (cie 108-140CE).  His letter to the then extant church in Ephesus contains an intriguing line (chapter 19): there are three key mysteries in the life of Jesus, listing them as the virginity of Mary, the birth of Christ, and His death. But what I love is how he describes them, calling them ‘mysteries of the cry.’

As you can imagine, there have been multiple translators and multiple interpretation as to what Ignatius meant. One translator notes that the “three mysteries of renown… were wrought in silence by God.” Another translates this as “three mysteries to be cried aloud.”  Gregory Vall, (Learning Christ: Ignatius of Antioch and the Mystery of Redemption) says that these three mysteries, instead of needing to be “cried aloud” by us frail feeble fearful humans, themselves cry out to us from the silence of God.  In other words – the deeds of God transcend what can be said through ordinary human words.

Anyone else shaking their head in total agreement with that?  I think that’s why the Holy Spirit prays in groans… (Romans 8:26-28)

Fast forward. 1 Timothy 3:9 has Paul telling all church leaders that they, “must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” He’s not referring to “secret truths that only a select few can grasp” (otherwise known as Gnosticism) but instead uses the word in the context of faith as newly revealed by Christ Jesus (cf Romans 16:25–27; Ephesians 1:7–10).

For us this week, the “mystery of the faith” we face is the idea of final atonement through Jesus’ death and resurrection (not directly addressed under the Old Testament covenants, although I think you see it slightly in some of the Mosaic law: Leviticus 16; Hebrews 9:1–10:18). John Calvin wrote that Paul titles the sum of Christian doctrine mystery “as indeed God, through the gospel, reveals to men on earth a wisdom which angels in heaven behold with admiration; and, therefore, we need not wonder if it exceed human capacity” (The Mystery of Godliness).

This Easter Monday, like so many before (and dependent on weather, especially when Easter is this early in the season) is my day to wander in the woods in some silent worship and meditation, listening for the groans of prayer. 

Wishing you wonder this Easter…