Text: 1 Corinthians 15:53-57
Date: Easter + 4/20/14
In Greek Orthodox iconography or church art there is the most interesting symbol. Surrounding a cross are Greek capital letters which stand for the phrase, “Jesus Christ” “NIKA” or Victor. If you search on the internet for the word NIKA you either get a listing of women models with that name or the famous athletic shoe company. In Greek, however, “NIKA” is translated “victory,” “victor,” “conqueror” or “to overcome.” On Easter we sing and proclaim the victory of Jesus Christ and of a creation redeemed and reclaimed as belonging once again to God its Creator. “This is the feast of victory for our God, Alleluia!”
We have come through the most agonizing part of the liturgical year wherein we are brought to repentance of our sins and forced to witness, to ponder the price and payment for our sins, namely, the innocent, bitter and bloody crucifixion, death and burial of Him who the apostle Peter proclaimed on Pentecost, saying, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). When the angel announced to the women early that Sunday morning, “I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Mt 28:5-6), the word was out, the word of truth, the word of salvation and victory, the word we are privileged to proclaim to you again this day.
“NIKA,” “nikei” or “nikos,” “victory,” a success or triumph over an enemy in battle or war. That enemy, of course, is Satan, sin and death (called the Last Enemy); it is your sin and your death! It was, after all, for you that Christ was born of Mary. It was for you that He lived a joyful, sinless life. Then it was also for you that He was betrayed, arrested, denied, abandoned and sentenced to die. It was for you He died, that is, it was your sin and mine that He carried to the cross, for the sinless do not die! But there He became The Sinner, “for us and for our salvation.” But sin and death, all your sin and all our death, for all its seeming triumph on that bloody, dark Good Friday, amid all the agony and weeping, pain and terror was not strong enough to hold Him down or to win the battle. As Jesus once said of His battle against Satan, using our word for victory, “but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil,” (Luke 11:22) calling Himself the stronger One. St. John reports that Jesus used our “victory” word also when he reassured us, saying, ”I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). That victory is now given to us and received by faith. St. John writes, “For everyone who has been born of God (nika) overcomes the world. And this is the (nika) victory that has (nikeisasa) overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that (nikwn) overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).
Magnificent! So says one of the elders in the Revelation to St. John, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has (enikeisen) conquered” (Rev 5:5). But on this Easter Sunday I would like you especially to hear the words of St. Paul. They are words spoken at every Christian funeral and will be read, one day, God willing, at your funeral and mine, unless the Lord comes first.
St. Paul writes of the day of the resurrection of all flesh, the day of your resurrection, saying, “when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in (nikos) victory.’ ‘O death, where is your (nikos) victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the (NIKOS) the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through faith, even in the face of all our sin and suffering, even in the face of death itself, God gives us the victory. Let this word of assurance keep you faithful, as the verse from Revelation that some of you may have as your confirmation verse says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10). May this word keep you faithful through a life sustained by daily repentance and forgiveness; faithful through all tribulation and trials; faithful even when at death’s door; faithful, that is, full of faith wrought by God the Holy Spirit in your heart through His mighty Word.
The ancient Ambrosian chant acclaims: Christus Vincit! (Christ conquers!) Christus Regnat! (Christ reigns!) Christus Imperat! (Christ commands!). Jesus Christ, Victor. Therefore even before the last day we live and say with St. Paul, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”