It was, I think, my freshman year in college when I learned that traditional greeting. I had been a Christian for about 18 months, so I had heard it as a response in church, but I didn’t know that this was actually how Christians greeted each other on Easter. It was a professor of mine who, like me, went to Grace Church, the Episcopal parish just off campus, who taught me. Except, for educational purposes, he insisted on doing it in Greek: he would pursue students around the Grace Church coffee hour, announcing Christos Anesti! and expecting us to respond Alithos Anesti! And most of us learned to. “Don’t say good morning,” he told us; “don’t say happy Easter, say Christ is risen. This is what Christians do on Easter all over the world.” In my first few years of belief, it seemed like some strange Christian behavioral thing I had never heard of turned up every month or so. So here was one more oddness. But OK: Christ is risen! I can say that.
The next year on Easter morning, several friends and I had signed up to sing with the little choir at the church where the college choral director was the organist, and on the walk over I ran into our German exchange student Gabi. I knew she was a Christian and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to test my professor’s claim, so I said, “Gabi! Christ is risen!” Her face took on the absolutely unmistakable look of someone who is trying to translate a stock phrase into a second language, and after a beat or two she replied, “He really is risen!” Not the way we say it in idiomatic English, but a direct rendering of Er ist wahrhaftig auferstanden. Hey, I thought, it works! Easter translates!
Christ is risen. You can say it in German, you can say it in Chinese, you can say it in Farsi, you can say it in English – it’s the truth of the proclamation, not what language you use, that matters.