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Hallo again — or more properly
to all on this Easter day.

Alleluia. That's Hebrew, of course, and when turned to English and spoken or shouted or sung aloud it's quite mellifluous. Zoe in GreekBut certain words don't fare well when translated or transliterated. The Greek word for 'life' —ζω — in English orthography is lackluster: zoe. It's usually reserved for a female name or its prefix found mostly in laboratories and zoos.

In Greek, even the look of the word is living and vibrant, with its energetic zeta and its bounteous omega. (See it dancing to the right.)

'Zoe' itself is derived from the Sanskrit* word for life, jiv. The initial consonant 'j' shape-shifted* as it travelled through tribes and Jiv in Sanskritpeoples, across lands and sea. When adopted by the Greeks, became 'z'. (Jiv in Devanagari is to the left, the letters filled with movement.)

So what does all this nattering about orthography have to do with the resurrection of Our Lord?

During this past Holy Week, we've imagined, as so many have, that rock-hewn tomb outside Jerusalem, silent, still, in a place filled only with the dead. Whatever a graveyard is, it is not a land of the living. It is non-zoe. From the moment when Christ's body was laid in the tomb, his friends, disciples, family, and Romans, all believed it was done. Life was ended, the living was dead. No-one counted on a resurrection.

But no-one counted on the love of God, manifested in whatever beyond-comprehending act occurred in the silence and dark of that tomb. Life, renewed, reborn, restored, burst forth in our resurrected Lord. This wasn't, as has been said, Jesus as a resuscitated corpse, but Jesus manifesting an entirely new kind of life. An uncontained and triumphant life, still with its humanity but now with 'all the fulness of the Godhead bodily', as Paul wrote to the Colossians.

That new life is to us, perhaps fancifully, echoed in the shape of the Greek word ζω. A burst of movement, almost an arabesque, is required to write the letter ζ by hand and forming the ω requires a motion not unlike waves on the sea. The letters won't be still.

And God won't be still.

Light from darkness, order from chaos at the beginning — and light from darkness, life from death, at the end, which is no end.


See you next week, in Resurrection light.

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Last updated: 4 April 2010

* It's common in the history of language for consonants to shift shape: a slurred 'j' in Sanscrit — a sort of 'zj' — can easily become a 'z' in Greek. See Grimm's Law for an overview.

† Since the 19th century, the most commonly used script for Sanskrit.

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