Let the Scriptures Speak
All Those Vigil Readings
The center of gravity in the liturgical celebration of Easter is the Vigil. In the darkness of night, we begin a celebration that launches the seven Sundays of Easter (note, not seven Sundays after Easter). Since nine readings are assigned for the Easter Vigil, eight of them followed by responsorial psalms, we do well to prepare for that celebration by reflecting on how that rich anthology hangs together.
We hear this reading right after dispelling the darkness with the Easter fire, the lighting of the paschal candle and the proclamation of Christ as the light of the world. However, since today we understand the origin and development of the cosmos scientifically, the poetry of Genesis 1 expresses powerfully our faith that it is the God of Israel who ordered chaos, brought light into darkness, introduced life into an inanimate cosmos, and made a watery planet humanly habitable. That same Creator finally introduced the eternal Word made flesh as the ultimate light of the world to address the darkness of human sinfulness. Fire and water come into play in the sacrament that celebrates our participation in that victory.
The promise that Abraham will become the ancestor of a great people who will be a blessing to all the nations—that promise rides on Isaac, and Abraham is asked by the Promisor to sacrifice him, his only son. This classic and scandalous account speaks to our celebration in at least two ways. Abraham's readiness to let go of everything mirrors the divine outpouring manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”) It also foreshadows the paradox at the heart of Jesus’ teaching: Whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel, will save it.
This account of the liberation of Israel from slavery through the sea is the key narrative of Israel's experience of divine redemption. The biblical authors describe the moment as a new creation. As in Genesis 1 above, the God of wind and water gives order to chaos by separating water from dry land. In this, God is victorious over that violator of created order, the Pharaoh. Thus early Christian writers, and we, use this narrative to reflect on the new creation of baptism.
This passage from Second Isaiah was first preached to the Judean exiles in Babylon. The prophet proclaims the end of exile and return to the homeland, as a renewal of the covenant of peace renewed with Noah after the flood (Genesis 9). The end of exile is such a fresh start that the prophet can speak of it as a new creation. For us gathered around the light of Christ, baptism into the body of Christ is also an end to exile, a renewal of creation.
The exiles were invited to a conversion that would lead to participation in the covenant promised to David and to a leadership role among the nations. Similarly, our baptism was a covenant renewal, not only for our benefit but for the sake of the rest of the world. Our renewal calls us to share in Jesus’ Jewish mission to be a light to the nations.
Baruch 3:9-15,32; 4:4
A second-century BCE author writing in the person of Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch, makes a parallel between his situation and that of the exiles some four centuries earlier: the people are still in a kind of spiritual exile and need to attend to God's wisdom expressed in the Torah. Christians have long applied these words to our situation. For us, Wisdom “has appeared on earth and moved among people” in Jesus.
Here another exilic prophet speaks of God's plan to restore and renew Israel. The language of cleansing with water and giving a new heart and a new spirit was ready-made for Christian application to the new life found in the body of Christ.
Paul's reflection on baptism as dying and rising to new life names the event to which all the readings have been pointing.
Matthew's account of the women's discovery of the empty tomb and their commissioning by the risen Lord sounds the full note of Easter joy, peace, and mission that captures for us the new thing that the Creator has been doing for the past two millennia.
Dennis Hamm, SJ
**From Saint Louis University