Easter Vigil   

Preached March 31, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

Those of you who have been attending all the service through the Sacred Triduum will have noticed that I have been placing great emphasis on the connection between Easter and Passover.

Indeed, I am not really all that happy with the name ‘Easter’ that we give to the celebration in the English language. I would prefer that we call it Passover, the Christian Passover.

Still, when we compare the Paschal Triduum to the Jewish celebration of Passover there is something that could be a bit perplexing.

Traditionally Jewish celebration is one day, (first evening, then morning) beginning with the Seder meal in the evening and continuing through the next day. There then follows the Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which extends the Passover celebration over the course of a week. The seventh day of Passover commemorates the Crossing of the Red Sea.

For us, the Paschal Triduum leads into the celebration of Easter/Passover, which always takes place on Sunday and is continued through a week, the Octave of Easter, and is concluded on Divine Mercy Sunday.

So why don’t we begin Easter itself on Holy Thursday, when the Holy Eucharist was instituted in the midst of the Passover Seder? Or at least on Good Friday, when Jesus offered his own life on the Cross as the true Passover Lamb? Why instead does the Christian Passover begin only with the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday?

Returning to the Jewish celebration, the feast is celebrated for seven days in Israel and eight days outside of Israel. The seventh day commemorates the Crossing of the Red Sea and on the Eighth Day, according to a famous Rabbi, the rays of messianic redemption are already shining bright. Truly the liberation of the people from their slavery in Egypt was only complete after they had crossed the Red Sea.

The Crossing of the Red Sea and the Light of Christ, the Messiah, Risen from the dead, are the two central symbols in the celebration of the Easter Vigil. The Light of Christ is shown to us in the newly blessed Paschal Candle, which like a new pillar of fire leads us through the darkness into the light. We followed the Paschal candle into the Church, much as the Israelites followed the pillar of fire through the midst of the Red Sea. The Red Sea itself was a symbol of the waters of baptism, which will soon be blessed by the Paschal Candle.

This is not the old Passover, but the new Passover of Jesus Christ, who has brought all the prophecies and symbols of the Old Covenant to fulfillment in his own person. Through his Passover Jesus does not deliver us from slavery in Egypt, but from the much worse slavery of sin and death.

Holy Thursday and Good Friday spoke to us of how Jesus transformed the old Passover. Easter Sunday gives us Jesus’ new Passover.  The Light of Christ, Risen from the dead, leads us to new life, his own undying, divine, eternal life.

The new Passover of Jesus Christ is a new creation; here we are given to drink of the waters of the grace of the Holy Spirit, given to us without cost; here we receive a new heart and a new spirit, the Heart of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

 

 

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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