In a recent column, Rev. Richard McBrien reflects on the implications of the Vatican's approval last summer of an ancient Chaldean Eucharistic Prayer, a prayer which doesn't contain the words of consecration, "This is my body...this is my blood...."
"In the end," Father McBrien writes, "there are no `magic words.' It is the Church's whole Eucharistic Prayer that makes Christ really and truly present for us in Holy Communion."
The early Christian community would neither have understood nor approved their Church's later attempts to restrict the risen Jesus' presence to a specific place, action or set of words. Being Semites, not Greeks, they lived in a world of "both/and", not "either/or."
I am here
They discovered Jesus both here and there, in this situation and that person. They would have been more comfortable applying Lone- star's popular song , "I'm Already There," to their personal experiences of Jesus alive among them, than some medieval scholastic theologian's philosophic analysis of it.
At the Easter Vigil, the year's most important celebration, this "both/and" must be in the back of our minds as we listen to the nine readings on which our ancestors in the faith reflected. Ideally, we'll leave with a broader sense of the risen Jesus' presence than we had when we entered.
The faith of Jesus' first followers starts with their belief in His being raised from the dead. No matter His birth, His teaching, His miracles, His death, if He isn't alive now, there's no reason to imitate Him.
Paul gives classic expression to this belief (Rom 6: 3-11). "Through baptism into death," he writes to the Romans, "we were buried with Him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we, too, might live a new life."
Yet the "new life" Paul and all Christians experience isn't the same for everyone. This is one of the reasons we have four different (even contradictory) narratives of the discovery of the empty tomb. Each author gives different implications of Jesus' resurrection. Matthew, for instance, puts guards at the burial site and employs a "sky-diving" angel to interpret what the two Marys see (Mt 28: 1-10). And contrary to Mark's account (which Matthew copied), these women actually bring the good news to Jesus' disciples.
No matter their personal experiences, all Christians identify with Ezekiel's insight about Yahweh giving people "a new heart and...a new spirit." Only by going through such a "systemic" transformation can they even start to believe that Jesus lives. Like Baruch, they've latched onto something which brings "length of days, and life,...light of the eyes, and peace."
Present in word
But no author from the Hebrew Scriptures better mirrors their experience than Deutero-Isaiah. He helps them discover Jesus present in the word of God.
"For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth,...so shall my word not return to me void," Yahweh promises, "but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it." And the prophet also guarantees that presence in the relationships God has with God's people: "My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says Yahweh, who has mercy on you."
It's easy now to understand how Jesus' original followers could identify with Israel's miraculous crossing of the sea. His resurrection gave them the same burst of freedom. And just as Isaac earlier was given back to Abraham and Sarah, so had Jesus been given back to them.
No wonder the priestly creation narrative is the first reading (Gen 1: 1-2:2). Working from Jesus' resurrection backward, the only reason we exist is to share in the life which He attained.
Instead of worrying about the huge number of readings proclaimed tonight, we should be amazed that our ancestors were able to limit them to just nine.