The fact that seven of the nine readings
proclaimed during the Easter Vigil are from the Hebrew Scriptures tells us several things.
First, this service certainly comes from early Christianity,
from a period in which the Christian Scriptures were not yet regarded as
Bible. It took a couple of centuries before anyone dared include the New
Testament in the same volume as the Old Testament. Before then, the only
Bible Christians knew was the Bible Jesus used.
Though Pauls letter, the Gospels and other writings
were saved and read, they were not yet regarded as having the same level of divine
inspiration as the Hebrew Scriptures.
Second, this preponderance of readings from the Hebrew
Scriptures also helps us appreciate how early Christians regarded Scripture. They
didnt believe the Bible was just a record of God working in past peoples
lives. They presumed their sacred writings were a door which people of faith entered in
order to understand how God was working in their present lives. What happened before was
still happening now.
Though each part of the liturgy is geared to help us reflect
on Jesus Resurrection, His first followers were convinced there was much more to His
becoming a new creation than just a narrative about some women discovering an empty tomb
one Sunday morning and hearing an angel proclaim, He has been raised up; He is not
Those who originally created this vigil regarded Jesus and
themselves as part of a centuries-long process of people giving themselves to God,
trusting in someone who was leading them far beyond the limits in which their human nature
had encased them.
For people of the book, this trusting began when their
ancestors stepped out into a sea which normally would have killed them. Yet because they
dared trust Yahwehs word that theyd be okay, it turned into a sea of freedom
(Ex 14: 15-15:1).
Not only would they never forget the actual Exodus,
individuals like the prophet Deutero-Isaiah began to reflect and understand how that same
word affected peoples lives 700 years after the Chosen People left Egypt (Is 55:
1-11). It became the most valuable dimension of their lives. The prophet can only compare
it to rain and snow which come down from heaven and give life to everything they touch.
Another author would later create the creation story of
Genesis 1, rooting it in Deutero-Isaiahs theology of Yahwehs word (Gen 1:
1-2:2). Unlike the earlier story of Genesis 2, God doesnt break a sweat in this
narrative. The divine word does all the work, brining order out of chaos, life out of
primeval darkness. This myth made sense to its readers because this is exactly what
Gods word had accomplished in their own lives.
Finally, its that same word, delivered through an
angel, which gives life to the three women venturing out early that Sunday morning to
anoint a dead friends body (Mk 16: 1-8). They not only discover their friend is no
longer in the tomb, but also find out that He who throughout His life so deeply trusted in
that words has been raised.
Their discovery redirects their morning. Instead of
anointing, theyre now to proclaim that same word of life and freedom to Jesus
disciples - especially to one disciple, Peter, who failed so badly because he didnt
trust in that word.
Though the women at this point dont seem to fulfill
their word-ministry, we know their word eventually brings life to Jesus
small, lifeless community.
As we sit back and listen to Gods word at the Easter
vigil, were not just taking part in a religious ceremony. Were actually being
called to reflect on how that word has brought us life. If it hasnt, itd be
best to stay home.