All nine readings will be proclaimed at the
Easter Vigil, but, because of limited space, I will comment on only four.
The late Episcopal Bishop James Pike supposedly lost his
Christian faith after he sat down one day and read all four Gospel accounts of the
discovery of Jesus empty tomb. He found so many contradictions among the narratives
that he decided no one could trust the evangelists testimony.
Most of us dont have Pikes problems. Knowing the
four versions only from their appearance in the liturgy, we never line them up side by
each and compare. We have a general idea of what happened on Easter Sunday morning, but
were hazy about the details.
Scholars frequently comment on the contradictions. Father
Raymond Brown, for instance, was noted for the charts he created to highlight each
evangelists unique resurrection theology. He never worried about someone losing his
or her faith because of his charts.
Meaning and facts
Unlike Bishop Pike, he presumed our Gospel authors
werent eyewitnesses to the events they narrated. They were theologians, not
historians; they were interested in conveying the meaning of facts, not the facts
themselves. They passed on this meaning to those who had already experienced the risen
Jesus in their lives.
They werent trying to convert anyone to the faith. They
were trying to uncover implications of the faith which they and their readers already
professed. Thats why each evangelist constructs a unique, sometimes contradictory
narrative. Hes trying to convey a special dimension of faith on which he wants his
community to reflect.
For instance, Luke (24: 1-12) begins by zeroing in on the
unexpectedness of Jesus Resurrection. Women who come to the tomb to anoint a dead
body are met with the angelic message: "He is not here; he has been raised up!"
"The Eleven and the others" refuse to believe them
when they return. Even after he races to the tomb to check out the womens story,
Peter, the leader of the early Christian community, "went away full of amazement at
what had occurred."
The scriptural unexpectedness mirrors the personal
unexpectedness which was part of readers experience of discovering Jesus alive in
their midst. His appearances were just as surprising for Lukes community in the 80s
as they had been for Jesus original disciples in the 30s. They were at right angles
to what people were expected, as unexpected as the Exodus had been for their Israelite
ancestors in the faith (Ex 12: 15-15:1).
Those fugitive Hebrew slaves presumed their Egyptian pursuers
had boxed them in and were about to move in for the kill. Yet, the very sea that should
have annihilated them suddenly opened before their eyes and offered them freedom. Like
Christians, they simply obeyed the command, "Go forward!"
As you listen to Pauls passage to the Romans (6:3-11),
remember that the baptism administered on this holy night was originally performed through
immersion. Those to be baptized went completely under the water. As Paul puts it,
"Through baptism into His death, 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."
Like Jesus, were buried only to rise to new life.
How much does this new life cost? Deutero-Isaiah believes the
life which faith in Yahweh offers is freely given (Is 55: 1-11). Thats why he quotes
Gods famous words, "All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no
money, come receive grain and eat; come without paying and without cost."
On the other hand, Deutero-Isaiah can never forget the pain
which accompanies his following of Yahweh. Christians would later pay the same price. Yet
compared to the unexpected, full life which immersion in Yahwehs word or Jesus
death offers, we pay very little.