The Easter Vigil celebration of Jesus'
Resurrection forces us to remember why Scripture exists in the first place.
Years ago, at a Catholic Biblical Association of America meeting, Rev.
Dennis McCarthy gave a classic definition of "canonicity."
Commenting on why some writings became
"Bible" and others didn't, the late Jesuit Scripture scholar
stated, "The books which comprise our Sacred Scriptures are those
writings which helped the most people over the longest period of time to
understand their faith."
Listening to liturgical readings week in and
week out doesn't give us our faith. When our sacred authors wrote, they
presumed they were writing for people who already had faith. As Father
McCarthy said, their task was to help us reflect on the implications of an
experience with which we had already been blessed, not to lead us to
something we had yet to attain.
Of all celebrations in our liturgical year,
this is the one which should most help us to reflect.
Free at last
Jesus' first followers had no difficulty
using the Hebrew Scriptures for their reflection. Being Jews, they had
already employed those writings for that purpose. But now, being Jews who
also believed that the risen Jesus was among them, they began to see the
importance of passages which, before His Resurrection, hadn't been that
significant in their lives of faith.
That's why the third reading (Ex 14: 15-15:1)
eventually became the keystone of their biblical reflection.
Just as Yahweh's freeing the Israelites from
slavery and oppression has been the most important event in Jewish history,
so Jesus' Resurrection filled the same role in Christian history. It freed
His followers from the slavery and oppression of everyday life, forming them
into the new people of God.
Their experience of new life also caused Jesus'
disciples to zero in on Isaiah's oracle on what's really important in
life (Is 55: 1-11). "Why spend your money for what is not bread?"
Yahweh asks, "your wages for what fails to satisfy?"
God's message is clear. Don't waste your
life on junk. Spend it doing what provides real life.
Dying and rising
Later, when some Christian writings also began
to be regarded as Bible, passages like Romans 6: 3-11 were added to this
night of reflection.
Having been baptized by immersion, everyone in
the community had gone through a symbolic act of dying/rising during a prior
Easter Vigil. (For centuries, the Easter Vigil was the only time people were
baptized.) By going under the water, they had been "buried" with
Christ. By coming up out of the water, they were "raised" with
Like Jesus, they had committed themselves to a
constant process of dying and rising in their everyday lives. This happened
every time they gave themselves for one another.
No wonder Matthew revolves his empty tomb
narrative around the element of surprise (Mt 28: 1-10). His angel says,
"I know you are looking for Jesus the crucified. He is not here. He has
been raised, exactly as He promised."
We're always surprised when we work through
the crucifixion that comes with self-giving and discover the life at its
Following the insights of our sacred authors,
this is not a night to be looking at a crucified body on a cross. That's
not what the women found at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning. Neither is it
what we find when we let ourselves be "crucified."
Of all nights, we should return to the early
Christian tradition of filling our churches with "crux gemmatas:"
jewel-encrusted crosses. If we're not reflecting tonight on our
experiences of the crucified Jesus alive among us, we're listening to
these Scriptures in vain.