Ideally, all nine readings for the Easter Vigil
liturgy should be commented on. Because of space limits, I have selected
No other liturgy compares to this night's
celebration. When Jesus' earliest followers tried to explain the impact of
the resurrection on their lives, their Jewish faith and culture led them to
create analogies from the greatest event in their history: the Exodus
The narrative of the crossing of the sea begins
with Yahweh's command, "Tell the children of Israel to go
forward!" Those words set the theme for our Easter reflection; probably
the most difficult action for people of faith is simply to go forward.
When Yahweh ordered the runaway Hebrew slaves
to head into the sea, they thought it was a step into death, not into the
most life-giving event they had ever experienced. Their trust in God's
ability to lead them to life and freedom was the only force impelling them
No wonder Paul, a Christian Jew, wrote so
eloquently about being buried in the waters of Baptism and rising into new
life with Jesus (Romans 6:3-11). His people annually commemorated a similar
1,200-year-old "dying and rising" experience.
The four evangelists are convinced that the one
obstacle standing in our way of going forward is a belief that going in such
a direction is against "common wisdom." As Luke mentions in the
Gospel (Luke 24:1-12), when the women informed the Apostles of what they
found at the tomb that Sunday morning, "their story seemed like
nonsense, and they did not believe them."
We always feel more secure when the majority of
those around us agree with the direction in which we're moving. To commit
ourselves to the movement of a small minority can't win us lots of friends
or influence many in our community.
Here, the passage from Isaiah kicks in (Isaiah
55:1-11). I always remind my students that prophets rarely put their oracles
into the order we find them in the books bearing their names. Only after the
prophet's death will his or her followers sit down, reflect on their
mentor's influence in their lives and arrange their sayings in the pattern
which best conveys that influence.
Isaiah's disciples saved these words for the
very end of their collection; it is a summary of what they believed the
prophet was all about.
They begin by assuring the Israelites that
Yahweh will freely give them what they're really seeking in life. Then the
prophet reminds them of the contradiction all followers of God face daily:
God is both the closest and the most distant element in their lives.
Death and life
But the last two verses best apply to our
"go forward" theme: "For just as from the heavens the rain
and snow come down, and do not return there till they have watered the
earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and
bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my
mouth. It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the
end for which I sent it."
We go forward into our daily deaths only
because we believe God's word that such actions will bring us life. As
Christians, we share in the dream that God's word instilled in Jesus' heart
2,000 years ago, the word-based dream He shared with His first followers.
No wonder Luke's Easter Sunday angels insist
that the women remember what Jesus said to you."
Those who let themselves be led forward by
trusting God's word will experience the life that word gives, the same life
Jesus eventually received by trusting in God's word.