'...our old being has been put to death with Christ on his that we should no longer be the slaves of sin.' Romans 6:6

The practice in some parishes of streamlining the Easter vigil Mass by proclaiming a mere handful of the nine readings is, among other things, a sign we've yet to understand Scripture's main purpose.

Many of us were taught to use the Scriptures as only proof-texts to confound the Church's enemies. I had no clue why the particular writings which form the canon of our Bible were initially created, saved and collected. No heavenly messenger directed our ancestors to dig in a field and unearth these sacred texts.

On the contrary, as the late Dennis McCarthy once remarked at a Catholic Biblical Association of America meeting, "These writings are in our Bible because they helped the most people over the longest period of time to understand their faith."

Reading Scripture doesn't give us our faith. It only makes sense after we've already chosen to live in a faith-directed way, providing us some of the implications of that choice. Ideally, one is to hear God's word, then reflect on how that word applies to one's daily life of faith.

Because this is the most important night of the year for Christians, it's also the most important night for reflection. These specific readings were chosen by the early Church to help focus our reflections on Jesus' death and resurrection.

This special liturgy must have taken form very early, since seven of the nine readings are from the Hebrew Scriptures. It took the Church almost three centuries before its members put their Christian Scriptures on the same level as the Hebrew Scriptures.

It's no accident that the one reading from the Hebrew Scriptures we must proclaim tonight is the passage describing the Exodus sea crossing (Exodus 14:15-15:1). When the initial Jewish followers of Jesus attempted to understand the significance of their decision to die and rise with Jesus, they constantly brought up this event.

On one side of the sea was slavery and death; on the other, freedom and life. Just as nothing was the same after their ancestors crossed that body of water, so nothing was ever the same for them after they crossed from death to life with Jesus.

Paul, in our Romans reading (Romans 6:3-11), expresses this faith conviction in classic terms: "If we have been united with him through likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrecting."

Die and rise
Both our baptism and our reception of the eucharistic cup outwardly proclaim we're committed to that dying and rising. Yet, for most of us, in the course of our dying it often seems there's no resurrection. That's where our Deutero-Isaiah passage (Isaiah 55:1-11) comes in.

The prophet forces us to reflect on a key element in giving ourselves over to God in our lives: "For my [God's] thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways....As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways."

If God's will were always our will, we wouldn't need faith to discover and be committed to it.

Luke inserts one word in his Passion/Resurrection narrative (Luke 24:1-12) that he didn't find in Mark's original. We hear it in the message of the angels the women encounter at the empty tomb: "Remember what he said to you while still in Galilee - that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again."

It's important for Luke's reflection that both Jesus' and our dying and rising must take place. In his theology, the only way to achieve life is to both understand and imitate Jesus' death. That concept merits at least a lifetime of reflection.