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 don’t have Pike’s 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 we’re 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 evangelist’s 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 weren’t 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 weren’t trying to convert anyone to the faith. They were trying to uncover implications of the faith which they and their readers already professed. That’s why each evangelist constructs a unique, sometimes contradictory narrative. He’s 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 women’s 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 Luke’s 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).

Open route

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 Paul’s 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, we’re 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). That’s why he quotes God’s 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 Yahweh’s word or Jesus’ death offers, we pay very little.