Ideally, all nine readings for the Easter Vigil liturgy should be commented on. Because of space limits, I have selected four.

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 (Exodus 14:15-15:1).

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.

Stepping 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 forward.

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.