april, 2019

sat20apr12:00 am11:59 pmHoly Saturday - Easter Vigil - Daily Lenten Reflection April 2012:00 am - 11:59 pm Event Type :Liturgical Calendar

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(Saturday) 12:00 am - 11:59 pm

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Meditations for Lent

By: Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Courtesy of Sophia Institute Press

Holy Saturday

The Brevity of Life

Like every finite thing, man is small. The time will come when this man who seemed so great to us will cease to be. The days of my life are all that stand between me and nothingness, and this is but a small difference. I enter into life under a law that commands my departure from it. I come to make my mark and to show myself as others do. Afterward, I will disappear. I have seen others pass before me; others shall succeed me, and these will present the same spectacle to their successors. All of us will at last be mixed together in nothingness.

My life, all told, has been only a handful of years; and there were so many before me and will be so many after. How small a place do I occupy in the great abyss of time! I am nothing. This short interval is not capable of distinguishing me from the nothingness into which I must return. I have come only to take my number, and to this point no use has been made of me. The drama would have been no worse acted had I remained offstage. My part in this world is very small, and so insignificant that it seems to me only a dream that I am here, and all that I see an empty image: “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31).

The whole of my career has been only a handful of years; and in reaching this age how many perils have I escaped? How many illnesses? What has kept the course of my days from having come to an end at any moment? Death prepares many ambushes. In the end, we will fall into its hands. I see a tree battered by the wind; it loses leaves every minute; some resist more, others less; but those few that escape the storm will at last be conquered by winter, which always comes to wither them and make them fall. It is the same in life. The large number of men who run the same course ensures that some of them will reach the end of it; but after having avoided the various attacks of death, and arriving at the end after so many perils, they fall at the race’s end. Their life extinguishes itself like a candle that consumes its own matter.

My life has been only a handful of years, and of these, in how many of them have I really lived? Sleep resembles death more than life; childhood is the life of a beast. How many days would I like to erase from the days of my youth? And when I am older, how many more shall I add to that total? Let us see what remains. What shall I then count, if all of these are not to be reckoned? The time during which I felt a certain contentment, or in which I acquired some honor? But how much of this sort of time is scattered throughout my life? If I take away sleep, illnesses, and times of anxiety from my life, and I now take up all of the things in which I have had some contentment or honor, how much will that be? As to this contentment: did I enjoy it all at once?

Have I not had it in parcels? Have I had it without anxiety? And, if there has been anxiety, should I count it as time that I reckon or time that I do not? Has not anxiety always divided every two moments of contentment? Is it not always thrown across them to prevent them from meeting one another? What then is left to me? Of lawful pleasures, a useless memory; of illicit ones, regret, and a debt to be paid in Hell, or by penance.

How right we are to say that our time passes! Truly it passes, and we pass with it. My whole being rests upon a single moment: it is all that separates me from nothingness. When that moment has passed, I snatch another one. They pass one after the other, and one after the other I join them together, trying to reassure myself, and I do not perceive that they carry me with them, and that I will soon be out of time. This is my life, and what is so frightening is that what to my sight seems fleeting is to God an eternal present. These things have to do with me. What belongs to me belongs to time, because I myself depend upon time. Yet they belong to God before they belong to me, and they depend upon God before they depend upon time. Time cannot wrest them from his empire, for he is above time. To him, they remain, and they enter among his treasures. What I have lost I will find again. What I do in time passes through time to eternity, for time is comprehended by and is under the rule of eternity and leads to eternity. I enjoy the moments of this life only as they pass; when they pass, I must respond to them as if they had remained. It is not enough to say, “They have gone, I will think no more of them.” They are gone to me, yes, but to God, no, and he will ask me for a reckoning of them.

If this life is a small thing because it is passing, what are we to think of those pleasures that do not last for a whole lifetime and which pass by in a moment? Are they worth their price? O my God, I resolve with all my heart, in your presence, every day, to think about death, at least when I lie down and when I rise. And with this thought: “I have little time, I have a long road to travel, perhaps I have less further to go than I think.” I will praise God for having brought me to think about repentance, and I will put order into my affairs, into my confession, into my meditation, thinking not about what passes, but with great care, great courage, and great diligence about what remains.


The Easter Vigil Readings

In my two books, Bible Basics for Catholics and New Testament Basics for Catholics, I focus on a series of covenants which are central to the economy of salvation: the (1) Creation (or Adamic; Genesis 1-3; Hosea 6:7), (2) Noahic (David Noel Freedman preferred “Noachian”; Genesis 9), (3) Abrahamic (Genesis 15, 17, 22); (4) Mosaic (Exodus 24), (5) Davidic (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89); and (6) New (Jeremiah 31:31; Luke 22:20).  It has always struck me, and my students, how well this overview of the divine economy accords with the readings of the lectionary of the Mass, especially the readings of the Easter Vigil.

I’ll proceed to point out how all these covenants appear in various forms in the seven Old Testament readings that form the backbone of the Liturgy of the Word for the Vigil.

  1. The First Reading:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss,
while a mighty wind swept over the waters.

Then God said,
“Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw how good the light was.
God then separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
Thus evening came, and morning followed—the first day.

Then God said,
“Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters,
to separate one body of water from the other.”
And so it happened:
God made the dome,
and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it.
God called the dome “the sky.”
Evening came, and morning followed—the second day.

Then God said,
“Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin,
so that the dry land may appear.”
And so it happened:
the water under the sky was gathered into its basin,
and the dry land appeared.
God called the dry land “the earth, “
and the basin of the water he called “the sea.”
God saw how good it was.
Then God said,
“Let the earth bring forth vegetation:
every kind of plant that bears seed
and every kind of fruit tree on earth
that bears fruit with its seed in it.”
And so it happened:
the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed
and every kind of fruit tree on earth
that bears fruit with its seed in it.
God saw how good it was.
Evening came, and morning followed—the third day.

Then God said:
“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky,
to separate day from night.
Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years,
and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky,
to shed light upon the earth.”
And so it happened:
God made the two great lights,
the greater one to govern the day,
and the lesser one to govern the night;
and he made the stars.
God set them in the dome of the sky,
to shed light upon the earth,
to govern the day and the night,
and to separate the light from the darkness.
God saw how good it was.
Evening came, and morning followed—the fourth day.

Then God said,
“Let the water teem with an abundance of living creatures,
and on the earth let birds fly beneath the dome of the sky.”
And so it happened:
God created the great sea monsters
and all kinds of swimming creatures with which the water teems,
and all kinds of winged birds.
God saw how good it was, and God blessed them, saying,
“Be fertile, multiply, and fill the water of the seas;
and let the birds multiply on the earth.”
Evening came, and morning followed—the fifth day.

Then God said,
“Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures:
cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds.”
And so it happened:
God made all kinds of wild animals, all kinds of cattle,
and all kinds of creeping things of the earth.
God saw how good it was.
Then God said:
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
the birds of the air, and the cattle,
and over all the wild animals
and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.”
God created man in his image;
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, saying:
“Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it.
Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air,
and all the living things that move on the earth.”
God also said:
“See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth
and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food;
and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air,
and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground,
I give all the green plants for food.”
And so it happened.
God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.
Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed.
Since on the seventh day God was finished
with the work he had been doing,
he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.

The readings begin with the creation story from Genesis 1, a text concerning the Creation Covenant.  That there was a covenant present at creation is controversial, but it has the backing of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as certain contemporary scholars and a stream of the Jewish tradition.  Benedict XVI’s argument for the presence of a creation covenant hinges on the culmination of the creation week with the Sabbath, which elsewhere in the OT is understood to be the sign of the covenant (Exod 31:16-17).  Hosea 6:7 (in Hebrew: “Like Adam they transgressed the covenant”) testifies to a very early interpretive tradition which understood a covenant to be present already at the beginning of human history.  We also note the sevenfold structureof the creation account, which evokes covenant concepts: see Genesis 21:27-32.  In Hebrew, to swear an oath was literally “to seven oneself” (a niphal verb from the root for “seven”). God appears to be “sevening himself” in the seven days of creation.  Finally, we observe that man is made in God’s “image and likeness”, which is sonship terminology (see Gen 5:3).  There is a father-son relationship between God and Adam.  This is clearly not a biological relationship, so it must be an adoptive relationship, that is to say, a covenantal relationship.  Adoptions in the ancient world were accomplished by means of a covenant.

1a. The Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 104, which falls near the end of Book IV of the Psalter.  Book IV appears to be a theological meditation on the reality of Judah’s exile.  Since the Davidic monarchy has apparently failed, Book IV contains many psalms that emphasize God’s kingship rather than David’s.  Psalm 104 is an example of this.  It praises God as the great king over the whole cosmos.  God is in a covenant relationship with the cosmos: therefore the Psalm emphasizes God’s fidelity to creation, exemplified in the unchanging and dependable patterns of nature.

  1. The Second Reading:

God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Then God said:
“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.”
Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey,
took with him his son Isaac and two of his servants as well,
and with the wood that he had cut for the holocaust,
set out for the place of which God had told him.

On the third day Abraham got sight of the place from afar.
Then he said to his servants:
“Both of you stay here with the donkey,
while the boy and I go on over yonder.
We will worship and then come back to you.”
Thereupon Abraham took the wood for the holocaust
and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders,
while he himself carried the fire and the knife.
As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham:
“Father!” Isaac said.
“Yes, son,” he replied.
Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood,
but where is the sheep for the holocaust?”
“Son,” Abraham answered,
“God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.”
Then the two continued going forward.

When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Next he tied up his son Isaac,
and put him on top of the wood on the altar.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Abraham, Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.
Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh;
hence people now say, “On the mountain the LORD will see.”

Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”

To understand this account in Genesis 22, we must realize that Isaac was no five-year-old but a strong young man at the time of this event.  We recognize this because Isaac carries the wood of the sacrifice up the mountain—a very heavy load indeed, compared to what the aged Abraham carries.  There was no way Abraham could have captured or overpowered Isaac to be sacrificed against his will.  Josephus puts Isaac’s age at this point in the biblical narrative at 37 years, but that seems too old to me.  I would approximate in his late teens.  But the point remains: this was a death Isaac freely accepted.

Three times in this passage Isaac is called the (Heb.) yahid son of Abraham, a rare word that was rendered into Greek either as “one-and-only” or as “beloved.”  “One and only” is more literal, “beloved” more dynamic.  We see echoes of this term in the New Testament when John calls Jesus the “one and only” or “only begotten” son (Jn 1:14,18; 3:16,18), and where Jesus is called the “beloved son” in the Synoptics at the Baptism and Transfiguration.

Genesis 22 is one of the most central texts in all the Old Testament.  I call it the “Calvary of the Old Testament,” perhaps the most important type of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in the pages of the Scriptures of Israel.  Genesis 22, of course, recounts the “Aqedah” or binding of Isaac, in which Abraham comes close to sacrificing his “one and only” or “only begotten” son on the wood of the altar on the top of Mt. Moriah.  God’s solemn oath of blessing on Abraham in vv. 15-18 is one of the central texts in all the Bible: arguably, this the culmination of the covenant with Abraham begun in Genesis 15 and continued in Genesis 17.  Although the word “covenant” does not appear in Genesis 22, God’s solemn oath in vv. 15-18 was understood as a covenant in subsequent Scripture (e.g. Deut 7:8-9; Luke 1:72-73).  “Oath” and “covenant” are frequently synonymous in the Bible and ancient Near East (see Ezekiel 17:11-21). This solemn covenant-oath by God promises blessing to all nations through the seed of Abraham; Easter is a celebration of the fulfillment of that promise, as all nations have been blessed through Jesus the seed of Abraham (Matt 1:1) who pours out the Spirit on all nations through his self-sacrifice on the cross.

2a. The Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 16:

  1. (1)You are my inheritance, O Lord.
    O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
    you it is who hold fast my lot.
    I set the LORD ever before me;
    with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
    R.You are my inheritance, O Lord.
    Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,
    my body, too, abides in confidence;
    because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
    nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.
    R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
    You will show me the path to life,
    fullness of joys in your presence,
    the delights at your right hand forever.
    R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.

Psalm 16 is a very famous Psalm of David that was used by the Apostles in their early preaching to prove Jesus’ Messianic status because of the resurrection and the fact that he “never saw corruption.”  (See Peter in Acts 2 and Paul in Acts 13).  The Psalm is chanted here in the liturgy, because Isaac’s salvation from death on the altar is seen as a type of the Resurrection of Jesus, the later “only begotten son” who is both the Son of Abraham and the Son of David (Matt 1:1).

  1. The Third Reading:

The LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me?
Tell the Israelites to go forward.
And you, lift up your staff and, with hand outstretched over the sea,
split the sea in two,
that the Israelites may pass through it on dry land.
But I will make the Egyptians so obstinate
that they will go in after them.
Then I will receive glory through Pharaoh and all his army,
his chariots and charioteers.
The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD,
when I receive glory through Pharaoh
and his chariots and charioteers.”

The angel of God, who had been leading Israel’s camp,
now moved and went around behind them.
The column of cloud also, leaving the front,
took up its place behind them,
so that it came between the camp of the Egyptians
and that of Israel.
But the cloud now became dark, and thus the night passed
without the rival camps coming any closer together
all night long.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea,
and the LORD swept the sea
with a strong east wind throughout the night
and so turned it into dry land.
When the water was thus divided,
the Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land,
with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.

The Egyptians followed in pursuit;
all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and charioteers went after them
right into the midst of the sea.
In the night watch just before dawn
the LORD cast through the column of the fiery cloud
upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic;
and he so clogged their chariot wheels
that they could hardly drive.
With that the Egyptians sounded the retreat before Israel,
because the LORD was fighting for them against the Egyptians.

Then the LORD told Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea,
that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians,
upon their chariots and their charioteers.”
So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea,
and at dawn the sea flowed back to its normal depth.
The Egyptians were fleeing head on toward the sea,
when the LORD hurled them into its midst.
As the water flowed back,
it covered the chariots and the charioteers of Pharaoh’s whole army
which had followed the Israelites into the sea.
Not a single one of them escaped.
But the Israelites had marched on dry land
through the midst of the sea,
with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.
Thus the LORD saved Israel on that day
from the power of the Egyptians.
When Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the seashore
and beheld the great power that the LORD
had shown against the Egyptians,
they feared the LORD and believed in him and in his servant Moses.

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:
I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.

The third OT reading for the Vigil is Exodus 14, the account of the triumph of God in delivering the Israelites from the armies of Egypt at the Red Sea.  This corresponds to the Mosaic Covenant (the covenant with Israel through Moses), as the people of Israel had already entered into a covenant relationship with God through the Passover (Exodus 12-13) and were headed out to Sinai where the covenant would be further solemnized (Exodus 24).

3a. The Responsorial Psalm is actually Exodus 15:

  1. (1b)Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.
    I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
    horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.
    My strength and my courage is the LORD,
    and he has been my savior.
    He is my God, I praise him;
    the God of my father, I extol him.
    R.Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.
    The LORD is a warrior,
    LORD is his name!
    Pharaoh’s chariots and army he hurled into the sea;
    the elite of his officers were submerged in the Red Sea.
    R. Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.
    The flood waters covered them,
    they sank into the depths like a stone.
    Your right hand, O LORD, magnificent in power,
    your right hand, O LORD, has shattered the enemy.
    R. Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.
    You brought in the people you redeemed
    and planted them on the mountain of your inheritance
    the place where you made your seat, O LORD,
    the sanctuary, LORD, which your hands established.
    The LORD shall reign forever and ever.
    R. Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.

We note that this song of victory over the enemies of God—remember that the Resurrection is the great victory over God’s enemies as well—concludes with the people of God coming to the “mountain of your inheritance” and the “sanctuary” of the LORD, in other words, the Temple.  The whole Exodus had a liturgical goal: to bring the people of Israel to a place and land where they could worship.  Jesus body is our New Temple (John 2:21).  We enter the New Temple—rather it enters us—at the reception of the Body and Blood tonight.

  1. The Fourth Reading:

The One who has become your husband is your Maker;
his name is the LORD of hosts;
your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
called God of all the earth.
The LORD calls you back,
like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
a wife married in youth and then cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great tenderness I will take you back.
In an outburst of wrath, for a moment
I hid my face from you;
but with enduring love I take pity on you,
says the LORD, your redeemer.
This is for me like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah
should never again deluge the earth;
so I have sworn not to be angry with you,
or to rebuke you.
Though the mountains leave their place
and the hills be shaken,
my love shall never leave you
nor my covenant of peace be shaken,
says the LORD, who has mercy on you.
O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled,
I lay your pavements in carnelians,
and your foundations in sapphires;
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of carbuncles,
and all your walls of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the LORD,
and great shall be the peace of your children.
In justice shall you be established,
far from the fear of oppression,
where destruction cannot come near you.

The fourth OT reading is a beautiful passage from Isaiah 54:5-14, which, surprisingly, makes reference to the Noahic Covenant  (Isaiah 54:9), and compares the coming “covenant of peace” (Isaiah’s term for the reality described by Jeremiah as the “new covenant,” Jer 31:31) to the covenant made with Noah.  This passage also employs touching marital imagery to describe God’s relationship with Israel.  Marriage was a form of covenant in ancient Israel, so it was natural to describe God’s covenant relationship with Israel in terms of marriage.

This Reading from Isaiah describes God taking his wife Israel back after a disruption of the relationship.  The primary sense here probably refers to the exile (or exiles) which appeared to be breaking of God’s covenant with wife Israel.  Jesus comes to undo the exile and restore Israel, which is part of the meaning of the Twelve Apostles who are Twelve New Patriarchs for the restored Israel.  Also the twelve baskets full after the feeding of the five thousand are a rich symbol of Jesus gathering up the fragments of God’s people and putting them back together again.

But the incarnation was also a “marriage” of human and divine nature which seemed to be “divorced” by the death of Christ, only to be quickly restored and resumed by the Resurrection.  So Easter is the re-affirmation of God’s uniting of his nature to ours in the mystical marriage of the hypostatic union.

The Easter vigil sacraments are full of nuptial symbolism.  Baptism is a wedding bath, the Eucharist a wedding feast.  The Song of Songs was heavily used by the Fathers for instructing catechumens on the nature of the Easter sacraments of initiation.

4a. The Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 30:

  1. (2a)I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
    I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
    and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
    O LORD, you brought me up from the netherworld;
    you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.
    R.I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
    Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
    For his anger lasts but a moment;
    a lifetime, his good will.
    At nightfall, weeping enters in,
    but with the dawn, rejoicing.
    R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
    Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me;
    O LORD, be my helper.
    You changed my mourning into dancing;
    O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
    R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.

The Reading and the Psalm are united by the theme of the brevity of God’s anger with his people/servant, and the quick resumption of a loving relationship.  The Psalm literally describes resurrection: “You have brought me up from the netherworld.”  This is the resumption of the “marriage” of human and divine nature discussed above.

  1. The Fifth Reading:

Thus says the LORD:
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,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.
I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,
the benefits assured to David.
As I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of nations,
so shall you summon a nation you knew not,
and nations that knew you not shall run to you,
because of the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked man his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

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;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

The fifth OT reading (Isaiah 55:1-11) is one of my favorite, and one of the most amazing, texts from Isaiah.  In this passage, God promises that at some point in the future, he will offer the covenant of David (“I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my covenant fidelity [Hebrew hesed] for David”; Isa 55:3) to every one who is hungry and thirsty.  He will offer this covenant through eating and drinking (Isa 55:1)!  This is obviously a prophecy of the Eucharist, which Jesus identifies as the “New Covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).  The Eucharist is a New Covenant, but it also restores the Davidic Covenant.  That’s why Jesus literally says to the Apostles at the Last Supper, “I covenant (Gk diatithemi) a kingdom to you even as my father covenanted one to me” (Luke 22:30).  The Church is the restored Kingdom of David.

5a. The Responsorial is Isaiah 12:

  1. (3)You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
    God indeed is my savior;
    I am confident and unafraid.
    My strength and my courage is the LORD,
    and he has been my savior.
    With joy you will draw water
    at the fountain of salvation.
    R.You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
    Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name;
    among the nations make known his deeds,
    proclaim how exalted is his name.
    R. You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
    Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
    let this be known throughout all the earth.
    Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
    for great in your midst
    is the Holy One of Israel!
    R. You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.

Isaiah 12 is a doxology concluding Isaiah 1-12, which is a precis or abstract of the entire Book of Isaiah, a chiastically-structured unit which hits all the themes of the entire book.  Isaiah 12 was chanted during the water ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles, on the last and great day, when the priests drew water from the Pool of Siloam to pour on the altar in pre-enactment of the supernatural River of Life to flow from the eschatological Temple in the future according to Ezekiel 47.  Jesus refers to this in John 7:37ff: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink…”  The Baptismal water is our “drinking” from the River of Life (the Holy Spirit) that Christ gave us.

6-7.  The sixth OT focuses on divine wisdom, but the seventh and last (Ezek 36:16-28) has important covenant themes:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their land,
they defiled it by their conduct and deeds.
Therefore I poured out my fury upon them
because of the blood that they poured out on the ground,
and because they defiled it with idols.
I scattered them among the nations,
dispersing them over foreign lands;
according to their conduct and deeds I judged them.
But when they came among the nations wherever they came,
they served to profane my holy name,
because it was said of them: “These are the people of the LORD,
yet they had to leave their land.”
So I have relented because of my holy name
which the house of Israel profaned
among the nations where they came.
Therefore say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD:
Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel,
but for the sake of my holy name,
which you profaned among the nations to which you came.
I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations,
in whose midst you have profaned it.
Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD,
when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.
For I will take you away from among the nations,
gather you from all the foreign lands,
and bring you back to your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you
to cleanse you from all your impurities,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts
and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees.
You shall live in the land I gave your fathers;
you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

After recounting Israel’s unfaithfulness to the (Mosaic) covenant, Ezekiel prophesies a coming day when God will sprinkle his people with water and put a new spirit within them which will enable them to keep their covenant with God (“live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees”).  Ezekiel 36 is found canonically in the middle of Ezekiel’s “Book of Consolation” (Ezek 34-37), a long section of Ezekiel in which the prophet offers hope for a new age for Israel, a hope that culminates in Ezek 37:25-28 with the establishment of a “covenant of peace”, an “everlasting covenant” (37:26), Ezekiel’s terms for Jeremiah’s “new covenant” (Jer 31:31).

Thus, all the major covenants of salvation history are referred to in some form in the seven OT readings for the Easter Vigil, and taken together the readings (not to mention the psalms that go with them!) make a beautiful synopsis of the general structure of the divine economy (salvation history).  Since the Vigil, like every mass, culminates in the consecration of the bread and wine which become “the New and Everlasting Covenant” in Christ’s blood, it is appropriate that the OT readings recount the older and provisional covenants that anticipated the new one celebrated in the Liturgy.  Understanding salvation history through the lens of the covenant is an authentically Catholic approach to biblical theology.

  1. The Epistle is from Romans 6:

Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.

For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his,
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
We know that our old self was crucified with him,
so that our sinful body might be done away with,
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul stresses that Jesus died to save us from our sins.  Many think this just means that we are saved from theguilt of our sins, but what it really means is that we have been saved from continuing to sin.  Through baptism, we are given the power to stop sinning.  If we continue to sin, we are not in a state of salvation, because it is precisely the power and “addiction” to sin from which we must be saved.  Therefore, those that think Paul preaches a “salvation by faith alone” in Romans that does not involve a radical change in thought, word, and deed are very much mistaken.  Christ died to make us holy, not just get us to heaven.

8a. The Responsorial is Psalm 118:

  1. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
    Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
    for his mercy endures forever.
    Let the house of Israel say,
    “His mercy endures forever.”
    R.Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
    The right hand of the LORD has struck with power;
    the right hand of the LORD is exalted.
    I shall not die, but live,
    and declare the works of the LORD.
    R. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
    The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone.
    By the LORD has this been done;
    it is wonderful in our eyes.
    R. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Psalm 118 is a todah or Thanksgiving (“eucharistic”) Psalm that has great significance, as it constitutes the end of the Hallel hymn that was sung at the Passover (Pss 113-118), and therefore was the last Psalm Jesus recited on his lips before going out to the Garden of Gethsemane.  It is full of rich resurrection imagery, that would have been very poignant on Holy Thursday night.

  1. The Gospel is the Resurrection account of Luke this year:

At daybreak on the first day of the week
the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus
took the spices they had prepared
and went to the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb;
but when they entered,
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were puzzling over this, behold,
two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
They said to them,
“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised.
Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners
and be crucified, and rise on the third day.”
And they remembered his words.
Then they returned from the tomb
and announced all these things to the eleven
and to all the others.
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James;
the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
but their story seemed like nonsense
and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,
bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone;
then he went home amazed at what had happened.

The different Gospels recount different details about the events of Easter morning, and it can be complicated to fit all the accounts into one chronological sequence.  We have to remember that Easter morning was a shocking and confusing time for the disciples of Jesus and the holy women, and there was a great deal of running back and forth to the tomb to verify reports and investigate what happened.  The different Gospels tend to simplify the back-and-forth trips, or else focus on the experiences of just a few of the characters involved.

This account in Luke is strikingly realistic in that, when confronted with the vindication of all their greatest hopes by the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles and women respond not with celebration but with distrust, disbelief, fear, and confusion.

How often we and others respond to the Good News of God’s mercy in this way!  It sounds too good to be true.  Someone is tricking us.  Someone is lying and deceiving.  There’s some catch.  We will “bite” on the “bait” and be caught in some kind of fraud.  Pope Francis has been trying to convince us, and the whole world, that the offer of God’s mercy in Christ is no trick, no fraud, no trap.  He really has risen, in fulfillment of what he said.  He really will forgive sin, and really will bring us to eternal life with him.

This is the culmination of salvation history and all the covenants: the definitive vindication of Jesus, God’s only begotten son, Son of Adam, of Abraham, of David; successor of Moses and the Prophets; the embodied New Israel.  His destiny is our destiny.  This life is just an antechamber to heaven.  Our victory will not be in this life but the next.  The only way to live this life successfully is in preparation for eternal life.  Alleluia!

-Dr. John Bergsma