“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad!” Happy Easter to all! The highest point of the Church’s liturgical calendar, the Easter Triduum, which started at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, reaches its climax today. Easter Sunday is such a momentous feast that, liturgically, it lasts for a whole week, the “Easter Octave.” This is “the Day the Lord has made,” the Day when all creation rejoices in the saving and merciful action of God summed up in Jesus Christ.
Just before the reading of the Gospel for Easter Day, we recite the Sequence Victimae Paschali Laudes (Latin: “Praises to the Paschal Victim”), a liturgical hymn dating from the 11th century. We can turn to this unique feature of the Easter liturgy, lovingly provided by Mother Church, as the guide for our pondering today.
Christians, to the Paschal Victim / Offer your thankful praises! – The first line immediately draws our attention to Christ as a “Paschal Victim,” a theme that has deep roots in the Old Testament. On the first Passover, the Israelites were instructed to sacrifice an unblemished lamb, eat it in the evening, and place its blood on their doorposts. The blood of the lamb was a sign for the angel of death to “pass over” their houses and spare their first-born sons (cf. Ex 12:1-7). In St. John’s account of the Passion, which we read on Good Friday, Jesus’ death takes place at the very hour when the Passover lambs were slaughtered. To Jesus, the true Paschal Lamb, who opens a way to pass over from sin and death, we rightfully offer thankful praises!
But how can we offer thankful praises for such a gruesome event? St. Paul tells us how in his First Letter to the church in Corinth. He exhorts us to celebrate the sacrifice of the feast of the Paschal Lamb, “not with the old yeast… of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” We show our gratitude for the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb when we turn away from sin. In this way, we welcome his victory over sin and death in our own lives. Here Paul uses an image from the Passover meal: what goes with the unblemished lamb is unleavened bread (cf. Ex 12:8). Malice and wickedness are like yeast that makes us swell with pride and sensuality, defiling the unblemished sacrifice of the Lord. We must rid ourselves of this yeast of sin in order to be sincere and true disciples of the Risen Lord.
A Lamb the sheep redeems; / Christ, who only is sinless, / Reconciles sinners to the Father. – Our sins severed us from the Father, but Christ, through his Death and Resurrection, has restored our broken relationship. This restoration work of Christ continues today through the Sacraments. Today we renew our baptismal vows, confident that what St. Peter proclaims in today’s first reading applies to us sinners: “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” Looking forward to Divine Mercy Sunday, which comes at the conclusion of the Octave, we are also urged to receive the great Sacrament of Reconciliation, in which we again celebrate Christ’s Easter triumph.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous: / The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal. – In Genesis, God told the serpent-tempter: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). On the Cross, Jesus the Prince of life engaged in this stupendous combat between good and evil, between life and death. He, the offspring of Adam and Eve, was stricken by suffering and death, the consequence of sin. Yet by dying he restored our life. Paul instructs us through his Letter to the church in Colossae what this means for us: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”
When Paul says, “you have died,” he is referring to our Baptism, when we became members of the one Body of Christ and were united to his death. Today we rejoice that Christ has already decisively won this stupendous combat. But as long as we are still in this world, the victory is for the most part hidden. What we see and experience is an on-going struggle. So Paul gives us this practical tip: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” He tells us to continue to have faith despite the darkness, to have hope despite the many temptations to doubt, and to love despite the hatred and indifference that prevail. In this way we daily fulfill our baptismal promises.
Speak, Mary, declaring / What you saw, wayfaring. – The ancient hymn echoes what the Gospels testify: Mary Magdalene is the first witness of Christ’s Resurrection. In 1st Century Palestine, the legal testimony of women was considered weak evidence. St. Luke even notes that to the disciples, the story of the women “seemed like nonsense.” But Mary and the other women simply proclaimed the truth of their personal experience. Today’s celebration exhorts us likewise to live and bear witness to the truth, no matter how our testimony is received.
The tomb of Christ, who is living, / The glory of Jesus’ resurrection; / Bright angels attesting, / The shroud and napkin resting. – In John’s account the burial shroud was left behind in the empty tomb – evidence that the body was not stolen, for no thief would bother to unwrap the body before taking it. In Luke’s account, “two men in dazzling garments” – whom the Sequence calls “bright angels” – proclaim that Jesus has been raised. From the mundane, like a discarded cloth, to the sublime, like angelic beings, the whole of creation testifies that the Lord has truly risen!
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen; / To Galilee he goes before you. – After Jesus has achieved victory over sin and death, he invites his disciples back to Galilee, where he first called them. Although all the events of the Paschal Triduum happened in Jerusalem, the seat and center of Jewish life, Jesus makes it clear that Jerusalem is no longer their destination; now they are to “put out into deep water” (Lk 5:4) and take up the task of “catching men” (Lk 5:10). In Galilee, the disciples will remember all that he had taught them and begin to put it into practice. Our own “going to Galilee” is our living remembrance of all that Christ has taught us. This is what we continue to ponder and to put into practice every day.
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining. / Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning! – In this most glorious Easter season, let us allow Christ the victor King to fully reign in our lives. Let us surrender every aspect of our life to him who is Mercy Incarnate. Like the disciples, may we constantly see and believe this. May our hearts continue to burn for Christ all the days of our life. Amen. Alleluia!
How can I live my life more as an Easter person of deep joy? How do I move forward in life anew through Christ’s Resurrection? How do I intensify my sense of grateful remembrance?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.