by Abbot Eugene J. Hayes, O.Praem.
We have heard proclaimed at Easter Vigil nine readings from Sacred Scripture, seven from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament. Immediately after the last Old Testament reading and just before the first of the New Testament we have prayed this prayer which I just quoted: “O God, Who by the pages of both Testament instruct us and prepare us to celebrate the paschal Mystery…” And in each of those seven readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, we have heard spoken of Christ, the promised Messiah, and the messianic age He inaugurates. These echo the mystery which in the liturgy of Good Friday we heard expressed, as far back almost at the beginnings of Christianity, already by a second century bishop: “The mystery of the Passover is the mystery of Christ.”
And as was pointed out in the Stations of the Cross underlying this unity of God’s revelation, God’s testaments old and new, His covenants, the first one beginning with Abraham and the final fulfilling one sealed with the blood of the Paschal Lamb and His Son; we have the garden, the garden first of God’s creation with all its fauna and flora, then the garden in which is located the tomb, the garden of re-creation and re-newal from which the Lord rises, living once more, precisely to save us from the penalty due to the sin carried out in the first garden, the penalty of death without eternal life, suffering without relief, despair instead of hope.
A meditation on the final station prayed on Good Friday evening in Rome, led by Christ’s Vicar on earth put it well: “That garden, with the tomb in which Jesus was buried, makes us think of another garden: the garden of Eden. A garden which through disobedience lost its beauty and became a wilderness, a place of death where once there was life… From on high, Jesus will now bring everything back to life. After His return from the pit of hell, where Satan had imprisoned so many souls, the renewal of all things will begin. His tomb represents the end of the old man. As with Jesus, God has not allowed His children to be punished by a relentless death. In the death of Christ all the thrones of evil, built on greed and hardness of heart, are toppled.” Death disarms us; it makes us realize that we are subject here on earth to a life that will come to an end. And yet, before the body of Jesus, laid in the tomb, we come to realize who we really are. Creatures who, in order to escape death, need their Creator.
The silence which fills that garden enables us to hear the whisper of a gentle breeze: “I am the Living One and I am with you” (cf. Ex 3:14). The curtain of the temple is torn in two. At last we see our Lord’s face. And we know fully His name: mercy and faithfulness. We will never be confounded, even in the face of death, for the Son of God was free among the dead (cf. Ps 88:6 Vg.).
We are all of us here this morning to celebrate the rising of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. This is not a metaphorical event, a wish of believers transposed onto reality, but the real reunion of His human soul returning from Limbo with His human body lying in the Holy Sepulcher. It is into this historical event that we are incorporated, that we partake and claim as our own identity, through holy baptism.
Rising from the dead is an experience not just of Christ on Easter morning, nor of mankind as a whole on the Last Day, but of everyone who, like the women in the Gospel, departs from the tomb, the place needed on account of sin’s just punishment; departs from the death of sin through the mercy and forgiveness of Christ; departs quickly because we should never delay our conversion or dawdle in our iniquity.
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