The Easter Vigil and the Resurrection (Easter Vigil Year C)

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The Easter Vigil and the Resurrection Transcript

Now at last we are going to turn to the most important feast of the entire liturgical year, and that is the Feast of Easter. Now as soon as I say that, there are some differences and choices that we can make with regard to the readings. In this video I'm going to focus on the scriptural readings, not for the Easter Sunday, which are slightly different, but for the Easter vigil, which is celebrated on Saturday night. The reason I picked that is because even if you don't have to be going to the Vigil this year, you've probably experienced the Easter vigil at some point. And one the most striking aspects of the Easter Vigil is just how many readings there are. For this one day of the year there are seven, count them seven, Old Testament readings that can be read in addition to all the Responsorial Psalms with each one of those readings. So it's seven readings, seven Responsorial Psalms, a New Testament epistle, and the Gospel. So this night is simply saturated with Scripture, and it could be a little puzzling. Why do we have all these readings? So because part of my main mission in doing these videos is to explain the Sunday readings, explain the readings for Mass, I want to hit the Easter Vigil with particular focus. I'll let you know now, I'm not going to try to go through all of those readings, that's just impossible to do in one video. But what I do want to do is explain basically what they are, why they're chosen, and then we'll look at the Gospel and the New Testament epistle a little more closely that brings in the great mystery of the resurrection. One thing I will say before we begin looking at the readings is this, although in English-speaking countries we refer to this feast as Easter, in the original Latin the feast name is Pascha, and I've mentioned this word before in previous videos, that's the word for Passover. So when Christians celebrate the great feast of Easter, we're literally celebrating the Passover feast. But it's not the Passover at the time of Moses from Egypt, it is the Passover of Christ, who's new Exodus begins in Jerusalem and then ends with the ascension, with his ascension to the throne of God in heaven, through his passion, death, resurrection, and then finally with his ascension. So that's what we're doing, we're looking at the Christian Passover, we're looking at the Christian Easter, and that's were celebrating in this particular Mass.

So there are so many things we could say about the Easter Vigil, it is literally packed with symbolism from the Baptismal Candle to the lighting of the fire, so many things. I just want to focus on the readings, so let's look at the Scriptures together and try to explain why they're chosen, why there are so many of them, and what is the overarching purpose of the feast as directed toward the resurrection. So let's begin. The first distinctive aspect of the Easter vigil is, as I mentioned, that there are seven readings from the Old Testament that can be chosen from, in addition to seven Responsorial Psalms that can be used with those readings. Now in most places not all seven readings are chosen. The priest, minister or Bishop who is celebrating the Easter Vigil Mass has the option of choosing certain readings for the feast. But what I want to show you, in this case, is just to explain why these readings are chosen. So these are the readings, I'm not going to get into the Psalms, it's too much, but they're basically thematically linked to each of the readings from the Old Testament. So the seven Old Testament readings are these:

1. The first reading is from Genesis chapter 1, it's the six days of creation, and this is an amazing reading to hear on Easter vigil night. I love listening to this powerful powerful account from the very first chapter of the Bible. So why do we have that? We begin the great feast of the liturgical year, the Feast of Easter, with creation, because Easter and the resurrection is going to be about the new creation, the beginning of the new creation in Christ. So it's fitting that we go back to the very beginning and hear the account of creation from the Old Testament. By the way, in ancient times the Church would always read from Genesis during Holy Week or during Lent because the Easter vigil was the night that the catechumens, those people who were going to be baptized, who were going to be becoming Christians and receiving baptism, the Eucharist, and the Sacraments of Confirmation, the Sacraments of Initiation, they wanted them to hear the account of the story of salvation going all the way back to beginning, all the way back to creation. So we begin with creation on the night we celebrate a new creation, so that those are becoming Christians can enter into the biblical worldview. So that they can understand who they are and where they have come from, what the problem with the world is, and how Jesus is going to bring the solution. So that passage from Genesis 1 is just critical, it's foundational for the Feast of Easter.

2. The second reading for the Easter Vigil is equally important, it is the famous story of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22. Now, why is this reading there? Well again, like we see with other Sundays for Lent, the Church is walking through the story of salvation history in chronological order. So it begins with creation, and then it fast forwards to Abraham. So it's telling the story of salvation history to the catechumens who are about to become Christians, and also reminding Christians, the faithful who are already in the audience, about their own story, about the history of salvation. It's also chosen, the sacrifice of Isaac, because it is the most explicit and striking prefiguration of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ in the book of Genesis, with the account of Abraham's life. Because what you have in the story is the account of Abraham, father Abraham, offering his only beloved son Isaac upon a mountain in sacrifice. And the end result is Isaac is delivered from death, but what God says is that on this mountain of the Lord a lambs shall be provided, and that all the nations of the earth are going to be blessed because of what Abraham was willing to do in the sacrifice. And that lamb that will eventually be provided is going to be Christ, who is going to be the beloved son of the heavenly father who goes to be sacrificed on the Mountain of Calvary for the sake of the sins of the world. So the prefiguration or the typology at work in Genesis 22 makes this a very striking reading, and a very important one. I don't have time to get into this, but in a couple of my Bible studies on the Old Testament and the book of Genesis, I actually lay out for you the fact that in Genesis 22 the mountain that Abraham sacrifices Isaac on is called Moriah, and that mountain is elsewhere identified in the Old Testament as the mountain where the Temple would be built, eventually by Solomon. So in other words, the sacrifice of Isaac, that prefigures the sacrifice of Jesus, also happens in Jerusalem, so it's the same mountain. So this a powerful powerful text, and the Church puts it before the faithful on Easter vigil to point forward to the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, because what happens, Isaac is in a sense sacrificed, Abraham is offering him to the father, but he gets his son back. He's restored to him, restored to life, just like Christ the son is raised from the dead.

3. The third reading for the Easter Vigil is from Exodus chapter 14, and this is the famous account of Moses and the Israelites crossing through the waters of the Red Sea, the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. The Church uses this reading because the crossing of the Red Sea has always been seen, once again, as a type, as a typology, a prefiguration, of baptism, of being cleansed in the waters of baptism, and set free through baptism from slavery, not to Pharaoh in Egypt, but from slavery to sin and slavery to death, and then beginning our journey with baptism to the heavenly promised land. Just like the Israelites began their journey through the desert to head to the promised land once they cross through the waters of the Red Sea. So again, the typology is the primary principle that the Church is using to pick these readings in the famous account of the crossing of the Red Sea.

4. The fourth Old Testament reading continues through salvation history and now it moves beyond creation, Abraham and the exodus, to future prophecies that look forward to the coming of the Messiah. In this case the fourth reading is from Isaiah 54, and I really love this passage, because this is a prophecy of the new Jerusalem, where the people of God are being described as this great city that God is one day going to restore, even though it's currently been destroyed, it's been forsaken. And God is going to adorn the city of Jerusalem with all of these jewels and all this beauty, because Jerusalem is not just his chosen city, Jerusalem is his bride. And in Isaiah 54 the LORD, Yahweh, the God of Israel, is depicted as a bridegroom. Isaiah 54 actually says, "your maker is your husband." Think about that, "your maker is your husband." The creator not only loves the creature but has wedded himself to the creature in an everlasting marital covenant. If you want more on that I have a whole book called Jesus the Bridegroom, where I show you what that means to talk about God as the Divine Bridegroom. But in this case, the Church is choosing Isaiah 54, and God as the bridegroom, because Jesus' passion and death isn't just an execution, it's not even just an act of redemption, it is the wedding day of Christ. It is the day when Christ will offer himself for the sake of his bride, the Church. And again, all the catechumens in the Mass, who are receiving the sacraments of initiation, are being brought into, and made members of, the mystical body of Christ, which is his bride, the Church. In fact, the early church fathers would refer to baptism as the nuptial bath before the wedding feast of the Eucharist. So they described the Eucharist as a wedding banquet, and Christ as the bridegroom.

5. The fifth reading is from the book of Isaiah, it's Isaiah 55. And here we have the prophecy of a great banquet where God will establish this new covenant, that goes back to the covenant with David, but goes beyond the covenant with David with his people. And he talks about saying, you who have no money, come receive grain. If you're thirsty, come to the water, come without cost and without paying, and drink wine and milk. So for the Jews this was a prophecy of the messianic banquet, but obviously for the Church we see this fulfilled in the great feast of the Eucharist, which the catechumens who are going to be baptized, are going to have their first holy Communion, they're going to receive the Eucharist for the first time. So Isaiah 55 is the Old Testament reading pointing forward to the messianic banquet of the Eucharist.

And now most Easter Vigils go about that far, that's about as far as they most will go. I personally haven't heard the six and seventh readings read very much, but they're equally important.

6. The sixth reading is from the little read book of the prophet Baruch. This is one of those books that's only in the Catholic Old Testament, it's not in Protestant Old Testaments. And this prophecy is about lady wisdom and the Torah of the Lord, or the law of the Lord, and about how the law the Lord comes to us in wisdom, who's personified like a woman, as someone we need to embrace and take into our lives. So here the Church is giving us this beautiful description of the Scripture, of the Torah, of the law, as Wisdom, in order to encourage those who are becoming Christians, and to encourage those who are already Christians, to always go back to the law of the Lord, to always go back to the word of God in the Scriptures, and meditate on His word. Because it is there that we will find true wisdom, and it is there that we will receive the treasuries of God's truth and God's love and God's law.

7. Finally, but not least significantly, the last reading, the seventh and last Old Testament reading, is from the book of Ezekiel 36. This prophecy of Ezekiel 36 is a very interesting one, it's a prophecy about the future ingathering of the scattered tribes of Israel, and their being brought back home to the promised land. And in this prophecy, what God says is, although you have defiled my name, one day I'm going to sanctify my name, or I'm going to make holy my name. Literally you can translate this, I will hallow my name. Jesus is actually alluding to this prophecy in the Lord's prayer, when we say, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Literally in Greek, let thy name be hallowed. Now I don't know about you, but I always wondered, what does that mean? Let your name be hallowed. Isn't God's name already holy? Well in Ezekiel 36, God says that when he hallows his name, that's when his people's sins will be forgiven, and they're going to be restored to him, and they're going to come back home to the promised land. And its fascinating, in that passage he says that when he does, and I'm going to quote this one line, he says,

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.

So obviously, why does the Church choose this prophecy of the hallowing of God's name and the sprinkling of his people with water? Because this is the great feast of baptism, where the catechumens are going to receive baptism, be sprinkled with water. Which, by the way, that shows not all baptism is immersion. The Old Testament prophesies baptism by sprinkling, that's why Catholics will have the sprinkling rite. You can have baptism by immersion, but it's customary to do pouring the water over the over the head of the baptized. And when that happens they're going to receive a new spirit, this is the gift of the Holy Spirit that's received in Baptism.

So these are just awesome readings, they're fantastic, they're so rich. And that's why the Church places so many of these Old Testament readings before us for the Easter vigil, for the priest or the bishop to choose from, so that the catechumens and candidates, and also all the faithful, can be reminded of how God has been preparing for the salvation that he is going to accomplish in Easter, in the resurrection. He's been preparing for it since the very dawn of creation, he's been prefiguring it since the dawn of creation, and throughout salvation history.

Now with that in mind, the last two readings for the night of the Easter Vigil are the following. First, the New Testament epistle is from St. Paul's letter to the Romans, and guess what it's focused on? It's focused on baptism and resurrection. So these two themes that we've already seen prefigured are now coming to fruition in the New Testament. And this is what Paul writes, a reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans:

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.

That's one of the good things about being dead, you can't sin anymore.

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.

So why is this passage here? Well again, the Church is preparing men and women and children to receive the Sacrament of Baptism, and she's reminding all of us of the meaning of our Baptism. That when we were baptized, we weren't just brought into the community of a particular parish, we weren't just brought into the body of Christ, incorporated into the church as an institution or as a as a family. We were crucified in Baptism. We died with Christ by going down into the waters of Baptism, and then we also were raised with Christ by coming up out of the waters, so that just as Christ was crucified, died, and rose again, so too we might share in his resurrection. So Baptism, in a sense, is the sacrament of crucifixion and resurrection. So that when we come out of the waters of baptism, we are completely new. All sins, especially Original Sin, but all actual sins we've ever committed, especially if you're baptized as an adult, Original Sin, all personal sin, and all the effects of those sins, any temporal punishment for those sins. All of that is wiped away, because it's the blood of Christ and the water of his cross that we are being immersed in when we're baptized. This is a powerful powerful powerful sacrament that Paul sees as a mystical crucifixion and resurrection. That's what happens in baptism, and that's what happens at Easter vigil, on the night the people are baptized.

And with that we come to the final Scripture of the night, and this is the Gospel. And obviously, because it's Easter vigil, and this is year C, we're going to look at Luke's account of the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday morning. So we will end with this, it's a fairly brief account, but it's important, it's the discovery of the empty tomb on Sunday morning. A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke:

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,

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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.

There is so much we can say about this, but just three basic points in closing. First, number one, notice this, that the first motive of credibility for believing in the resurrection was the empty tomb. That was the first realization that the women had, that something had happened to Jesus's body. This is really critical for us to recognize, that when the apostles and the disciples of Jesus talked about him being raised from the dead, they were not saying that his soul went on to heaven, or that his spirit continued to live among his followers. That's not what resurrection meant in the first century A.D. to a Jew. Resurrection meant that his soul had been reunited with his body, and that he was alive again in his body. In other words, when Christians proclaim the Jesus was raised from the dead, we are saying that something happened to his corpse, it's not just his soul, it's his body, okay. So they find the empty tomb and they encounter the Angels, and the Angels say, why do you seek the living among the dead. And that's the second point, Jesus is alive again in the body, that's the meaning of the resurrection. His soul and his body have been reunited after death, and he will never ever die again, he lives forever. So this is the difference between resurrection, and what people think of as life after death. An Anglican scholar, N.T. Wright, actually says that resurrection is not about life after death, it's about life after life after death. It's about the soul and the body coming together after death, and being reunited again in a way that Jesus will never die. And third and finally, note this, the proclamation of the resurrection, it is initially met with disbelief. Some critics of Christianity will say, oh well the apostles believed in the resurrection because, you know, they were primitive people. and they just didn't know what we know now. They were credulous, they'd believe anything. That's simply false, because all the Gospels tell us that the apostles first reaction to the resurrection, like in this case when they hear the story from the women of the empty tomb, was doubt, they didn't believe. Because ancient people, just like modern people, knew that, ordinarily, dead people stay dead. They knew that just as well as we do, if not better than we do, because they had to bury the dead themselves. And so when they say that Jesus is alive again in the body, they're met with incredulity, with doubt, with disbelief. And even Peter, chief of the apostles, sees the empty tomb, looks inside, and look at what it says, "he went home amazed at what had happened." So he's awestruck by this event.

And this is the message of Easter, that something awe-inspiring has happened to Jesus of Nazareth, something unique in all of human history. He has been raised from the dead, the tomb is empty, he is still alive, and his resurrection points to our future as well. Christianity is not just about life after death, it's not about the immortality of the soul, it's about the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body. And so Jesus' bodily resurrection on Easter Sunday, we celebrate it, not just because it vindicated his claims to be the Messiah and the divine son of God, but because it also gives us a promise. That one day we will not simply live forever with him, as immortal disembodied souls, but that we will live forever with him in our bodies, in the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth, in the life of the world to come. And that's why we Catholics say, whenever we recite the creed, we believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. We will be with Christ forever in that world, in our bodies, just as his body was raised on Easter Sunday. And that, my friends, is truly good news.

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About Brant Pitre

Dr. Brant Pitre is Professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. He earned his Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame, where he specialized the study of the New Testament and ancient Judaism. He is the author of several articles and the books Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile (Baker Academic, 2005); Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (Image Books, 2011); and Jesus the Bridegroom (Image Books, 2014). Dr. Pitre is an extremely enthusiastic and engaging speaker who lectures regularly across the United States. He has produced dozens of Bible studies on CD, DVD, and MP3, in which he explores the biblical foundations of Catholic faith and theology. He currently lives in Gray, Louisiana, with his wife Elizabeth, and their five children.

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