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The Seven OT Readings of the Easter Vigil

Submitted by on Friday, 10 April 2009No Comment


The seven readings from the Old Testament that are proclaimed during the Easter Vigil are bits and pieces of a plan of salvation that is accomplished in Christ. In other words, the seven readings is a survey of salvation history. In each of these readings, we find "types" that point to Christ and the Church. Easter is a celebration of the victory of Christ over death and the new life that Christians have begun to share in through baptism. Three readings are taken from the primordial events of salvation history. They are "primordial" because the rest of the history of salvation as Israel understands it is in continuity with these. Four readings are taken from the time of the exile. Three of these are from the major prophets, notably Isaiah and Ezekiel. These are selections that emphasize the fidelity of God to His covenant. The selection from Baruch marks the emergence of Judaism as a religion of the book. The "Torah" is an expression of God’s will, but it too points to the Word made flesh, He who "dwelt among us" and who, by an act of solidarity with all men, died on the cross so as to save them from death and bring them to a new fellowship with God under a new catholic covenant.

Word, Light and Goodness

The Easter review of salvation history begins with creation. God like a working man puts on the light first and then proceeds by putting things into order. It is under that light that He calls forth in the beginning that he carries out the program of creation. Seven days does not mean twenty-four hours multiplied by seven. The "days" are phases in the work where the first six "phases" show God vanquishing the primordial "tohuwabohu" — formlessness and emptiness. The first three days, God puts a structure giving His creation form; the following three days has God putting things inside the structure he has made. Throughout these days of creation, God contemplates his work at each finished phase and says that it is "Good". The sixth day is special in that God looks and finds it "Very Good." It is the day when He creates man. The seventh day is, in a way, anti-climactic. It is the day God rests and by doing so invites man — His co-worker — to share in that rest.

While the Paschal candle burns in the darkness, the reading from Genesis reminds us that God’s Word — the external expression of His intentions — is Light that gives life and all that is good. It is the Light under which the first creation — that creation which is passing and will give way to the new heavens and the new earth — was accomplished and it too is the Light under which the recreation of the world — now ongoing — will be completed.

The Sacrifice of a Son

We jump to the time of Abraham and read about the Aqedah, the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18). What God did not allow Abraham to finish, He Himself accomplished when He gave up His only Begotten on the Cross just a hundred meters from the place where Abraham bound his son for sacrifice. By obeying God’s word, Abraham showed himself to be a true friend of God (James 2:23). But by obeying the Father’s will, Jesus showed Himself to be God’s Son. In His death, one discovers how far God would go as "Immanu El", God with us.

Saving Waters

Exodus 14:15:1 is the narration of Israel’s crossing the Red Sea. Here, the Sea — the primordial enemy of the Creator God — becomes the occassion of Israel’s salvation and the death of the pursuing Egyptians. The narration has been written in such a way as to incorporate the ritual recitations that has resulted from the event itself and Israel’s memory of it. God saved Israel through the waters of the Red Sea.

Water will be blessed during the Easter vigil mass and will be used for baptism and the renewal of baptismal consecration. Throughout the rest of the year, these same waters will be used to remind Christians of their baptism in rites of blessing that serve to remind everyone that all have been redeemed by Christ from whose side flowed blood and water. Israel crossing the Red Sea is a type of the Christians who cross from death to life through the waters of baptism.

An Undying Love

Isaiah 54:5-14 is a selection from Isaiah’s Book of Consolation. The prophet is convincing exiled Israel to return to the land promised to them. The feeling of guilt and shame still hangs over the people of the covenant. The exile has broken them: it has become difficult for them to believe that — after all they’ve done — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will still want them for Himself. The prophet reassures them using images drawn from matrimony that God, Creator and Redeemer, wants them back. The language used is the amorous language of one who woos a beloved. In this oracle, a reference is made to the days of Noah

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.

The history of salvation is the story of a love that is undying. Israel, by continuously sinning against God, brought upon herself the curses of her own infidelity. Yet God ever faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9) in love though spurned countless times and rejected in favor of lesser loves, stands in the background waiting for the moment when he would once more present Himself to His beloved. The exile was the moment when Israel realized how far she has gone away from God. But it was also the moment when she realizes how much she is loved.

The Eternal Covenant

Isaiah 55:1-11 continues the theme of God calling Israel back. Here, the image of water is used in an invitation to life. The oracle recalls the many times in which Israel has exchanged God for something less and draws attention to what is true. In this oracle, one also finds the theme of the new covenant and mention of the benefits accruing to David. Israel is re-established in the everlasting covenant of David; by this covenant, she becomes the means through which God extends His Lordship over all the nations. The oracle ends with the assurance that God’s Word will accomplish all these. Christian meditation on this oracle points to its fulfillment in the Word made flesh. In Jesus, the Divine Promises to Israel have been accomplished.

The Word of Life

The selection from Baruch is a rebuke and an invitation to Israel in exile. The mention of a "book" that contains the precepts of God is a historical landmark pointing to the time when the scrolls of Moses were completed. These are the scrolls which will be read by Ezra when the newly returned Jews recommence their celebration of the feasts after the exile (cf. Nehemiah 8). The rebuke repeats what Israel has already realized (as expressed in the Lamentations), that it is because of their sins that they now find themselves in a foreign land. The invitation is for them to take the Torah of Moses seriously that they may have life. The Torah — here refered to as "she" — contains the wisdom and understanding that God wants His people to make their own. Paul, a Pharisee, realized that the Torah of Moses points to Christ crucified, the Wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). The Law was "the record of debt" that was nailed on the cross (Colossians 2:14) so that men may be freed (Galatians 4:4; John 8:36) from sin and empowered to become children of God (Romans 8:3-5).

New Heart, New Spirit, New Covenant

The reading from Ezekiel 36 brings together the theme of water, covenant, holiness and re-establishment in the inheritance promised to Abraham.

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.

"Water", "new heart" and "new spirit" echoes Psalm 51; it also recalls a passage from Jeremiah about a new heart on which is written the expression of God’s will (Jeremiah 31:33). The oracle looks to the Church, the People of the New Covenant, and the sacrament of baptism through which they are made into the image of God’s Son.

From the Old Testament to the New

The readings from the Old Testament point to the mystery of Christ and the new life He gives to the Church, the new people of God. The reading from Romans 6:3-11 refocalizes all the previous OT selections and gives them new meaning in the light of Christian baptism. By baptism, the Christian is united to the death and resurrection of Christ. It is through this union that he has become a sharer in the resurrected life of Christ and has become "dead" to sin. The Paschal candle and the water that is blessed within the Eucharistic celebration with the people of God renewing their baptismal consecration makes present what was accomplished in Christ and proclaims the power of God acting through history through the transformed lives of the men and women who have accepted his invitation in Christ.

Genesis 22:1-18
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
1After these things, God tempted Abraham, and said to him: Abraham, Abraham. And he answered: Here I am.
2He said to him: Take thy only begotten son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and go into the land of vision: and there thou shalt offer him for an holocaust upon one of the mountains which I will show thee.
3So Abraham rising up in the night, saddled his ass: and took with him two young men, and Isaac his son: and when he had cut wood for the holocaust he went his way to the place which God had commanded him.
4And on the third day, lifting up his eyes, he saw the place afar off.
5And he said to his young men: Stay you here with the ass: I and the boy will go with speed as far as yonder, and after we have worshipped, will return to you.
6And he took the wood for the holocaust, and laid it upon Isaac his son: and he himself carried in his hands fire and a sword. And as they two went on together,
7Isaac said to his father: My father. And he answered: What wilt thou, son? Behold, saith he, fire and wood: where is the victim for the holocaust?
8And Abraham said: God will provide himself a victim for an holocaust, my son. So they went on together.
9And they came to the place which God had shown him, where he built an altar, and laid the wood in order upon it: and when he had bound Isaac his son, he laid him on the altar upon the pile of wood.
10And he put forth his hand and took the sword, to sacrifice his son.
11And behold an angel of the Lord from heaven called to him, saying: Abraham, Abraham. And he answered: Here I am.
12And he said to him: Lay not thy hand upon the boy, neither do thou any thing to him: now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake.
13Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw behind his back a ram amongst the briers sticking fast by the horns, which he took and offered for a holocaust instead of his son.
14And he called the name of that place, The Lord seeth. Whereupon even to this day it is said: In the mountain the Lord will see.
15And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, saying:
16By my own self have I sworn, saith the Lord: because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake:
17I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the sea shore: thy seed shall possess the gates of their enemies.
18And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.
James 2:23
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
23And the scripture was fulfilled, saying: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him to justice, and he was called the friend of God.
Exodus 14:15
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
15And the Lord said to Moses: Why criest thou to me? Speak to the children of Israel to go forward.
Isaiah 54:5-14
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5For he that made thee shall rule over thee, the Lord of hosts is his name: and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, shall be called the God of all the earth.
6For the Lord hath called thee as woman forsaken and mourning in spirit, and as a wife cast off from her youth, said thy God.
7For a, small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee.
8In a moment of indignation have I hid my face a little while from thee, but with everlasting kindness have I had mercy on thee, said the Lord thy Redeemer.
9This thing is to me as in the days of Noe, to whom I swore, that I would no more bring in the waters of Noe upon the earth: so have I sworn not to be angry with thee, and not to rebuke thee.
10For the mountains shall be moved, and the hills shall tremble; but my mercy shall not depart from thee, and the covenant of my peace shall not be moved: said the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
11O poor little one, tossed with tempest, without all comfort, behold I will lay thy stones in order, and will lay thy foundations with sapphires,
12And I will make thy bulwarks of jasper: and thy gates of graven stones, and all thy borders of desirable stones.
13All thy children shall be taught of the Lord: and great shall be the peace of thy children.
14And thou shalt be founded in justice: depart far from oppression, for thou shalt not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near thee.
Deuteronomy 7:9
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
9And thou shalt know that the Lord thy God, he is a strong and faithful God, keeping his covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments, unto a thousand generations:
Isaiah 55:1-11
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
1All you that thirst, come to the waters: and you that have no money make haste, buy, and eat: come ye, buy wine and milk without money, and without any price.
2Why do you spend money for that which is not breed, and your labour for that which doth not satisfy you? Hearken diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and your soul shall be delighted in fatness.
3Incline your ear and come to me: hear and your soul shall lire, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the faithful mercies of David.
4Behold I have given him for a witness to the people, for a leader and a master to the Gentiles.
5Behold thou shalt call a nation, which thou knewest not: and the nations that knew not thee shall run to thee, because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel, for he hath glorified thee.
6Seek ye the Lord, while he may be found: call upon him, while he is near.
7Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God: for he is bountiful to forgive.
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
9For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.
10And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
11So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
18For the word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is, to us, it is the power of God.
19For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the prudence of the prudent I will reject.
20Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world, by wisdom, knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of our preaching, to save them that believe.
22For both the Jews require signs, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews indeed a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness:
24But unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Colossians 2:14
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14Blotting out the handwriting of the decree that was against us, which was contrary to us. And he hath taken the same out of the way, fastening it to the cross:
Galatians 4:4
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
4But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law:
John 8:36
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
36If therefore the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
Romans 8:3-5
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
3For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh; God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and of sin, hath condemned sin in the flesh;
4That the justification of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.
5For they that are according to the flesh, mind the things that are of the flesh; but they that are according to the spirit, mind the things that are of the spirit.
Jeremiah 31:33
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord: I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Romans 6:3-11
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg Greek
3Know you not that all we, who are baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in his death?
4For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.
5For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.
6Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer.
7For he that is dead is justified from sin.
8Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall live also together with Christ:
9Knowing that Christ rising again from the dead, dieth now no more, death shall no more have dominion over him.
10For in that he died to sin, he died once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God:
11So do you also reckon, that you are dead to sin, but alive unto God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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