The Seven OT Readings of the Easter Vigil
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.
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.
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