“This is the night, when once you led our forebears, Israel's children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea. This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin. This is the night that even now, throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones. This is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.” These are some of the words of the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation that is chanted or read almost at the beginning of the Easter Vigil liturgy.
The Liturgy of the Word then comes in and we are led by the hand through seven readings of the Old Testament, together with their Psalms/Canticles and prayers. We are led through some of the peaks of the history of salvation.
We will hear:
Genesis 1:2-2:2, which narrates the seven days of creation culminating in God’s rest from His work. Remember Jesus says that we should come to Him for rest (cf. Matthew 11:28). On the seventh day, Sunday, we come to Jesus to worship and in our worship we find Him and He is our rest.
Genesis 22:1-18 where Abraham exhibits one of the greatest shows of faith in all of the scriptures in being willing to sacrifice his “only-begotten son,” Isaac. This passage points forth to the time that the Father, our heavenly Father, will sacrifice His “only-begotten Son” (John 3:16), Jesus, on a peak adjacent to where Abraham and Isaac were, for the salvation of all who will accept it.
Exodus 14:15-15:1, which narrates the story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea after being liberated from slavery in Egypt, thus foreshadowing how we, in Christ, are saved through the waters of Baptism and the Holy Spirit (commonly signified through the symbol of water).
Isaiah 54:5-14 where God speaks as a bridegroom to His bride, Israel: “Now your creator will be your husband, His name, the Lord of Hosts.” Many centuries have passed now since their liberation from Egypt. After Israel’s long string of rebellions, the Lord accepts their desire to be left alone (suggested by their rebellions themselves) but is now ready to accept them back (or rather, they are ready to have the Lord back).
Isaiah 55:1-11 where Isaiah prophesies a time where salvation will be freely offered to all. At the end, Isaiah speaks on behalf of the Lord (which is what a prophet does) and says, “Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.” At the very beginning of the Gospel of John, Jesus is called “the Word” (Greek: Logos) (cf. John 1:1). This is the “Word” that Isaiah prophesied about. Jesus is the one who comes forth from the Father and accomplishes, finally, the mission that started with creation. But we’re not there in our liturgy yet; it’s just a prophecy at this point. But the flicker of light is nonetheless there.
Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4 where the Lord commands exiled Israel to repent so that they can be brought back into the presence of the Lord, spiritually speaking and also to the promised land where the Lord’s presence used to dwell in the Temple.
Ezekiel 36:16-17, 18-28 where Ezekiel prophesies the coming of the Holy Spirit, as “clean water,” in words that are quite explicit and unveiled: “I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”
Then we will burst out together into the Gloria, which we have so seldom proclaimed throughout Lent and we shall exalt God once again for it. We exalt the Father for raising His Son Jesus from the grave. Gloria in excelsis Deo, Glory to God in the Highest.
Then St Paul’s letter to the Romans is read from and we are told how we have been baptised into the death of Christ Jesus and how, now, we have risen to new life with Him! Blessed be God!
Finally… the Gospel, the Good News, la Buena Nueva, the Evangelium, is proclaimed and, this time, unlike every other time, we don’t call this reading the “Gospel” just because that’s what it’s called in the Bible, but because in this reading, the very event that is the cause of the news being “good” is proclaimed! The words of the angel, whom St Mary Magdalene encounters at the tomb in her distress, must shake the ground of our hearts as he says, “He… is… not… here. …for He has risen, as He said He would.” This is the Good News!
If the Lord were just crucified for our sins and not risen, the debt would’ve surely been paid, but nobody would receive anything after it. No one would rise to new life. Being joined to Jesus in the Eucharist, through the clean water of Baptism in the Holy Spirit previously prophesied in Ezekiel, and through the other Sacraments, we now rise from the grave with Him because He did! Just like St Paul says, “Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Like I said, He died to pay the debt that our sins had amassed, but He was raised to give us new life, to justify us (make us just). “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Epistle Reading from Romans).
Now we can truly and rightly taunt in the Name of Jesus: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
If you are reading this before or during the Paschal Triduum, here is a simple orientation for the sentiment of the three days:
Holy Thursday: We adore.
Good Friday till the Easter Vigil: We repent.
Easter Vigil and throughout the season of Easter: We Rejoice. Alleluia!
The Regina Coeli is a great prayer to pray everyday at noon instead of the Angelus, throughout the Easter season.
See you next week on Seeking the Word!
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