“We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.” These are the words of the Entrance Antiphon of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. Lent comes to an end and the Easter/Paschal Triduum begins, a three day memorial of the one paschal mystery. The invitation to glory in the cross is strange language, but it captures the paradox that is at the heart of our Christian faith. As far as we know, the earliest liturgical celebration of Pascha consisted in a vigil through the night which culminated in an early morning eucharist. It was a memorial of Christ’s victorious passion and death, a death that an ancient homilist described as the “death of death.”
Several years ago, I remember being especially struck by the following words of the Johannine account of the Passion which is read on Good Friday: “And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.” I had always thought those words meant Jesus had died, but I sensed that there was more here than a declaration of death. When I consulted Francis J. Moloney’s commentary Glory Not Dishonor, I was intrigued by his interpretation. He recalls John 7:39 which says that the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified. Now that Jesus’ moment of glory had come on the cross, the Spirit was poured out on the community gathered at the foot of the cross. Moloney associates the water and blood that flow from the pierced side of Christ with the promise in John 7: 37-39 that “rivers of living water,” the Spirit, would flow from Christ to believers. What a wonderful connection between the cross and new life!
The cross makes a subtle appearance at the beginning of the Easter Vigil during the Service of Light when it is inscribed on the new paschal candle. The words that accompany the ritual action depict the victorious Christ: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages; to him be glory and power through every age and forever.” The Exsultet, which is sung at the end of the Service of Light, invites the whole earth to be glad “as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King.” The church is invited to rejoice because “this is the night when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.”
The waters of life appear during the Easter Vigil in several ways. The very first reading during the Liturgy of the Word tells of God creating water and filling it with living creatures. In the reading from Isaiah 55, all who are thirsty are invited to come to the water. As we hear that invitation, we are mindful of all those who do not have access to the water necessary for physical life as well as those who thirst for the Spirit. The blessing of the baptismal water recalls God’s act of creation when the Spirit hovered over the waters, and it goes on to pray that the Holy Spirit will act in this water so that those who are baptized will “rise to the life of newborn children through water and the Holy Spirit.” I love to hear the sound of the water being poured over the heads of those who are being baptized and to feel the water as the congregation is sprinkled in memory of our own baptism into Christ’s death and new life.
The Easter Vigil reaches its climax in the Communion Rite of the Liturgy of the Eucharist when the newly baptized and the rest of the assembly partake of the bread of life and the cup of salvation. At this time I am reminded of St. Augustine’s instruction to the newly baptized that in saying “Amen” to “the Body of Christ” at the time of communion they were affirming their own mystery, their own identity as the corporate body of Christ. Augustine was relying on Paul here (1Cor.12:27) and, earlier in that chapter, Paul explains the source of that identity: “in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1Cor.12:13)
Easter Sunday, the last day of the Paschal Triduum, is the first of the fifty days of Easter. May they be days of new life and hope, enlivened by the Spirit that flows from the cross.
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