Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth
(1 Cor 5:6b-8).
Easter Sunday is the culmination of the Christian year. Although Jesus had been “put to death” by being “hung on a tree,” we celebrate the fact that God “raised him on the third day and made him manifest” (Acts 10:39-40) in a series of highly intimate acts. For here God has not only vindicated the poor and the oppressed by the resurrection of His beloved Son, He has brought them into His presence, even “eating and drinking with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:39-41). Indeed, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ we see the embodiment of the praise found in the Psalm: “O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His steadfast love endures for ever!” (Ps 118:1).
In the Vigil of the Old Rite, the celebration of the Easter feast contains the reading of the twelve prophecies, which give us a complete digest of salvation history comprised of the creation narrative (Gen 1:1-2:2), the story of Noah (Gen 5:31-6:22; 7:6, 11-14, 18-21, 23, 24; 8:1-3, 6-12, 15-21), the binding of Isaac (Gen 22:1-19), the passage of Moses and the Israelites through the Red Sea (Ex 14:24-31, 15:1), God’s promise of an ‘everlasting covenant’ to the prophet Isaiah (Is 54:17, 5:1-11), God’s promise to the prophet Baruch of Israel’s return to the Holy Land (Bar 3:9-38); Ezekiel’s vision of the ‘dry bones’ and the resurrection of the armies of Israel (Ez 37:1-14), Isaiah’s vision of Zion (Is 4:1-6), the first Paschal lamb eaten by the Hebrews in captivity (Ex 12:1-11), the story of Jonah and the whale (Jon 3:1-10), the finishing and sealing of the Law by Moses (Deut 31:22-30) and, finally, the story of the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to worship the idols of Nebuchadnezzar and who miraculously passed through the fire. The Paschal Candle is blessed along with the baptismal font, the litany of saints is sung, and catechumens are brought into the Church. The entire history of the world, everyone and everything, is brought together in the resurrection of Christ at Easter.
The festival of Easter is, in all things, the celebration of the resurrection in which we hope to share. It is, according to a long tradition in the Church, the very reality for which God created us and, indeed, the very world. It is the still point towards which all things tend. In this respect, I have always been struck by the evident excitement, the joy, of the disciples in our Gospel reading. Mary Magdalene, seeing that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, ran to tell Peter (Jn 20:1), who, with the “disciple whom Jesus loved” likewise ran to the tomb (Jn 20:4). The excitement of Mary, Peter, and John provides the model by which one might know how to follow St. Paul’s injunction: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). But, at the heart of the reading, inside the empty tomb, all is still—eternally still. The linens lie folded and the cloth that covered Christ’s head is calmly rolled up. There is no sign of struggle, nor even any sign of haste. Christ has gone where He was always meant to go, to His Father, to prepare a way for those that love Him.