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The Feast of Feasts

Easter Day 2003

20 April 2003 11:00 | Fr John Slater

Easter is called the Feast of Feasts. It is the principal festival of the Christian year and it is rich in symbolism and layers of meaning.

First of all, of course, it is the feast of springtime. There is a natural level of celebration at this time of year. Where the earth was hard and the trees were bare, there are abundant signs of new life, growing, blossoming, flowering. So it is appropriate that we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord at this time of year - the season of the earth’s rebirth.

But of course, it is no accident that we celebrate Easter in springtime. The death and resurrection of the Lord took place at Passover time in the Jewish calendar of his day, and the roots of Passover are themselves lost in the mists of pre-history but probably originated in a springtime festival.

The word pesach which we translate Passover comes from a Hebrew word meaning to skip. It is thought that nomadic shepherd communities, having survived the harshness of the winter and seen the safe birth of the lambs, would kill some of the lambs for a feast before setting out on their annual journey to the summer pastures. At the time of Moses, the descendants of Israel kept the springtime festival with a new meaning on the night before their epic journey out of Egypt. And ever since then the Jews have kept the Passover, remembering the Exodus in a powerful way that enables each new generation to participate in these saving events.

The natural springtime festival has been given a new layer of meaning. It has come to celebrate a different journey - from bondage to freedom, from slavery to liberty, from exile to homecoming. And on the night before he died, Jesus kept the same festival with his disciples and gave it yet another layer of meaning so that it celebrates his Exodus - his redeeming work in death and resurrection. He took the bread, gave thanks to the Father, broke it and gave it to his disciples: This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me. He took the cup of wine, gave thanks to the Father, and shared it with his disciples: This is my blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins; do this in remembrance of me.

The death and resurrection of the Lord are the redeeming events of the New Covenant, as the Exodus was for the Old Covenant. Through the death and resurrection of the Lord we too pass from bondage to freedom, from slavery to liberty, from exile to homecoming - though it is from the more profound bondage of sin and death to the more glorious homecoming of eternal life. And we undertake this epic journey in the strength of our own Passover meal - the eucharistic feast of the sacramental body and blood of the Lord. Every celebration of the eucharist is an Easter festival - a celebration of the Christian Passover and the gift of new and eternal life which is ours in Christ. So Easter itself is the Feast of Feasts when we celebrate in the springtime the natural renewal of the earth, the Exodus from Egypt, and the triumph of our Saviour over the winter of sin and death.

Jesus said, Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains alone, but if it dies it yields a rich harvest. Jesus, true Son of God, perfectly obedient to the will of the Father, has accepted death in order that he might rise to new life and bring with him the rich harvest of all who believe in him. Our Easter festival is not just about what happened then, nearly 2,000 years ago. It is equally about our experience of new life through Jesus now. For this would be a rather hollow celebration if it were only about a victory long ago which had no effect in our own lives today. But it is the heart of the mystery that he brings us with him from the dark and cold of winter to eternal spring, from bondage to sin to the freedom of the spirit, from inevitable death to everlasting spring, from alienation to reconciliation, from exile to our true home.

All this is possible because God became man in order that we might become God. He accepted our limitations so we might transcend them. He became poor to make us rich; he accepted our death that we might have life. He united himself to us in all our human adversities so that we might never be separated from him in all the glories of his heavenly life.

Today there is much to celebrate. The cry of Alleluia, silenced through the winter of Lent, is taken up by the Church again. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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