“Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed; Alleluia.”
“Why is this night different from all others? —And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free from Egypt.’ And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead-in order that the Teaching of the Eternal may be in your mouth-that with a mighty hand the Eternal freed you from Egypt. You shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year” (Exodus 13:8-10). It is what the Eternal did for me when I went free from sin, and so here we are.
And why? To remind us how important it is that we tell our stories, and that we hear the message they have for us.”
This preface to one of the current versions of the Haggadah describes what we’ve just done, but not all of it.
Most liturgies are aimed to take place in a specific time, with a given shape, about a long hour and with distinct sources for the lessons: an O T reading, a Psalm, an Epistle (or letter,) and a Gospel. The readings are gathered around a theme for a given occasion and the shape and timing of the whole, matter considerably. Not on this night. Rather than hearing readings, which center around a point, on this night we sit back and hear 5 — 10 stories of early times, foundation stories. As one of the commentaries says of this beginning of the Hagaddah “Storytelling is so important. If we are in pain, stories can uplift us, helping us to keep our eyes filled with hope and on the possibility of better days ahead. If our lives are jubilant, listening to stories of others’ pain can give us vital perspective and teach us what we need to be doing.” Instead of focusing on a point, we hear a chunk of our history, the creation, the flood, and more.
A Passover Seder and the Easter Vigil are occasions, like family reunions, when we hear enough family stories to get a real sense of where we come from, who we are, and a sense of where we’re going. Again from a Seder commentary, “We used the time as best we could to share our telling of the universal stories of all men and women. Passover strives to teach us to become storytellers, as well. Some stories need to be told again and again, and the story of the Exodus from Egyptian slavery imprints itself on Jewish soul, creating the sense of commandedness that inspires us to work to secure equity and fairness for all… Although I may be in Egypt, I can dream of the Promised Land. Though I may be frail, I can dream of a day when technology will permit me to transcend my infirmities. Of the many gifts Judaism has bequeathed to the world, perhaps its greatest gift is the idea of the possible that emerges from the concept of redemption.”
However, we are not at a Seder— did you notice there was no food yet at this occasion along the way, no chatter, no easy conversation, no cheerful commenting on the stories read,—questioning, challenging and interrupting the various readers, and no small children participating by design, and no structured questions by participants to shape the story-telling. We are telling some of our story, our stories, true, and yet the Vigil is not all about the past. We, too, are storytelling in the present, about the past, to help build community for the present and future. The first of our responses to the great stories of the past is to want to join in as part of the listening community. Chynna is hearing about the deeds of our ancestors, and has responded by coming forward to be baptized. We all share in her leap from sin and into new light by agreeing to support her in her life in Christ. Incidentally, she’s been educated and worked both here and in Ireland, and although we’ve tried before, we’d never worked out a time for her baptism. This time it worked and as she said that by “coincidence” she’s taking a religion class and really doesn’t know much about religion, so she thought it was time to make this happen. Maybe that’s coincidence, but in my experience, it’s more apt to be providence, when the pieces fit together to join a community both to learn from it and to share in it. The Holy Spirit is a good goad, and she’s been prodding Chynna to this night.
In the earliest days in Rome to become a Christian, people studied in families for 3 years, listening in church through the readings and the teaching about them, but then they had to leave before the community said the Creed. The thought was if the evil forces of the Empire caught them, and tortured them to say the Creed, they’d feed them to the lions, so it wasn’t right to teach them that, until they were baptized. When they were baptized, if they were caught and killed, their martyr death would guarantee them an instantaneous trip to Heaven. When the time for their baptism came, the easiest way to teach the Creed was in the question/answer form we just did. Christian learners had to leave church services before the Creed, and before the Eucharist, to safeguard them. Once they were baptized, their souls, at least, were safe, so the lions held no real threat to them, only potential unpleasantness. The new Christian could and can receive the sacrament having been received into the household of faith, having confessed the faith of Christ crucified. While what we do has an element of reenacting an historical event, it is not the way we understand its real significance.
We believe that when we gather together, read lessons, study them hearing commentary about them, and then take, bless, break, and give out bread and wine, now changed into a sacrament, in truth Jesus is in the body and blood. Then when we eat the bread and drink from the cup, we incorporate the Lord into our selves, our souls and bodies. The Spirit oversees the process of transforming this simple bread and wine into our experience somehow of the real presence of the living Lord. We don’t so much know exactly what happens—or how—but we believe that something happens in this process of saying, doing, hearing, eating, giving thanks, and being in a community of people sharing this sacrament. We believe and come to experience that it does in truth, and in fact, become the body and blood of Jesus. We’re so clear about that, that you’ll see me wash the dishes I use, so that no part of the blessed bread and wine is left, no part of goes into the sewer system. It’s all either eaten or returned to God’s good earth.
Our lives and bodies are filled with the body of Jesus, so we carry Jesus in our hands and feet, as well as in our thoughts and minds. Next we get sent out to be his Body at work in the world to bring about God’s reign on earth, proclaiming God’s freely offered salvation to all. We go from hearing our past, to an action plan for right now. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” or “Let us go forth in the name of Christ. Alleluia.” On this night though, we leave saying “Alleluia, Christ is risen. Christ is risen in deed. Alleluia.“ We say it in as many languages as we can: XPISTOS ANESTI; ALHTHWS ANESTI, or in Russian: Christos Voskresi; Vwhsthnou Voskresi, and in any other languages we speak. Note that in other languages we say “Christ is risen in truth.” “Indeed” and “in truth.” Different understandings, and for Christians both are true, both the historical narrative of “in deed,” and the more mystical understanding of “In truth.” This holy night guides us through some of our history to proclaim this great mystery of our faith. “Christ has died; Christ is risen: Christ will come again. Alleluia. Alleluia: Good News
© Katharine C. Black 7 April 2012