My reflection on Easter is a personal one, that is, I have not consulted any books, though I have read books on the subject during my lifetime.
The Christian Pasch is a feast, it is the Feast. It comes from the Hebrew one, which, in fact, was the feast par excellence of the people and of the individual faithful. The same assonance between the Hebrew world and many modern languages shows the common meaning. Pèsach in Hebrew, Pasca, in Latin, Pasqua in Italian, Pâques in French, Pascua in Spanish… I repeat: the similar sound helps to understand that we have the same concept of the Hebrew feast. The word means passage or passing. Thus the feast of passage, the possibility of another state of life, also the most exclusive.
The Pasch, Easter, has a connection with time; it is an experience of the human being. Skim through our existence according to a before and after, without the possibility of freezing a frame, like is possible in watching a film. It could be said that our life is based on the certainty of an after, because the present does not exist. No one can say about the moment she is living: behold it, and show it to someone else. It is already past; it is no longer that which it was. If time for us were to stop, it would say that we are no longer there. So between the before and the after, the Pasch, Easter, has us celebrate the certainty of the after, against every evidence, being indubitable that every life ends with death.
The people of Israel, that will have the precept to celebrate the feast of passage, was living in a foreign land, in slavery, with no hope of change. The people who were their masters had all the interest to keep these foreigners subjects and the environmental conditions favored the masters, who among other things took care to maintain control over the number of slaves so they could not take the upper hand with a overwhelming increase in their numbers.
When we want to indicate obstacles that are put in the way of a project to prevent it from being implemented in Italian we say, “Between saying and doing there is the sea.” (“Many a slip between cup and lip” is an English equivalent.) Well, yes, between the slaves’ dreams of becoming free again and the possibility of being free there is truly a sea. It would take a fleet to get to the other side of the waters and flee far from there. It was impossible to prepare a fleet to cross the obstacle. To complicate things, an obstacle opposite that of the sea and perhaps even more difficult was there: the desert. Not a drop of water for thousands of miles, therefore, not even a blade of grass or any resource to survive, walking on the burning sand.
If you want to imagine a condition without hope of solution, you could not propose another so harsh. And yet it was nothing other than a symbol with regard to the reality of all human beings: all condemned to perish after a life of hardship or of pleasure. Slaves and free; human beings and animals. This is the most concise summary of existence.
The solution adopted by the pharaohs in order not to completely die was ridiculous. They entrusted themselves to experts who emptied out their bodies, fixing a everlasting aspect on them. But it was just a matter of their cadavers. Closed inside sarcophagi, hidden with their useless treasures within monuments as high and massive as mountains, they thought they could escape being destroyed and reduced to dust.
The remedy that exalted their not being there anymore was stupid. The monument that would have to be protected from thieves was a grandiose sign that treasures were there. And they were helpless in the face of thieves who would get in there and plunder them without their being able to give the least resistance. Their not being there anymore ended up in museums. The visitors knew what they were, but were only considered objects.
And yet, God allowed the passage of his people. He determined a succession of passages. Let’s take a look at the main ones. There was that of the destroyer angel, who in making the firstborn of the slave masters’ people perish, determined a passage in the pharaoh’s attitude from refusal to consenting to the departure of the slaves, from the perception of being a scattered multitude to the awareness of forming a blood-related family, thanks to the sacrifice of the lamb that kept the houses where they were gathered safe while awaiting the beginning of their journey in caravan. Then, the passing through the sea and finally the long, uninterrupted passing through the desert to the promised land.
In that way another symbol was realized. That passing belonged not to one person but to a people, not to one generation but it passed from one generation to the next. One generation perished on the threshold to the promised land. The next, formed by those born during the forty year’s pilgrimage, could in fact enter the promised goal.
However, though it was always a passage that was a dead end. The people who had undergone the enterprise would be buried in their own land, but buried. Death remained an event without Pèsach, Pasca, Pasqua, Pâques, Pascua… Being at a dead end which was not “nothing”.
It is compatible with the boundless love of God who imposes a feast. The Bible looks into that condition and describes the existential condemnation in various ways, twisting the knife in the wound, so to say. There is no further passing for the human person, there is no escaping death. Reading the words of Qoelet suffices: “ Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun? A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever….”
For a true Pasch capable of allowing an authentic feast, a passing is needed that frees from the chains of the former and the afterward, which, however, is not a nothing. A passing that permits the human being to celebrate it by saying to death, “You have been swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? Where is your sting?”
The Christian Pasch, Easter, is the final and definitive passing which permits the committed person to embody the new Adam, gladly following the new Moses to enter into the true Promised Land which is that called Heaven. We have the proof of the existence of this final and definitive passing in Jesus Christ, who because he was truly human ended up in the sepulcher, but being true God he opened it from within, the only case in history. And he opened it for everyone. He showed the truth of his words, “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, even if they die, will live. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Rightly the Church is not limited to having us celebrate only one annual Easter (Pasch), which this year falls on March 27, but fifty-two paschs. Each Sunday is an echo of the single feast that changes all life. Without it, our faith would be in vain and nothing of life could be celebrated, because it would be a way toward the nothingness of death. But instead, death is also a passing, the most important, the definitive passing, the endless feast of being with the Risen One after having also followed him through the necessary narrow passageway.
Don Giovanni Colagiovanni cpps