The “Third Week”: Week Twenty-Six/Session One.
Theme: The Paschal Mystery.
Our reading for today: On the Pascha, 2-3.
Understand, therefore, beloved, how it is new and old, eternal and temporary, perishable and imperishable, mortal and immortal, this mystery of the Pascha:
Old as regards the force but new as regards the Word. Temporary as regards the model, eternal because of grace. Perishable because of the slaughter of the sheep, imperishable because of the life of the Lord. Mortal because of the burial in earth, immortal because of the rising from the God. (Melito of Sardis, 160-170 AD)
Like me, you may not be all that familiar with the term: The Paschal (or Pascha) Mystery, or of the early writings by Christian theologians on this subject. Our text today comes from a homily of Melito of Sardis, written in the 2nd century AD, and is the first known use of the term Paschal Mystery (the Mystery of the Pascha).
The word paschal is the equivalent of Greek “pascha,” and is derived from Aramaic (the native language of Jesus) “pasḥā” and from Hebrew “pesaḥ”, meaning “the passing over.” For Jesus and His earliest disciples and for most Jews even today, this word refers directly to the amazing grace of God on the Passover night, when the Israelites left Egypt. If you recall the story, Moses was told by God that the angel of death was going to visit Egypt, judging Pharaoh and his on-going, stubborn refusal to free the Hebrew slaves. In an act of mercy, God warned Moses to instruct every household to take the innocent blood of the ‘paschal’ lamb and smear it over the doorways of their homes, thus marking them so the angel of death would “passover” them on that night of death and destruction. To this day, the celebration of Passover includes the telling of this amazing story of God’s mercy in the midst of His righteous judgment.
The second word, mystery, is one of the most important key-words of Christianity and its theology. It opposes the ideas of Gnosticism and Rationalism, pointing out that there are Divine mysteries properly so called which simply cannot be grasped by mere human reasoning.
So it is with the Mystery of the Crucified Christ. The Passion of God’s Messiah. The suffering, the crucifixion and death, and the amazing resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Words simply can’t describe the vast richness of this work of God that was accomplished on that hill outside the gates of Jerusalem in 33 AD. Last week, we tried our best to make some sense of this upside down, inside out story where God’s only begotten Son is treated in ways that are almost indescribable to our human awareness. But as the early church fathers realized, much of this Passion story of Christ remains a mystery that only God Himself can truly comprehend.
The Lamb of God has been slain for our benefit. His blood is the agent of protection that keeps the angel of death from entering our household and destroying all life within. Like Pharaoh, we are a stubborn, rebellious people who, so very often, insist on having our own way in this life. Yet a righteous God, who must eventually judge all such rebellion, sends Himself to serve as our Passover Lamb, who actually takes the punishment for sin upon Himself, so that we might be ‘passed over’ in His everlasting mercy.
Indeed, it boggles the mind that a righteous God would be so kind-hearted, that He would become that pro-active in saving a people who seem to be so disinterested.
The Paschal Mystery. A perfect and pure Christ crucified on my behalf.
Now that does stretch the mind, doesn’t it?
My prayer: Jesus, I stand amazed at Your complete willingness to become my ‘passover’ lamb. It’s Your blood that saves me from my sin and selfishness. It’s Your sacrifice that keeps the angel of death from entering my door. What can I say, Master? What can I do, to thank You for such a costly act of mercy? All I can say today, Jesus is thank You. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Ignatius suggests that I place myself at the foot of the Cross, taking plenty of time to ponder and reflect on the wonder of it all. He also suggests that I allow all five of my senses to enter fully into the Paschal Mystery? Am I willing to take the necessary time today to do just that? Am I willing to allow the Passion of the Christ to actually remain as a mystery that is far beyond my human understanding?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?
Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!
To go onto the next journal entry…click here.