Easter, Passover, and the Coronavirus

Easter, Passover, and the Coronavirus April 12, 2020

Ted: Resurrection Icon /flickr

The First Ode for Resurrection Matins (in the Byzantine tradition) reminds us of the connection between the Easter Feast and Passover:

It is the day of Resurrection, O People let us be enlightened by it.  The Passover is the Lord’s Passover, since Christ our God, has brought us from death to life and from earth to heaven – Therefore we sing a hymn of victory! (Resurrection Matins, Ode 1 )

The day of Resurrection, the day on which Christ has risen from the dead, is the continuation and fulfillment of Passover. Among the things remembered during the days of Passover is the way God saved the people of Israel from the final plague in Egypt. They put the blood of the Passover Lamb over their doors so that the angel of death would pass over their homes.

Christians should honor God for his work with the people of Israel, recognizing their special place in salvation history. Indeed, salvation is from the Jews. But Christians should also see how God worked with Israel as a way to indicate his greater, universal plan for the whole world.

Reflecting upon the celebration of Passover, Christians should see how Christ’s death on the cross connects with the Passover Lamb. He is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. Easter, being the continuation and fulfillment of the sign indicated by Passover, shows us how Christ’s blood sets us free from the ultimate plague, the sting of death brought about by sin:

The people of Israel were set free from the sudden death and from Pharaoh’s servitude through the lamb’s offering that bore the sign of Christ’s suffering. Through this we are released from eternal death and the savage Devil’s control if we rightly believe in the true redeemer of all middle earth, Jesus Christ.[1]

No longer does death have the final say. Through his resurrection from the dead, Christ shows us that death itself shall come to an end. Death shall find itself passing over all as the Lamb of God covers the whole of creation by his blood. The Passover, the great event at the start of the Exodus has become universalized in the new Passover, to establish the feast of feasts, the Feast of the Resurrection:

The Lord’s Passover, the Passover, and again I say the Passover to the honour of the Trinity. This is to us a Feast of feasts and a Solemnity of solemnities as far exalted above all others (not only those which are merely human and creep on the ground, but even those which are of Christ Himself, and are celebrated in His honour) as the Sun is above the stars. [2]

Many of us have a unique way of experiencing and celebrating the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter) this year. This is because we, like the people of Israel, find ourselves staying inside, unable to leave the confines of our homes. This is so that the angel of death should pass over us as we protect our families from the devastation all around us. This year, the angel of death is named COVID-19; not everyone who comes in contact with it will die, just like not all Egyptians perished by the last plague in the Exodus. But the coronavirus is a deadly pathogen. Those who do not take it seriously can be infected by it and get seriously ill, die, or spread it to a loved one who could die because of their carelessness. As we are called to protect life, to show respect for life, we must take the pathogen into consideration and act according to prudence. We must let it pass by us. We must stay indoors, getting out of its path, similar to the way the people of Israel stayed inside during the Passover in Egypt.

Rising, as he did, on the third day, Jesus completed what he began when he was conceived by the Virgin Mary: the restoration of all things in himself. As the Word of God made flesh, all things are made and remade through him. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn. 1:1-3 RSV). The resurrection is the recapitulation and fulfillment of creation. Thus, the Paschal celebration is the celebration of creation and recreation alike. And so, St. Bonaventure writes:

Just as Christ, in so far as He is the uncreated Wisdom, formed all things most perfectly; so, in so far as He was incarnate, He ought to reform all things most perfectly. It is fitting that the most perfect principle should not effect a work less than perfect, and therefore the redeeming principle ought to have achieved human redemption to perfection. [3]

The resurrection must not be misunderstood and conceived as some form of reanimation; it is about the transformation of the dead, bringing them not only back to life, but immortality and deification. Their bodies are real, but the mode of their existence changes. In the resurrection, matter becomes spiritualized and the spirit is deified. Those who partake of the resurrection will no longer experience death, while those who are merely brought back to temporal life can and will die again. Death is overcome in the kingdom of God. Through his resurrection, Jesus shows us the glory of that kingdom. He offers us the gift of eternal life as the gift which we will receive once we have perfectly and fully united ourselves with him. We will become wedded to him as his bride, becoming as it were one flesh with him, which is how and why we are said to become the body of Christ.

Insofar as we have denied ourselves and brought ourselves over to Jesus, we can experience the joy of the resurrection and find ourselves already in the kingdom of God. The joy of the resurrection is a joy which we can and should experience, even if we are still in the midst of the shadow of death. We can experience the joy, indeed, ceaseless joy, as the kingdom of God has already been handed over to us even as we await our full participation in the eschaton:

The restitution that will be consummated in the age to come after the dissolution of the body becomes clearly evident even now, through the inspiration of the inner activity of the Spirit, in those who have truly striven, having traversed the midpoint of the spiritual path, and been made perfect according to ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4: 13). Their joy is eternal, in eternal light, and their blessedness is of that final state. For ceaseless joy possesses the hearts of those who in this present life are rightly fighting the spiritual fight, and the gladness of the Holy Spirit embraces them – a gladness which, according to our Lord’s words, will not be taken away from them (cf. Luke 10: 42).[4]

But if we do not care for our neighbor, if we show them no love or concern for their well-being, if we want to selfishly act in ways which can and will hurt them, we have not embraced Christ but the spirit of the anti-Christ. God is love, and those who follow him will follow him in love, caring for others, doing what they can for the benefit of others. If we must stay inside and celebrate the resurrection in the simplicity of our homes, we can commune with Christ in that love and find ourselves rising up further than when we find our love goes untried. We might not experience the typical Easter celebration with the external joys which it brings, but by going beyond such earthly concerns, willingly sacrificing our desires for the sake of our neighbors, we shall find the darkness of death will not vanquish the light of God’s love.   “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5 RSV). The light shines in the love which we have for our neighbor, in the concern which we show to them. Thus, the light of the resurrection is not overcome by the darkness of death; rather, it shines forth in the love we show for our neighbor as we stay in our homes to celebrate the Paschal feast. We are being tried, but we must not give in to temptation. It is not a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love, the spirit of the resurrection itself, when prompts us to act so as to protect our neighbors.

When we say Christ is Risen, let us respond by our lives, showing that truly, He is Risen in us. We do this by showing the world the love of Christ. And so, let us remember the connection between the Passover and Christianity. Let us embrace that connection. Let us see ourselves experiencing an element of the original Passover. Let us stay inside so that the angel of death can pass over us – as well as pass over our loved ones, our neighbors, indeed, all those around us. Let us not be the cause of our own harm, or the harm of others. Let us remember the Passover and see in it a transcendent truth which is fulfilled in Christ, but also as an event which can be experienced and participated in a variety of ways. Yes, death is itself overcome by death as Christ is risen from the dead. We must celebrate and remember the fulfillment of the Passover in Christ as he has overcome the spiritual angel of death and has opened up the kingdom of God to us. But we must do so this year in a way which brings to mind the celebration back to the original Passover; we must worship, not in large groups, but in our homes as we lift up our hearts and prayers to God, hoping that the angel of death shall soon pass on by. Then, when the times comes, when the threat of the pandemic is over, we should not return to the way things were before, but rather we should go forward with the lessons we have learned and begin to truly care and act for the welfare of each other every day. We must work for and be concerned for the common good. Then we will truly reveal ourselves to be children of the resurrection as we show the world the love of God. Then we will show we have learned the lesson of the coronavirus and we will be better able to deal with similar threats in the future. Then, truly, people will know we are followers of Christ by our love.


[1] Aelfric, “On the Sacrifice of Easter” in Anglo-Saxon Spiritualty. Trans. Robert Boenig (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), 125.

[2] St. Gregory Nazianzen, “Oration 45: The Second Oration on Easter” in NPNF2(7): 423.

[3] St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium. trans. Erwin Esser Nemmers (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1946), 134.

[4] Nikitas Stithatos, “On the Inner Nature of Things,” in The Philokalia: The Complete Text. Volume Four. Trans and ed. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware, et. al.  (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), 137.

 

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