Easter Sunday, April 11
Psalm 116: What is given in the traditional Hebrew Psalter as Psalm 116 is listed as two discrete compositions in the Greek versions, where they appear as Psalms 114 & 115.
Whether this psalm is treated as a unity or as two distinct psalms, it is instructive to compare the symmetric openings of the two parts, for each begins with a simple verb in the first person singular: "I have loved" "I have believed." We should also observe that the verb in each case is without a direct object. This lack of direct objects, following what are normally transitive verbs, gives them here what we may call a more general tone. Not specified by particular objects, the "loving and believing" spoken of in these lines indicate rather to an abiding intention of soul.
The voice in both instances is that of Christ our Lord; it is He who says "I have loved" and "I have believed." Loving and believing, that is, are not simply religious requirements laid on the Christian conscience; they are, first of all, characteristics modeled in Christ the Lord. All love and all belief begin in Jesus. Any loving and any believing that we others may accomplish is an inner participation in His loving and His believing, for His loving and His believing form the font of our salvation.
When Jesus says "I have loved," the rest of the psalm shows that its special setting is the mystery of His suffering and death endured for the sake of our salvation in loving obedience.
Firstly, Jesus did all these things because of His love for the Father: "But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father has commanded Me, so I do" (John 14:31).
Secondly, Jesus did all of these things because He loved us. Thus, St. Paul refers to our Lord simply as "Him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). And because He loved us, Jesus gave Himself up to death on the cross: "The life that I live now in the flesh," wrote St. Paul, "I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). This self-offering of Jesus was the supreme proof of His love for us: "And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us" (Ephesians 5:2). So, in this psalm, which is especially concerned with the mystery of His sufferings, Jesus our Lord begins His prayer: "I have loved."
Easter Monday, April 12
Psalm 66 (Greek and Latin 65): The reference to the drying up of the waters in this psalm suggests that its original context was the celebration of the Passover and IsraelŐs liberation from slavery in Egypt, themes manifestly understood in the New Testament as types of the new Christian Pascha: "He turns the sea into dry land; through the river they will walk on foot." This reference makes the psalm particularly appropriate for Easter Week.
There is further reason for believing that Christian tradition has ever understood this psalm as referring to the mystery of Pascha. Most Greek biblical manuscripts of it add a single word supplementing the inscription. To the psalmŐs Hebrew title, which reads simply "To the choirmaster ř a song ř a psalm," the majority of Greek manuscripts adjoin the word anastaseos, "of the resurrection," a reading that is followed in the Latin tradition as well. Thus, according to the general Christian manuscript tradition of Psalm 66, it is "a psalm of the resurrection."
The "works" of God being celebrated in this psalm, then, and for which we give thanks to His name, have to do with His accomplishing of our redemption in the paschal mystery, the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord.
Similarly the psalmŐs references to deliverance from enemies should be read in the context of the drama of Holy Week and the redemption thereby won. This is a psalm about the passage from death to life, for the enemies of the human race are sin and death. It is from these that Christ has set us free, restoring us to eternal favor with God: "He set my soul in life and does not let my footsteps falter. For You, O God, have tested us, You have smelted us as silver. You have brought us into a trap; You laid affliction on our back, and caused men to lord it over us. We passed through fire and water, but You have brought us back to life."
The sense and sentiment of this psalm, then, are identical to the victory canticles in Exodus 15 and Revelation15, celebrating the destruction of oppressive and death-dealing forces at IsraelŐs deliverance from slavery. Psalm 66 may be thought of as another "seaside psalm," but this sea is "mingled with fire" (Revelation 15:2). Beside it stand the redeemed of the Lord, and "they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ÔGreat and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty" (15:3).
These are the "works" of our paschal redemption. "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore, let us keep the feast," wrote St. Paul at Passover season, only two decades or so into Christian history (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Tuesday, April 13
Psalm 114 (Greek and Latin 113A): From the perspective of style, this psalm is a perfect illustration of Hebraic parallelism, a feature found in so much of the BibleŐs poetry and the aphorisms of its sapiential literature. The references to Egypt/barbarous people, mountains/hills, stone/flint, rams/lambs, sanctuary/domain, are synonymous parallels, in that they are roughly repetitious. These parallels serve the function of slowing down our prayer, making us pray at a calmer, more contemplative pace.
Others of the parallelisms here, Red Sea/Jordan and Judah/Israel, are merismatic, the merismus being a device of dividing a whole into representative components and addressing them separately. This serves the function of making our prayer more discursive and analytical. Our psalm combines both techniques very effectively.
In all such cases, the intent of the literary construction is to slow down our reading of the poem, making us go over everything twice, forcing the mind to a second and more serious look at the line, prolonging our prayer, obliging us not to go rushing off somewhere. Such poetry is deeply meditative, and the reader who resists its impulse will find himself with acid indigestion of the mind, serious "heartburn" in a most radical and theological sense.
There are two events described in this psalm, the turning back of the Red Sea at the Exodus, and the identical phenomenon of the Jordan River at IsraelŐs entrance into Canaan. Both of these occasions are associated with Passover, thus making this a psalm very appropriate to pray in Easter Week.
These two biblical occasions, which are also juxtaposed in Joshua 4:23, form the psalmŐs twin poles, IsraelŐs departure from Egypt and her entrance into the Promised Land. Between these two events lie the giving of the Law and the forty yearsŐ wandering of GodŐs people in the wilderness. Whereas the two poles of that crucial period, the Red Sea and the Jordan, are marked by GodŐs removal of the waters from their native settings, the time in between them is marked by GodŐs miraculously given water for His people wandering through the dry sands of the desert.
God, in short, reverses the expected course of things. He makes wet places dry, and the dry places wet. As for mountains and hills, what could be better symbols of stability, standards of the normal and expected? Mountains and hills, it would seem, are not easily moved. Nonetheless, God moves them, as was demonstrated in the earthquake shaking Mount Sinai when the Law was given. Because of the face of the Lord, that face that Moses prayed to behold on Sinai, the mountains and the hills jumped around like sheep, as it were, the normal and expected state of things becoming unstrung before the awesome face of God. Hills go skipping about!
Everything is set on its head. It is this complete dominion of the Lord that is manifested in His great acts of redemption: the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the desert wandering, IsraelŐs crossing the JordanŐs rocky bed into the land flowing with milk and honey. These events were all prophecies of the events associated with Easter.
Wednesday, April 14
Ezekiel 1: Chapter 1 describes EzekielŐs call to be a prophet. In the second half of summer Ezekiel received his inaugural call by the banks of the Kabari Canal, a man-made waterway that flowed out of the Euphrates, through the city of Babylon, and then back to its mother river. This "fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin" is calculated to be the period between April 30 of the year 593 and April 18, of the year 592. The "fifth day of the fourth month" of this year was August 4, 593.
Like the inaugural callings of Moses (Exodus 3:1-4) and Isaiah (6:1-6), the calling of Ezekiel is glorious and visionary. Above the "four living creatures" who support the vault of heaven, he sees "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." GodŐs glory, because it fills all of heaven and earth, can be revealed anywhere, whether in a burning bush in the Sinai peninsula, or in the temple at Jerusalem, or, as now, by the banks of a waterway in Babylonia.
Thursday, April 15
Ezekiel 2: After his inaugural vision in Chapter 1, Ezekiel now formally received his call in Chapter 2. The Spirit (in Hebrew Ruach), of which Ezekiel spoke in 1:4 (where the same Hebrew word is usually translated as "Wind"), now enters into him, causing him to stand up. This is the same Ruach that will enliven the dry bones in Chapter 37.
It will be another six years before Jerusalem will be destroyed, and the exiles, to whom he is sent to preach, are rebellious. Ezekiel is exhorted not to be impressed by them, nor necessarily to expect positive fruits from his preaching.
In terms very reminiscent of the calls of Moses and Jeremiah, Ezekiel is instructed to continue preaching to his contemporaries, no matter how they receive his word. It is GodŐs word, after all, that he will speak. Toward the end of this chapter he will be handed a scroll of GodŐs word, which he is instructed to eat.
Friday, April 16
Luke 24:13-35: The story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus on the afternoon of the day of the LordŐs Resurrection (Luke 24:13ř35) is of great importance to biblical exegesis and the structure of Christian worship.
First, with respect to biblical exegesis, it may be said that the conversation of the risen Christ, as He walked with Cleopas and his unnamed companion and interpreted the Holy Scriptures for them, was the ChurchŐs first formal course in the proper Christian interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. From time to time, as we know, Jesus had interpreted individual passages of Moses, Isaiah, David, and other Old Testament writers, normally in reference to Himself. In that discourse on the road to Emmaus, however, Jesus devoted the entire effort and time to this theme, laying the foundation for the proper Christian understanding of the Bible. It may be said that all orthodox Christian exegesis goes back to that conversation, and we are surely correct in going to the writers of the New Testament as illustrating the interpretive patterns put forward in that conversation.
The "allegory" (Galatians 4:21ř31) or "spiritual sense" (1 Corinthians 2:6ř16; 2 Corinthians 3:18) of GodŐs holy Word is that WordŐs underlying Christological reference, its relationship to the Incarnate Lord who brings it to historical and theological fulfillment. Clothed in the literary forms of history, parable, and poetry, the BibleŐs deeper doctrinal message is ever its reference to the Mystery of Christ, who is at once GodŐs only path to us and our only path to God. Thus, every line of the Bible, every symbol and every story, every prophecy, proverb, and prayer bears its deeper significance in Christ, its meaning conveyed in the catechesis of the Church and sacramental sharing in the Christian Sacraments. It is this more profound Christological "sense" of Holy Scripture that separates the Christian from the Jew.
We may also say, in this respect, that all of Christian doctrine is rooted in our LordŐs Paschal discourse to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. The timing of that discourse is likewise significant, for it took place on the very day of His rising from the dead; on that day "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David," demonstrated that He "was worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals." He was worthy to do this, because He was slain and had redeemed us to God by His blood (Revelation 5:5, 9). Jesus interprets Holy ScriptureŃindeed, He is the very interpretation of Holy ScriptureŃbecause He "fulfills" Holy Scripture by the historical and theological events of His death and Resurrection. His Blood-redemption of the world is the formal principle of biblical interpretation.
Second, in the Paschal experience of those two disciples we have the initial paradigm of proper Sunday worship as the Apostles handed it down to us. The experience of those men, hearing and understanding GodŐs Word while their hearts burned within them, led to their recognition of Him in the breaking of the Bread. Holy Church has always understood this intricate combination of Word and Sacrament to indicate the structure of correct Sunday worship. This is the format we find in the New Testament (Acts 20:7ř11) and in the earliest explicit description of Christian Sunday worship left us from the second century (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 67).
Saturday, April 17
The First Epistle of Peter: Because First Peter speaks so forcefully about Baptism (3:18-24), which is a rite closely associated with the Resurrection of Christ, this epistle is appropriately read at this season of the year.
Scholars have long remarked on several similarities of style and vocabulary in this book to several of the epistles of the Apostle Paul. If one looks closely, however, this is not surprising. Peter was probably dictating this letter in his own native Aramaic. At least we know that his secretary spoke Aramaic, for that secretary was none other than Silvanus, or Silas as he is usually called in the Book of Acts, an early Christian prophet from Jerusalem itself (Acts 15:32). This Silas had long been a companion of Paul (Acts 15-18) and perhaps had been used by him as a secretary in his very first epistles (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). Coming from Jerusalem, this Silvanus or Silas also spoke Greek as a second language, and his style and theological vocabulary was thoroughly that of the man who arguably did most to translate the Christian message into Greek, the Apostle Paul. This circumstance will easily explain the great similarities between 1 Peter and the Pauline epistles.
This letter was sent from "Babylon," the name by which some early Christians referred to the city of Rome (cf. Revelation 14-18). The unvarying and unchallenged tradition of the 2nd century Church puts the death of Peter at Rome under Nero in the aftermath of the great fire of July 19-24 of A. D. 64. It would seem, then, that 1 Peter could not be dated after mid-64. Now, had Peter actually been at Rome in 61, it is inconceivable that he would not have been mentioned, along with other Roman Christians, in the final chapter of 2 Timothy; and if, as was argued above, 2 Timothy was written during Paul's house-arrest in that city from 59-61, then the only window of possibility for the composition of 1 Peter is from 62 to early 64.
The message of 1 Peter was well enshrined in some golden lines with which John Calvin introduced it: "Peter's purpose in this Epistle is to exhort the faithful to a denial and contempt of the world, so that they may be free from carnal affections and all earthly hindrances, and aspire with their whole soul after the celestial kingdom of Christ, and so that being lifted up by hope, supported by patience, and fortified by courage and perseverance, they may overcome all kinds of temptations, and pursue this course and practice throughout life."