In the prayers in the Mass this week we thank God for giving us a part in the Paschal Mystery. I’d like to say something about what that means.
First I’d like to point out something that at first seems a different matter all together. It’s this. There is a major difference between John’s account of Holy Week and that of the other three Gospels. I wonder if you have noticed it. For the other three Jesus and the Apostles celebrated the Passover dinner on Thursday, the night before Jesus died; while John’s Gospel tells us the Passover evening was that Friday after Jesus was crucified.
Check it out. On that Friday morning the members of the Sanhedrin did not enter Pilate’s courtyard because they said it would be a stain keeping them from celebrating the Passover. Then, in the afternoon they asked that the dead bodies of Jesus and the thieves be taken down because their presence on the crosses would defile the Passover.
Was it John or the other three who were right about what was the right day for the Passover that year? We cannot fix the date. What we can know is John’s reason for seeing it as being on the day Jesus died.
In his letter to the Ephesians St. Paul told us that in his life Jesus summed up the whole history of the Jewish people. His baptism in the Jordan repeated their passing through the Red Sea. His forty days in the desert echoed their forty years in the desert. What is of more importance: his passing through death echoed their passing through the Jordan into the Promised Land.
While we customarily think of the Passover as being the meal the Israelites ate the night before leaving Egypt, actually the word refers to the whole of their passage out of Egypt, through the desert, and into the Promised Land, with that third leg being the important segment of the Passover.
During the last few weeks in the Mass prayers and in preface of Passiontide we have asked to have a share in Christ’s Paschal Mystery. What we are asking for there is to be able to join him in passing through death to the Promised Land.
That does not necessarily mean we are asking to die here and now. We are asking instead to die to sin so that we might begin our heaven on earth.