The Paschal Mystery by Bruce Jenneker

Celebrating the Life-Death-Resurrection of Jesus Christ

The life of faith and its vocabulary offer many challenges to those of us who speak English, in addition to seeking to find an African Voice – Under Southern Skies. To name the season penitential preparation for Easter we are stuck with Lent, the Anglo-Saxon word for Spring. Even more challenging is our name for the Festival of our Lord’s Resurrection, Easter which comes form Ēostre, the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn who was especially worshipped in the Spring. Those among us who speak other languages than English are liberated by their mother tongues from this dilemma, since most of the terms used for Lent refer to the time of fasting, and most of the names for Easter derive from the Hebrew name of the Jewish Passover, Pascha.

By the term Paschal Mystery we refer to the complete and integral unity of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and their significance for our salvation. The adjective paschal derives from the Hebrew verb pasach, which means ‘to pass over,’ and alludes to rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt in the time of Moses, when the Lord ‘passed over’ their houses and saved them from the wrath of God that was visited upon the Egyptians [Exodus 12:23].

What we observe in Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Day and on all the Sundays of Easter, is this wholeness of our salvation. We celebrate as a single saving unity, the life, teaching and miracles of Jesus, together with the agony of his passion, his sacrificial death on the cross and his triumphant victory over death and his resurrection. For us, the death and resurrection of Jesus form the continuation and climax of the Paschal Mystery that is the plan of God’s salvation for all creation, revealed first in the Passover of Israel.

It is significant that the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus occurred during the feast of Passover in the Jewish calendar. Whether the Last Supper was an official Passover meal has often been debated among biblical scholars. But there can be no doubt that the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion was a meal in the spirit of Passover. It provided Jesus with the opportunity to foreshadow and interpret his approaching death on the cross.

Laying hold of the power of this interpretation of his death by Jesus himself, the earliest Christians looked to the traditional Jewish Passover celebration to understand it more fully. They came to recognise Jesus as the Lamb of God, the ultimate, once-and-for-all sacrifice for us and for our sins. In this way the early Church found in the death of Jesus on the cross not a defeat or the end of the Jesus movement, but rather the one complete and perfect sacrifice for sin freely offered by the Only-begotten, the Beloved and Chosen One.

We contemplate the sacrificial death of our Lord as those who know already the triumph that will overturn it; our celebration of our Lord’s resurrection is informed by the ransom for our sins paid for us by his agony and death on the cross.