“Our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” It might seem strange that the liturgy, on Easter Sunday, makes us read in the second reading this text by Saint Paul. It would be more suitable for Good Friday!
Paul is comparing Christ with the lamb that the Israelites had slaughtered when they had been delivered from Egypt’s slavery. If you remember, they had applied some of the blood of that lamb to the doorposts of their houses, so that the angel, who should exterminate the firstborns of the Egyptians, seeing that blood, would pass over the houses of the Israelites. These, as a memorial to the event, every year, on Passover, would sacrifice and eat a paschal lamb. Well, Saint Paul says that Jesus is our paschal lamb, who by his blood delivers us from the slavery of sin. But this is exactly what happened on Good Friday: it is on that day that Jesus was sacrificed and shed his blood for our salvation. Today, instead, we commemorate his resurrection. Have the liturgists made a mistake putting this text in the Mass of Easter Sunday?
No, it is no mistake. If you have noticed, even in the Alleluia the same text has been quoted. During the Easter Time we will repeat every day in the preface before the Eucharistic Prayer: “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.” It seems as if that verse is the essence of Easter. The reason is that we are celebrating the paschal mystery; and the paschal mystery has two aspects inseparable from each other: the death and the resurrection of Christ. They are like the two sides of the same coin. Historically, they are two different events: Jesus first died on the cross and, on the third day, he rose again from the dead; but the mystery is only one. And if it is true that Jesus is not dead, but alive, this does not mean that his death was a pretense: Jesus really died, and he keeps the signs of his passion even after his resurrection. When the risen Lord appears to his disciples, he shows them his hands and his side, that is, his wounds. By now the sores of his passion belong to him forever.
In one of the Easter prefaces we say: “He is the sacrificial Victim who dies no more, the Lamb, once slain, who lives forever.” This text, attributed to Saint Peter Chrysologus, in the Latin original is “semper vivit occisus” (literally, “he lives forever slain”); it could seem a contradiction: he either is dead or alive. Instead he is, at the same time, the “living Crucified.” It is a mystery, but it is the center of our faith. And that is valid not only for Jesus, but even for us. If we want to live, we have to die: we can find life only in the cross; only through passion we can attain the glory of resurrection.