Yesterday I was crucified with Christ; today I will be glorified with him. Yesterday I died with Christ; today I will return to life with him. Yesterday I was buried with Christ; today I will rise with him from the tomb. Let us then carry our first fruits to him who has suffered and risen for us let us offer ourselves; it is the most precious and dearest gift in the eyes of God. Gregory of Nanzianus. Sermon 1: On Easter, 3.
The Triduum, that is the three days' celebration on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve is the most important time of the entire liturgical year. But it is important that we do not see these as three separate events of The Institution of the Eucharist, Christ's Passion, Death and Resurrection but as one complete celebration. Lent finishes on Maundy or Holy Thursday morning. That evening the Church gathers to pray and prepare for the climax of the next three days, the Paschal Vigil when we gather in the darkness outside the church to light the new fire from which the Paschal candle is lit; to hear the Scripture readings of God's redemptive love throughout history; to renew our baptismal vows and to partake in the Eucharist, the meal of thanksgiving and unity with Christ and one another. So the Paschal Triduum is not only an historical re-enactment of Our Lord's last days, but also our celebration of entering into Christ's self-offering victory over death and what that means for us in our journey to the Promised Land.
Our Lord in fulfilling His Passover initiated ours. Christ's Passover is effected, it is final, it can never be repeated. But it is constantly at work to effect our own transitus, to follow Christ through His passion and death and resurrection in order to reign with Him in heaven. The first Petrine letter expressed it like this:
Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1Peter1.3-5).
So our Passover can never be lived separate from that of Christ's; it is intricately bound from the moment of our baptism as expressed in the letter to the Ephesians.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ,
And has raise us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly place in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2.4-6).
To comprehend this properly we need to examine Paul's teaching on Baptism in his epistle to the Romans:
Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptised into his death?
Therefore we are buried with him by baptised into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the death by the glory of the Father even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
For he that is dead is freed from sin.
Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we should also live with him:
Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him;
For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he lives he lives unto God.
Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God through Christ Jesus. (Romans 6.3-11)
It is in this passage more than any other in the New Testament that we are see how our transitus is identical to Christ's by the way of the Cross to the glory of the Resurrection. It is the Paschal meaning that baptism symbolises. It is also clear that St. Paul has immersion in mind. The etymological meaning of 'baptise' is 'dip'. Hence the catechumen's immersion in water is his symbolic death and burial before his rebirth. As such it recalls the story of Noah and the flood, and the Red Sea Exodus. The first Petrine letter told of the ark of Noah as an antitype of baptism (1Peter 3.20-1) whilst Paul spoke of the Israelites being "baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." (1Cor.10.2). Accordingly in the Baptismal rite, the prayer for the blessing of the baptismal water is rich in water images: the flood, the Red Sea and the stream of water from our Lord's side after His death. All these make clear that water brings death, but from it emerges life.
This link between baptism and the death and resurrection of our Lord was explicit in the early Church as it is also now in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. In Baptism the candidates descended to the font in semi-darkness, were stripped of their clothes and were anointed with oil to prepare them, like athletes, for their struggle with the Devil. Facing West to renounce Satan and all his works, they were immersed three times in the water. They then ascended from the font towards the east. Here they were anointed on the forehead, clothed in white robes and given lighted candles. They then entered the church for the first time for the complete Liturgy.
This movement from darkness to light in the baptistery is a complete change effected by God. As expressed in Colossians, God has "delivered us from the power of darkness and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
In whom we have redemption though his blood, even the forgiveness of sin (Col. 1.13-4).
All aspects of baptismal grace forgiveness, regeneration, the hope of glory must be seen in the light of this movement in which we are so completely identified with Christ as to be incorporated into the body of his risen and glorified humanity, and in His transitus from death to glorification.
In the early Church the baptised also received the laying on of hands depicting the receiving of the Holy Spirit, which in later times became detached from its Paschal context, and became known as Confirmation. St. Augustine certainly made clear that there should be no separation of the initiation rite:
When you were exorcised, it was the grinding of you. When you were baptized, it was your moistening. When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, it was the baking of you.
And so in the early Church the new Christians, baptized, sealed with the Spirit and robed in white and carrying their candle entered the nave of the church to participate in the Easter Eucharist and to receive the Holy Communion for the first time.
The Lamb's high banquet we await
In snow-white robes of royal state;
And now the Red Sea's channel past,
To Christ, our Prince, we sing at last.
As they received the chalice, the cup of salvation, they were reminded of their own transitus.
Cyril of Jerusalem in the 4th C. as did many bishops like Ambrose, gave a series of catechetical lectures for catechumens during Lent, and after they were baptized at the Easter Vigil gave the mystagogical catechesis, to instruct the newly baptised (neophytes) of the meaning of the Christian initiation they had received. In the first of five lectures, Cyril clearly demonstrated that the process of Christian initiation is a close imitation of Christ's pascha. The stripping of the candidates signifies the nakedness of Christ on Calvary; the prebaptismal anointing joins the candidate to Christ on the cross; the conducting to the font mirrors Christ being taken from the cross to sepulchre; and the three immersions in the font imitate Christ's three days of burial.
Cyril also informed them never to think of their baptism as merely remitting sin but as automatically baptising them into Christ's death and rising in glory with Him.
Of course what Cyril taught the catechumens was merely echoing Pauline teaching. Christ's death was His victory over all the powers of evil, including death. He was no longer constrained by the limitations imposed on Him as man, and His identification with our fallen nature. Death for Christ was his passing to glorification. So too our identification in baptism with the death of Christ is this very act when our Lord renounced and triumphed over the old Adam, liberating the whole human race from the grip of the powers of sin and death and even hell. I wonder when we say those words in the Creed on Sundays, 'he descended into hell' that we have ever given any thought to what they mean. In the Orthodox Church this is referred to as 'the harrowing of Hell'. Before Christ's resurrection, He delivered all those souls in Hades. There is a wonderful icon of this, depicting our Lord pulling Adam out of hell and all peoples hanging on him. Thus all are saved by Christ.
From the moment of our baptism we are marked with the sign of the cross, and whenever we make the sign of the cross, especially upon entering the church, it should remind us of our baptism and our journey to glorification. What baptism does is to transform our lives, and through our union with Christ we are being conformed to Him in warfare against all the evils in this world, and our own death to sin. But Baptism, as we are only too well aware, does not make us perfect as we continually sin. Hence the reason for the Sacrament of Penance or as it is called now, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and also receiving the Sacrament at Mass.
Christian tradition has always closely aligned the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist with Christ's piercing on the cross. John's gospel related how one of the soldiers pierced our Lord's side, from whence came "blood and water" (John 19.34), and became traditionally the twin sacraments as Augustine called them.
John Chrysostom with his commentary on this passage of John also connects the two.
With this too an ineffable mystery was accomplished. For there came forth water and blood. Not without a purpose, or by chance, did these two founts come forth, but because by means of these two together the Church consists. And the initiated know it, being by water indeed regenerate, and nourished by the Blood and the Flesh. Hence the Mysteries (sacraments) take their beginning; that when you approach to that awful Cup, you may so approach, as drinking from the very Side.
Once again John is linking the end of his gospel with the beginning. The piercing of Christ's body is associated with our Lord's words in chapter two, that his body is a temple that will be destroyed and then raised in three days. (John 2.19-21). It is also the fulfilment of the prophecy in Ezekiel:
Afterwards he brought me again unto the door of the house; and behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastwards: for the forefront of the house stood toward the east, and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar.
And it shall come to pass, that every thing that lives, which moves, whithersover the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come hither: for they shall be healed: and every thing shall live whither the river comes (Ezekiel 47.1,9).
This concept is moreover taken up in Revelation:
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb. (Revelation 22.1).
In the Johannine and Patristic tradition both Baptism and Eucharist unite us to the mystery of the Cross. For if we are united once for all to Christ in his death and resurrection by being grafted through Baptism into his body the church, this union is perpetuated and constantly renewed when we receive the Blessed Sacrament. And we must never forget Our Lord's command to His disciples to "do this in remembrance of me".
The Eucharist is as much part of the Paschal experience as Baptism is. It supplants the Jewish Seder or Passover meal and becomes the paschal meal of the Church. As the new Passover banquet, it is the sacrament of unity of the Body of Christ. All Christians share in Christ's death, resurrection and ascension when they hear the anamnesis during the Canon of the Mass. This is confirmed in the Proclamation.
Participation in the Mass and receiving the Sacrament become therefore the main focus in our transitus. If we ponder on the significance of what our Lord said and did over the bread and wine on that first Maundy Thursday evening, we shall see that first of all he plainly declared His coming death to be a sacrifice. His body was given and His blood poured forth for the forgiveness of sins that initiated a new covenant between God and man. Christ's words and actions not only declared his death to be a sacrifice, but also He solemnly consecrated himself to that sacrifice as both Priest and Victim. That was not the end, for our Lord gave the Bread and the Cup to His disciples, commanding them to eat and drink in order to incorporate them into His sacrifice. By the continual to "do this" down the ages, Christians were and are not only communicating in the fruits of Christ's oblation but in the very act of oblation itself. In the words of St. Augustine the Eucharist "is the whole Christ: Christ united with the Church". It thus must always been seen as the sacrament of unity, in which all Christians, both living and departed with the heavenly hosts enter into the offering and the offered (i.e. whole Christ offers and the whole Christ that is offered). We give our offering in the gifts of bread and wine to be offered, a symbol of giving our lives to Christ to have said over them, "This is my body This is my blood." Then in the fraction, communion and dismissal we give our lives to be broken, shared and given. So we see that both in consecration and in communion our lives are identified with the life of Christ and our offering of ourselves with Christ's offering of himself. This is expressed in The Sacrosanctum Concilium (no.10):
The liturgy, in its turn, moves the faithful filled with 'the paschal sacraments' to be 'one in holiness'; it prays that 'they hold fast in their lives to do what they grasped by their faith.' The renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful and sets them aflame with Christ's insistent love. from the Eucharist, grace is poured forth upon as from a fountain, and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God to which all other activities of the Church are directed, as toward their end, are achieved with maximum effectiveness.
We must always see the Mass as the supreme link between Christ's sacrifice and the present life of the Church between His transitus and our own. The Church has nothing of her own to offer but the perfect offering of Christ made once for all upon the Cross and accepted and vindicated in the Resurrection. As The Final Report of ARCIC put it:
On the one hand, the Eucharistic gifts springs out of the Paschal Mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, in which God's saving purpose has already been definitely realised. On the other hand, its purpose is to transmit the life of the crucified and risen Christ to his body, the church, so that its members may be more fully united to Christ and to one another.
Our physical death completes our participation and incorporation into Christ's pascha. This is clearly expressed in the new funeral rite where the emphasis is now on paschal joy and hope. Or as expressed in the Canon when we pray for the dead. "Remember N whom you have called from this life. In baptism he/she died with Christ: may he/she also share his resurrection." At the Requiem Mass the Paschal Candle is lit and placed at the head of the coffin.
Paul when writing to the Philippians expressed this unity of Christian living and dying:
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: f for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I might win Christ.
And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
That I may know him, and the power of the resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made comfortable unto his death.
If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phil. 3.8-11)
In these verses we see in a nutshell the essential character of Christian living, of our knowing the fellowship of Christ's sufferings and the power of his resurrection. Paul reminded us too:
We are children of God.
And if we are children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Rom. 8.16-7)
Of course there is a sense when it can be said that we are still waiting for the final and definitive Passover, (the Parouosia), the return of Christ in power and glory. If for the Jews the true reality of the Passover was all in the future, it is not so for Christians. We look back on the central act of history, the true substance of our redemption, and we look forward to our resurrection not as something set totally in the future but as something begun in us at our baptism. The new life, the new age of the Spirit, has already begun. So as St. Paul's says, we must "throw out the old yeast" (1Cor 5.7) that we may celebrate the Passover of the Unleavened Bread in newness of life. That this new life has already begun is clear in one of the Easter readings from Colossians:
If you then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory. (Col. 3.1-4).
The process of our being engrafted in Christ or our sanctification is nothing else than the transformation and transfiguration of our lives by the paschal light of Christ. Paul when writing to the Christians in Corinth remarked:
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2Cor. 3.18).
And John tells us,
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1John 3.2)
So during the Triduum let us remember that yes it is concerned with the Passover of the Jews, and that of Christ, but it is also very much our Passover. As we listen to the Word being proclaimed, renew our Baptismal promises and enter into the Canon of the Mass let us make ourselves concentrate on what it is telling us about our own transitus. Then our Lent will not have been kept in vain.
Let us also not forget that the Word and the Sacraments are made known so that members of the church may know what is their origin, their secret and goal. For the Word is the Word of the Cross, whereby the Church is made, renewed and judged. The Mass is the proclaiming of the Lord's death until His coming again; the setting forth before God and man of the whole drama of his life, death, resurrection and parousia; and the feeding of his people with his broken body and outpoured blood. That is the only justification for churches to proclaim the Lord's death until His coming again as Paul informed us (1Cor. 11.26).
Summing up, through the sacraments of Christian initiation we are freed from the power of darkness. With Christ we die, are buried and rise again. We receive the Spirit of adoption, which makes us God's sons and daughters and, with the entire people of God, we celebrate the memorial of the Lord's death and resurrection.
Let us go forward in faith knowing that we are richly blessed already, but also knowing that our pilgrimage does not end at this Triduum, God willing. However the experience of the Triduum, if rightly entered into, will be the rock of our Christian journey for another year.
Or as Cyril of Jerusalem concluded his last lecture on The Mysteries for the neophytes.
Hold fast these traditions undefiled and, keep yourselves free from offence. Sever not yourselves from the Communion; deprive not yourselves, through pollution of sins,of these Holy and Spiritual Mysteries. And the God of peace sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit, and soul, and body be preserved entire without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: to whom be glory and honour and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.