Fr. Bryan Howard
Easter Sunday – 1 April 2018
Alleluia, Christ is risen, Alleluia! Thanks be to God. This evening we celebrate the Easter Vigil. We blessed the fire and brought the Paschal Candle into the Church, symbolizing the light of the risen Christ entering the world after three days of darkness. We listened to readings going through the history of salvation, and then we sang the Easter Alleluia. This is a holy night, a joyful night, a glorious night.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus rose from the dead on the third day? Why not the second day or the fourth day? Why the third day? If you came to the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, you heard me explain how the Last Supper corresponds to the passover feast, or seder meal, of the ancient Jews. Jesus was crucified on the next day, Good Friday, which would have been the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasted for seven days. On the third day of the feast of unleavened bread, they celebrated the Feast of First Fruits, which was a feast of great joy in ancient Jerusalem. It was a feast of the harvest. The very first cuttings of the first harvest of barley would be brought up to the temple as an offering to God. People would come from all of Israel bringing offerings of figs and grapes and dried figs and raisins. Everyone would be dressed in their finest clothes. Early in the morning, a special group of priests would go out to a certain field wearing their finest vestments. They would bring an ox with them draped with gold clothes and with a garland of olive leaves around its head. They would cut the very first barley from the field, tie it into a bundle, and place it on the ox’s back. Then they would all process back into Jerusalem, up to the city, to the playing of flutes and the singing of the levites. As Jesus was rising from the dead, there was joy and singing in the Temple in Jerusalem, a festival of life and gratitude to God for the new harvest.
When the procession arrived at the Temple, the High Priest would take the sheath of barley, bring it up to the altar and raise it high and wave it from side to side, presenting it to God. This was called the waved offering, and it looked something like this, like the sign of the Cross. As the priest lifted up the barley, they would sing a certain psalm, Psalm 30, “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from the dead, restored me to life from among those gone down to the pit… You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you for ever.”
The first fruits was an act of faith in God. You couldn’t be sure that you would get any more harvest, so, if you give God the very first cut of the very first harvest, you’re thanking God for giving you any harvest at all and you’re saying that you trust God to provide for the rest of the harvest, to take care of you and your family. The first fruits is the promise that more will come. Just so you know that I’m not making all this up, listen to what St. Paul says in His letter to the Corinthians, “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life, but each one in proper order: Christ the firstfruits; then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ.” Jesus Christ is the firstfruits, the promise of the resurrection of the dead, but we are the rest of the harvest, all those who belong to God.
Before He died, Moses gave one last talk, one last sermon to the people, saying, “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding His voice, and holding fast to Him.” God greatly desires to give us life, the new life of the Resurrection, and He has already promised it to us through His own Resurrection. Will you accept what God is offering you? Will you choose to live in His love?
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.