Easter Vigil

Waiting for Passover - Singing the Hallel

I recently received a message that a French contemplative nun ‘had just lived her Passover’.  It is a beautiful way of saying that she had died.  It is saying that she had not just died, it is saying that she had ‘more than died’, that she had passed over from this life to eternal life.  We are asked to pray with and for her.
This evening, this night, we here are receiving a much greater message: Jesus, who was crucified, ‘has just lived his Passover’.  He has passed from this life to his own, different, eternal life.   He has passed from this world to the Father.  We are asked to experience it with him.

I would like to use some texts from the Psalms that might help us do that in this Vigil. 

In the Jewish Passover meal, the Seder, special hymns were sung.  They were taken from the book of Psalms.  They were called the ‘Hallel’ Psalms.  The Hebrew word ‘Hallel’ means ‘praise’.  They are Psalms 113-118.  [They are sometimes called the little Hallel: the great Hallel goes on from Psalms 120 – 136] Jesus would have known how to chant (sing) these Psalms in Hebrew.  He would have joined with the others at the Last Supper, singing the Hallel.   In Mark 14, 26 (with parallel text in Matthew 26,30) we are told: ‘and when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives’.  Jesus went to Gethsemane singing the Hallel.  Jesus sang his way into his Passover.

The snares of death encompassed me, the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.  Then I called on the name of the LORD.  O LORD, I am your servant, the son of your handmaid.  You have loosed my bonds.  I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving… Psalms 113-118.

The first of the Hallel psalms is Psalm 113. 

    O servants of the Lord, give praise (Hallel)…
    He raises the poor from the dust,
     lifts up the needy from the refuse heap
     to set them with the great,
     with the great men of His people.
    He sets the childless woman among her household
     as a happy mother of children.

It is about God’s powerful intervention to raise the poor from the dust.  Obviously, tonight we experience God about to raise the dead Jesus to new life, we sense God about to intervene in a way God has never done.  But it is not quite so new.  God has always intervened to let the oppressed of Israel go free.  God will always intervene to let the poor of the universe, not just of Israel, go free…

That is what inspired the song of Hannah.

    He raises the poor from the dust,
    Lifts up the needy from the dunghill,
    Setting them with nobles,
    Granting them seats of honor.

That is what inspired the song of Mary that we call the Magnificat.

    He has exalted the lowly…
    The hungry he has filled with good things,..
    He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy….

 That is what inspired the song of Zachary that we call the Benedictus.

    That he would grant us, free from fear,
    To be delivered from the hands of our enemies…
    To give his people knowledge of salvation
    Through the forgiveness of their sins;
    This by the tender mercy of our God
    Who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us,
    To give light to those who live
    In darkness and the shadow of death,
    And to guide our feet
    Into the way of peace.

That is what inspired the text of (third) Isaiah that Jesus used in his keynote address at the synagogue of Nazareth (Lk 4).

    The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
    For he has anointed me.
    He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
    To proclaim liberty to captives
    And to the blind new sight,
    And to set the downtrodden free,
    To proclaim the Lord’s year of Jubilee.

He was rejected in Nazareth, as Simeon predicted in the temple when he was a child.

You see this child.  He is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected…

 But such rejections cannot hold God back.  Especially tonight. 

    God is about to intervene, soon, now, here – to give Jesus new life.
God is about to intervene, soon, now, here – to give  the poor new life and new freedom.


Another of the Hallel Psalms is Psalm 118.  It is a long one, and I am focusing on verse 26. 

    Blessings on Him who comes in the name of Yahweh,
    We bless you from the house of Yahweh,
    Yahweh is God, he smiles on us. 

It is a blessing prayer, on the one who is coming in the name of the Lord.  It inspired the throng on Palm Sunday to chant:

Blessed is the king who is coming in the name of the Lord. 

Concentrate on the word ‘coming’.

Jesus is coming, coming to, coming to life, coming to us, coming to enliven us.  He is the coming one.  And we are here to meet him.


That is what inspired Isaiah (deutero) to announce the end of all exiles.  The eyes of all the blind shall be opened….they will see him, see him coming on the Via Regia, on the Royal Road, and all the poor of the universe shall hear this good news proclaimed to them.  He is coming, coming to them, and his coming will reshape everything.

In these Hallel Psalms, there is no military conquest.  There is no overpowering of any power by a greater power.  There is only – an all-pervasive, powerless gentle healing.  That is why Jesus is called (in the Psalms and again by Isaiah) the ultimate deliverer. That is why, even much more, he is said to be God.  These Psalms inspired (proto) Isaiah to assert that God himself will appear on the scene.  Not a power God.  A God of unheard of gentleness and healing.  And so a savior.  Here is your God, He is coming, coming to save you.  (Is 35,4).  The identity of the coming one is made known.  He is….your God!

There is a coming God. 
There is a coming Jesus. 
There is a new gentleness.
Jesus is the coming God. 
He is gently raising us all from our deaths.

Blessed is he who takes no offence at this.  In embodied form, he is the Lord.  Every tongue shall confess that he is indeed the Lord. 

Can you feel that?  Come to the tomb where they buried him. 

Can you sense the presence of God about to come and do something never done before?  Come into the tomb and sense a new aliveness of the powerless man who was crucified. 

Can you feel a gentleness in him that dissolves the violence of the whole universe, and reshapes it in his gentleness?  Come into this redefined world, this world turned upside down, and hear it happen.

What do you hear as Jesus emerges from the tomb and comes out as God?  I think you hear God laughing (the second Psalm said so). God is laughing at the pathetic raging against this, by the powerful and the ruling people of the old world.  God is laughing at the resurrection! 

What are we saying?  Our tongues too are loosened, for God from on High has broken in upon us, and is leading us into the way of peace.  

The anemones are in flower in the Galilee, and Tabor and Hermon are singing your praise.

Hallelu! Hallelu! Hallelu!