Baptism is our initiation into the Paschal Mystery where the death and resurrected life of Christ begin to shape our lives. But how do we keep going so that we can finish what we start so that we are not like the person who started to build a tower and didn’t have the resources to complete it? This question is all the more urgent for those of us who were baptized when we were infants, before we knew what was happening to us. (I don’t dispute for a minute infant baptism for the purpose of raising a child in the shape of the Paschal Mystery.)
Clearly it is the Eucharist that feeds us on the way we have started with baptism. St. Paul’s line “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” that we say just before the distribution of communion says everything about the sacrament and more. What is all the more astounding is that, as Robert Daly says in Sacrifice Revealed, it’s a throwaway line said in passing while writing about something else. That indicates how fundamental a presupposition it was in the early church.
The Passover, of course, re-lives the deliverance of the Jewish slaves from Egypt. The roots of the Passover are obscure but it may have been a protective rite of shepherds that the Jews were performing at the time they were expelled from Egypt for causing the plague that killed far more Egyptian children than Hebrew children. Nowadays, there is the simple scientific explanation that the Hebrew slaves were rigidly segregated from the Egyptians so that it is reasonable that one social group could escape a plague that struck the other. (Medieval cities copied the Egyptians by blaming the Jews for plagues that struck them and expelling them when we now know that the Jews were more intelligent about matters of hygiene.) When Jesus welcomed the children whom his disciples tried to keep away, he demonstrated for all time that God is not a child-killer.
The Passover quickly moved away from its sacrificial origins and became a domestic feast as outlined in Exodus 12 that is to be repeated every year. (In Jesus’ time, the temple priests slaughtered the Passover lambs for those who had come to the Holy City for the feast. In John’s Gospel Jesus was crucified precisely at the time that the Passover lambs were slaughtered.) As the Passover became an oft-repeated practice of remembrance of God’s deliverance, the Eucharist is an oft-repeated renewal of our baptism. Just as the death and resurrection of Jesus are made present at baptism, they are again made present in the Eucharist. For those who, like me, enjoy science fiction and fantasy literature, we could note that these sacraments constitute time travel of a sort. This time travel is not to change the past but to change the present and the future. (The Greek word anamnesis means memory in the sense of making the remembered event currently present. The fundamental change is to bring ourselves and our communities out of sacrificial, persecuting societies into forgiving societies grounded in the forgiving victim.
In Exodus 12, there is a sense of urgency with the Passover. It must be eaten “in haste.” We don’t usually feel this same sense of urgency while celebrating the Eucharist, but maybe we should. Insofar as we are governed by Pharaoh’s way of living, we really shouldn’t waste any time moving out of that way and entering more deeply into the way of the forgiving victim. The bread and wine are gifts to give us what we need to finish what we started. When we eat Christ our Passover, we need to ask ourselves: How ready and willing are to pass over from one way of living to another? How willing are we to serve one another as demonstrated by Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet?