On Pascha

This season of Lent I picked up Melito of Sardis’ On Pascha. The work was written sometime in the middle of the 2nd century (160-170) and functioned as a liturgical text in the early church. As the title suggests, it was read during the Passover which was celebrated on the 14th of Nisan as part of the practice of the Quaterdecimans. This particular text was likely to be read at night following a reading from Exodus 12. Unfortunately, I’m not going to reproduce the text in its entirety but here are some excerpts from this beautifully written text. If you can, try reading it out loud. It was afterall meant to be heard.

1 The Scripture of the exodus of the Hebrews has been read,
and the words of the mystery have been declared;
how the sheep was sacrificed,
and how the people was saved,
and how Pharaoh was flogged by the mystery,

2 Therefore, well-beloved, understand,
how the mystery of the Pascha is both new and old,
eternal and provisional,
perishable and imperishable,
mortal and immortal.

3 It is old with respect to the law,
new with respect to the word.
Provisional with respect to the type,
yet everlasting through grace.
It is perishable because of the slaughter of the sheep,
imperishable because of the life of the Lord.
It is mortal because of the burial in the ground,
immortal because of the resurrection from the dead.

4 For the law is old,
but the word is new.
The type is provisional,
but grace is everlasting.
The sheep is perishable,
but the Lord,
not broken as a lamb but raised up as God,
is imperishable.
For though led to the slaughter like a sheep,
he was no sheep.
Though speechless as a lamb,
neither yet was he a lamb.
For there was once a type, but now the reality has appeared.

5 For instead of the lamb there was a son,
and instead of the sheep a man;
in the man was Christ encompassing all things.

6  So the slaughter of the sheep,
and the sacrificial procession of the blood,
and the writing of the law encompass Christ,
on whose account everything in the previous law took place,
though better in the new dispensation. 

8 For he was born a son,
and led as a lamb,
and slaughtered as a sheep,
and buried as a man,
and rose from the dead as God,
being God by his nature and a man.

9  He is all things.
He is law, in that he judges.
He is word, in that he teaches.
He is grace, in that he saves.
He is father, in that he begets.
He is son, in that he is begotten.
He is sheep, in that he suffers.
He is human, in that he is buried.
He is God, in that he is raised up.

 10   This is Jesus the Christ,
to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

32 Tell me angel, what turned you away?
The slaughter of the sheep or the life of the Lord?
The death of the sheep or the type of the Lord?
The blood of the sheep or the Spirit of the Lord?

33 It is clear that you turned away
seeing the mystery of the Lord in the sheep
and the life of the Lord in the slaughter of the sheep
and the type of the Lord in the death of the sheep.
Therefore, you struck not Israel down,
but made Egypt alone childless.

34  What is this strange mystery,
that Egypt is struck down for destruction
and Israel is guarded for salvation?
Listen to the meaning of the mystery.

35  Nothing, beloved, is spoken or made without an analogy and a sketch;
for everything which is made and spoken has its analogy,
what is spoken an analogy, what is made a prototype,
so that whatever is made may be perceived through the prototype
and whatever is spoken clarified by the illustration.

36 This is what occurs in the case of a first draft;
it is not a finished work but exists so that, through the model, that which is to be can be seen.
Therefore, a preliminary sketch is made of what is to be,
from wax or from clay or from wood,
so that what will come about,
taller in height,
and greater in strength,
and more attractive in shape,
and wealthier in workmanship,
can be seen through the small and provisional sketch.

37  When the thing comes about of which the sketch was a type,
that which was to be, of which the type bore the likeness,
then the type is destroyed, it has become useless,
it yields up the image to what is truly real.
What was once valuable becomes worthless
when what is of true value appears.

39 So then, just as with the provisional examples
so it is with eternal things;
as it is with things on earth
so it is with the things in heaven.
For indeed the Lord’s salvation and his truth were prefigured in the people
and the decrees of the gospel were proclaimed in advance by the law.

40 Thus the people was a type, like a preliminary sketch,
and the law was the writing of an analogy.
The gospel is the narrative and fulfillment of the law
and the Church is the repository of reality.

41  So the type was valuable in advance of the reality
and the illustration was wonderful before its elucidation.
So the people were valuable before the Church arose,
and the law was wonderful before the illumination of the gospel.

42 But when the Church arose and the gospel came to be,
the type, depleted, gave up meaning to the truth:
and the law, fulfilled, gave up meaning to the gospel.

43 In the same way that the type is depleted,
conceding the image to what is intrinsically real,
and the analogy is brought to completion through the elucidation of interpretation,
so the law is fulfilled by the elucidation of the gospel,
and the people is depleted by the arising of the Church,
and the model is dissolved by the appearance of the Lord.
And today those things of value are worthless,
since the things of true worth have been revealed.

44  For then the slaughter of the sheep was of value,
now it is worthless because of the Lord’s life.
The death of the sheep was of value,
now it is worthless because of the Lord’s salvation.
The blood of the sheep was of value
now it is worthless because of the Lord’s Spirit.
The dumb lamb was of value,
now it is worthless because of the son without spot.
The temple below was of value,
now it is worthless because of the heavenly Christ.

45  The Jerusalem below was of value,
now it is worthless because of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Once the narrow inheritance was of value,
now it is worthless because of the breadth of grace.
For it is not on one place, nor in a narrow plot, that the glory of God is established,
but on all the ends of the earth.
For his grace has been poured out
and the almighty God has made his dwelling there.
Through Christ our Lord,
to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

46  You have heard the narrative of the type and its correspondence:
hear now the confirmation of the mystery.
What is the Pascha?
It is called by its name because of what constitutes it:
from “suffer” comes “suffering.”
Therefore, learn who is the suffering one, and who shares in the suffering one’s suffering,
and why the Lord is present on the earth to surround himself
with the suffering one,
and take him to the heights of the heavens.

100  The Lord clothed himself with humanity,
and with suffering on behalf of the suffering one,
and bound on behalf of the one constrained,
and judged on behalf of the one convicted,
and buried on behalf of the one entombed,
he rose from the dead and cried out aloud:

101 “Who takes issue with me? Let him stand before me.
I set free the condemned.
I gave life to the dead.
I raise up the entombed.
Who will contradict me?”

102  “It is I,” says the Christ,
“I am he who destroys death,
and triumphs over the enemy,
and crushes Hades,
and binds the strong man,
and bears humanity off to the heavenly heights.”
“It is I,” says the Christ.

103 “So come all families of people,
adulterated with sin,
and receive forgiveness of sins.
For I am your freedom.
I am the Passover of salvation,
I am the lamb slaughtered for you,
I am your ransom,
I am your life,
I am your light,
I am your salvation,
I am your resurrection,
I am your King.
I shall raise you up by my right hand,
I will lead you to the heights of heaven,
there shall I show you the everlasting Father.”

104 He it is who made the heaven and the earth,
and formed humanity in the beginning,
who was proclaimed through the law and the prophets,
who took flesh from a virgin,
who was hung on a tree,
who was buried in earth,
who was raised from the dead,
and ascended to the heights of heaven,
who sits at the right hand of the Father,
who has the power to save all things,
through whom the Father acted from the beginning and for ever.

105  This is the alpha and omega,
this is the beginning and the end,
the ineffable beginning and the incomprehensible end.
This is the Christ,
this is the King,
this is Jesus,
this is the commander,
this is the Lord,
this is he who rose from the dead,
this is he who sits at the right hand of the Father,
he bears the Father and is borne by him.
To him be the glory and the might for ever.

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