“This is the Pascha of our salvation”

This is the mystery of the Pascha,
just as it is written in the law, which was read a little while ago.
I shall narrate the scriptural story,
how he gave command to Moses in Egypt,
when wanting to flog Pharaoh
and to free Israel from flogging
through the hand of Moses.

“Look,” he says, “you shall take a lamb, without spot or blemish,
and, toward the evening, slaughter it with the sons of Israel.
And eat it at night with haste.
And not a bone of it shall you break.”

“This is what you shall do,” he says:
“You shall eat it in one night by families and tribes,
with your loins girded up
and with staves in your hands.
This is the Passover of the Lord,
a commemoration to the sons of Israel for ever.”

“Taking the blood of the sheep
you shall anoint the front doors of your houses
putting blood on the doorposts of the entrances;
the sign of the blood to avert the angel.
For behold, I shall strike Egypt
and in one night shall both beast and man be made childless.”

Then Moses, having slaughtered the sheep
and performed the mystery at night with the sons of Israel,
sealed the doors of the houses to protect the people
and to avert the angel.

But while the sheep is being slaughtered,
and the Pascha is being eaten,
and the mystery is completed,
and the people is rejoicing,
and Israel is being sealed:
then came the angel to strike Egypt,
those uninitiated in the mystery,
those with no part in the Pascha,
those not sealed by the blood,
those not guarded by the spirit,
the hostile,
the faithless;
in one night he struck them and made them childless.

For the angel had passed by Israel,
and seen him sealed with the blood of the sheep,
he fell upon Egypt,
he tamed stiff-necked Pharaoh with grief,
clothing him not with a garment of gray,
nor with a tunic all torn,
but with all Egypt torn and grieving for her first-born.

For all Egypt was pained and grieving,
in tears and mourning,
and came to Pharaoh stricken with woe,
not outwardly only but inwardly.
Not only were her garments torn, but also her delicate breasts.

It was indeed a strange spectacle,
here people beating their breasts, there people wailing,
and grief-stricken Pharaoh in the middle,
seated on sackcloth and ashes,
palpable darkness thrown around him as a mourning cloak,
clad in all Egypt like a tunic of grief.

For Egypt was surrounding Pharaoh
like a robe of wailing.
Such a tunic was woven for the tyrannical body,
With such a garment did the angel of justice
clothe unyielding Pharaoh:
bitter grief and palpable darkness
and a strange childlessness, the loss of her first-born.

The death of the first-born was swift and greedy,
it was a strange trophy on which to gaze,
upon those falling dead in one moment.
And the food of death was the defeat of the prostrate.

Listen and wonder at a new disaster,
for these things enclosed the Egyptians:
long night,
palpable darkness,
death grasping,
the angel squeezing out the life,
and Hades gulping down the first-born.

But the strangest and most terrifying thing you are yet to hear:
In the palpable darkness hid untouchable death,
and the wretched Egyptians were grasping the darkness,
while death sought out and grasped the Egyptian first-born
at the angel’s command.

* * *

Such was the calamity which surrounded Egypt,
and made her suddenly childless.
Israel was guarded by the slaughter of the sheep,
and was illuminated by the shedding of blood,
and the death of the sheep was a wall for the people.

O strange and ineffable mystery!
The slaughter of the sheep was Israel’s salvation,
and the death of the sheep was life for the people,
and the blood averted the angel.

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?

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.

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.

* * *

This is the one who comes from heaven onto the earth for the suffering one,
and wraps himself in the suffering one through a virgin womb,
and comes as a man.
He accepted the suffering of the suffering one,
through suffering in a body which could suffer,
and set free the flesh from suffering.
Through the spirit which cannot die
he slew the manslayer death.

He is the one led like a lamb
and slaughtered like a sheep;
he ransomed us from the worship of the world
as from the land of Egypt,
and he set us free from the slavery of the devil
as from the hand of Pharaoh,
and sealed our souls with his own spirit,
and the members of our body with his blood.

This is the one who clad death in shame
and, as Moses did to Pharaoh,
made the devil grieve.
This is the one who struck down lawlessness
and made injustice childless,
as Moses did to Egypt.
This is the one who delivered us from slavery to freedom,
from darkness into light,
from death into life,
from tyranny into an eternal Kingdom,
and made us a new priesthood,
and a people everlasting for himself.

This is the Pascha of our salvation:
this is the one who in many people endured many things.
This is the one who was murdered in Abel,
tied up in Isaac,
exiled in Jacob,
sold in Joseph,
exposed in Moses,
slaughtered in the lamb,
hunted down in David,
dishonored in the prophets.

This is the one made flesh in a virgin,
who was hanged on a tree,
who was buried in the earth,
who was raised from the dead,
who was exalted to the heights of heaven.

This is the lamb slain,
this is the speechless lamb,
this is the one born of Mary the fair ewe,
this is the one taken from the flock,
and led to slaughter.
Who was sacrificed in the evening,
and buried at night;
who was not broken on the tree,
who was not undone in the earth,
who rose from the dead and resurrected humankind
from the grave below.

St Melito of Sardis

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