QUDASHA, THE HOLY QURBANA ON GREAT SATURDAY

 

According to the tradition of the East Syriac Churches, the Raza or the Qurbana of the Resurrection's Vigil commences only after sunset. Usually, the Ramsha is begun towards sunset, so that it is already dark by the time the Baptism has been administered. According to some documents, they also celebrate the Taksa d-Hussaya, 'Rite of Reconciliation', in between the Baptism and the celebration of the Qurbana. For Qurbana, they follow the usual structure with the Qudasha of Mar Addai and Mar Mari, the Apostles and Teachers of the East. But the Propria, the variable prayers and hymns, are special for this celebration.


All documents and liturgical calendars prescribe only two Readings for this celebration, one from the Apostle and the other from the Gospel. They are 1 Cor 15:20-28 and Mt 28:1-20.

 



Biblical Readings
Engartha (Epistle) : 1 Cor 15: 20-28
Evangalion (Gospel) : Mt 28: 1-20

 

Engartha, the Epistle or Sliha, the Apostle
The most important theme, which the Apostle expounds in the present Reading, 1 Cor 15: 20-28, is that of the conse­quence of Jesus' Resurrection. Three facts are important for Paul in this connection: Christ, 'the first-fruits' of human resurrection (vv 20-23); the consummation of Christ's reign (vv 24-26); and God's ultimate supremacy (vv 27-28).

 

St. Paul begins with the undeniable fact of Jesus' Resur­rection. He brings in the venerable term of Reshitha, 'the first-fruits' (v 20; cf Num 15:18-21) from Jewish sacrificial tradition to lay stress on this fact. But he stresses here something more than the mere fact of Resurrection. He includes here all victims of death - past, present and future. Just as the offering of first-fruits consecrated all subsequent fruits, so the Resurrection of Jesus is a pledge and an efficient sign of the resurrection of all, whose humanity Jesus shares. In this case, Paul conceives also of a retrospective effect for Christ's Resurrection. It, for him, is the indisputable proof of the resurrection for all.

 

In order to clarify this theme, he brings in a comparison between Adam and Jesus Christ. Adam was the human agent through whom death entered the world. Death here means some­thing more than physical death. It is the separation from God, namely, the sin of disobedience and its consequences. Physical death was only a sign of that. Jesus Christ, for Paul, is another human agent. Through his Resurrection, namely, his victory over death, he vivified all the dead. All those who belong to Jesus Christ, i. e., all those who have participated in the death and Resurrection of Jesus, in other words, all those who have received Baptism (Rom 6:5-11), are already vivified. St. Paul is not denying here the resurrection of all the dead; he is con­cerned only with the faithful Christians and speaks directly about them. He does not say anything about those who are not with Christ. V. 23 speaks of the resurrection of each one b-takseh, 'in his own order.’ Here again, he emphasizes the fact that Christ is the Reshitha, the 'first-fruits', and the resurrection of others follows that of Christ. Moreover, the second part of this verse asserts in clear terms that the resurrection of those who belong to Christ comes only b-methitheh, at ‘His second Coming.’ V. 24 continues to say that the consummation of the world is concomitant with this general resurrection (cf 1 Thes 4:13-18).

 



Jesus has established his Kingdom at his death and Re­surrection, and thereafter, he is reigning over it. His effort at present is to abolish all its enemies, namely, satan and sin. He has to defeat and overthrow all earthly rulers, authorities and powers too during his reign. The last enemy to be defeated is death. He has already won victory over death through his Re­surrection. But complete abolition of death comes only at the final resurrection, for, after this there is no place for death. When all the enemies are overthrown, and everything is made perfect according to the will of the Father, then the Son will conclude his reign and will entrust the Kingdom to the Father - the King­dom already established at his death and Resurrection, the Kingdom participated in by all through their own Baptism, the Kingdom where the faithful live through the re-enactment of the Mysteries of Christ. All created things, having been perfected in their own order, join this Kingdom in this final offering. Here there is a clear allusion to the Messianic psalm 110:1. Cf also, Act 2:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1. The citation in v. 26: "He has put all things in subjection under his feet", is from Ps 8:6 and is contemplation on Gen 1:26. Here it is applied to Christ in a special sense, i. e., he is consi­dered as the most excellent of all men.

 

The last part of this passage unequivocally asserts the supremacy of God. God the Father is never subject to God-man. St. Paul is at pains to distinguish between the creatures who are subjected and the Creator who subjects them. He who sub­jects all things is above all, and his reign is forever. At the Parousia, the earthly kingdom which has been explained, will cease to exist and will become a part of the heavenly kingdom. Consequently, Christ as man will subject himself to God; but as God is associated with the Trinity, and hence He will continue to reign in the heavenly Kingdom. The Christology, which Paul expounds here, is really remarkable. Overwhelming as is the work of salvation in the Resurrection, it must be seen within the context of the purpose of the Creator God. Paul is very careful not to do any violence to his monotheistic belief. Thus the Son himself is finally subjected to the Father, but not in a subordinationist way. His sole aim in this explanation is to show God as Kol b-kol, "All in all.”

 

In this liturgical reading from the Apostle, three important points are emphasized. As elsewhere, here Paul asserts them from his own personal encounter and experience of the Risen Lord. First of all, through his Resurrection, Jesus is the 'first-fruit' of all men. He explains it both in the context of the OT sacrificial victims and that of Jesus' self-immolation. He has even destroyed the last enemy, death, through his Resurre­ction. Thus Jesus' Resurrection is the pledge of victory and resurrection for all men who are incorporated into Jesus.

 

Secondly, he lays emphasis on ‘those who belong to Christ.’ They are the members of the earthly Kingdom, established at the death and Resurrection of Jesus. They are those who have personally participated in the death and Resurrection of Jesus through their Baptism.

 

Finally, he comes to the goal of this earthly kingdom, namely, the Parousia that awaits the baptized. At the consum­mation of the world, they, having been perfectly united with Christ through their own resurrection, will also be united to the most Holy Trinity. It may be rather difficult to find a better reading from the Apostle for this particular celebration in the context of the Great Sunday of Resurrection and the solemn administration of Baptism.

 

In this context, it may be fruitful that we turn our attention also to the ‘Anthem of the Rails’ of the day. The hymn begins with a call to all nations (Ps 116:1) and to all the servants of God (Ps 66:16) to praise the Lord. At the very outset it establishes that Christian Baptism is one min maija u-Ruha, ‘fromwater and the Spirit’ (Jn 3:5). It is a beautiful theological exposition of Baptism in the Name of Jesus, as we have in Act 2:38: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Baptism is, la-Meshiha lbeshton, ‘putting on Christ’ (Gal 3:27), namely, he who is baptized is clothed with Christ, absorbed or fully transformed into Christ, so that he becomes ‘a new man in Jesus Christ’ (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). It is indeed a ‘rebirth’ or a ‘new creation’ in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). This idea presupposes that Christ possesses a new and glorified life since his Resurrection and Ascension. It is understood as a ‘pneu­matic’ existence, through which an intimate union between Christ and the baptized is possible. The baptized, therefore, receive a new existence in Christ, in which all previously valid relations, such as racial, social, sexual or cultural are transcended (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). It is in fact an eschatological existence in the sense that the baptized are already participating the life of the Risen Lord, i. e., l-had Ruha Ibeshton, ‘clothed in the life of the Spirit’ (cf 1 Cor 15:44ss.); and this infused life points towards a bodily resurrection as the ultimate object (Rom 6:5-8; 8:11).

 

According to this hymn, Baptism is a sealing (2 Cor 1:22), as it was understood in the ancient Church. It is a sealing in the Holy Spirit that marks those who belong to Christ. It is also a surrender to Christ as the Lord and the Saviour, ‘the only Mediator of salvation’ (Acts 4:12) and ‘Author of life’ (Acts 3:15). It is also understood as the normal occasion of the pouring out of the Spirit. Only those who have been baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ (Acts 19:2-7) will receive the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2: 38), the eschatological pledge of God (Acts 2:17-21.33). Although the Holy Spirit is usually ‘poured out’ after Baptism through the imposi­tion of hands (Ad 19:6), Baptism is not merely an occasion but the real cause and medium of this communication.

 

It is said in this hymn that we are baptized b-had Ruha, ‘in one Spirit.’ This lays stress on the ecclesial aspect of Baptism. All the baptized are filled with the same Ruha d-Qudsha, ‘the divine Spirit’ and experience the power of the same Spirit. Everybody, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, men and women, all will be ‘one in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28), one single body by the power of one Spirit (1 Cor 12: 13; Eph 4:4s), the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27; Rom 42:5). This basic idea will help one to come to a better and deeper understanding of the Church.

 

St. Paul always speaks in a biblical way about the ‘pouring forth’ of the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:6), and of a ‘renewal’ being worked out in us by the recreating Holy Spirit. This eschatological promise is fulfilled sacramentally in the communication of grace through the baptismal washing. Baptism thus becomes a source of life, recreating us and enabling us to participate in eternal life. It is to this special privilege of the baptized that the hymn points by singing: “and with him you will enjoy in the abode which is filled with bliss.”


The special mention of d-ameh tamlkon, ‘you will reign with him’ in the heavenly abode, might be drawn from the relation of Baptism to the Nicodemus episode (Jn 3:5). In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus twice emphasizes the neces­sity of Baptism to enter the ‘Kingdom of God’ (Jn 3:3.5). And all those who are baptized become one with Christ. Naturally, they must also reign with him in the Kingdom of God.

 

Evangalion, the Gospel
This solemn celebration of the Raza or Holy Qurbana takes place after the administration of Baptism. Hence it can be considered the Baptismal Liturgy. It is also the vigil celebration of the Feast of feasts, the Resurrection. Consequently, what is important in this context is the reality of the Baptism and the Resurrection. The present reading Mt 28:1-20 is the Resurrection narrative in St. Matthew, in which our Lord commands his disciples to go, preach and baptize all nations in the Name of the most Holy Trinity. Hence the duty to teach and baptize can be considered to be the Resurrection message of our Lord.

 

The visit of the two Marys to the tomb of Jesus (v 1) can be normally considered as demonstrating love and reverence and they were specially privileged to be the first to bear witness to Jesus' Resurrection. The mention of angel, the extraordinary events connected with the Resurrection, the fear of guards, the angel's consoling words to the women and so on (vv 2-7), seem to be to authenticate the divine message. Angel is the usual medium of divine message in Matthew (cf Mt 1:20; 2:13.19 etc). First of all the women are drawn to the negative evidence of Jesus' Resurrection - the empty tomb. But the angel never for­gets to remind them of Jesus' promise about his Resurrection. They were also asked to go quickly and announce this message to the disciples. Although they have not yet seen the Risen Lord, they were filled with fear and joy (v 8), and ran to the disciples. Their prompt obedience in this context is to be specially mentioned. Such obedience was immediately rewarded by the presence of the Risen Lord (vv 9-10). Thus they were also blessed with a personal experience of the Risen Lord.

 

As we meditate on this episode of the women confronting the Risen Lord, we are forced to think of three important im­peratives on them. First of all, they were urged 'to believe.’ The whole story for them was too good to be true and thus to be­lieve. There are so many evidences in the Gospels to show that it was very difficult even for the disciples to believe the Resur­rection story (cf Mk 16:11.13.14; Lk 24:11 etc.). In order to convince them, the angel reminds them of Jesus' promise and shows them the empty tomb. Even today, for many, the mess­age of Christ is too good to be true. The only way out is to believe Jesus' word and accept him whole-heartedly.

 

Secondly, they were urged 'to share.’ Once they have discovered that Jesus is risen, and have had a personal experience of him, they were asked ‘to go and tell’ (vv 7.10). Both the angel and the Risen Lord show them that their primary duty is to share with others, what they have experienced. Even today this is true. The primary duty of each Christian is to share his own Christ-experience with others.

 

Finally, they were urged 'to rejoice.’ The Risen Lord greets them shlam l-kon, 'peace be to you? (v 9)... Peace is the result of the Redemption; joy and exultation, on the other hand, are the effects, of peace. The Resurrection of Jesus has established perfect peace on earth. One who has a real and personal experience of the Risen Lord, will always participate this peace and will live in perfect joy and happiness in ever-remaining presence of the Lord. Nothing else can detach him from such an experience.

 

Verses 11-15, perhaps, explain the last attempt of the chief priests to eliminate Jesus. It is quite natural that they were, really desperate to hear about the Resurrection story from the guards. They used treachery to lay hold of him; they used illegal methods to try him; they used slander to charge him be­fore Pilate. And now they are using bribery to silence the truth of his Resurrection. The truth of goodness is greater than the plots of wickedness!

 

Verses 16-20 can be considered a summary of the whole Gospel. Although Jesus had clearly asserted that his mission was to the chosen people (Mt 15:24.26), now it is extended to include all nations (v 19). He makes for himself the claim of having all authority in heaven and on earth (v 18); moreover, he is here on the mountain (v 16), which is the position of authority in Matthew (cf Mt 5:1; 17:1; 24:3). The disciples show him the reverence, which is due only to God - sgedw leh, 'adored him' (v 17). The Lord of 'heaven and earth' in v 18 (cf also Mt 11:25) suggests specially the ever-present power and protecting guidance of God. This power is now given to Jesus (cf also Phil 2:9-10). It is underlined by the fourfold use of kol 'all' - kol sultan, “all authority” kolhon 'amme, “all nations” kolma, “ all that” kolhon yawmatha “always” in vv 18-20. It is in virtue of this power that the Apostles are sent out to make disciples from all nations. Thus God's promise to Abraham (Gen 18:18; 22:18) is fulfilled. Entry into the Church, the New Israel, is through baptism (v 19), in the Name of the Holy Trinity. B-Sem, 'in the Name', means incorporate to, or enter into a covenant fellowship with the most Holy Tri­nity. Thus Baptism is incorporation into the Body of Christ, the Church, and at the same time it is a covenant fellowship with all the three Persons in the Trinity. The Gospel ends with a return to the prophecy of 'Aman-hu-'El, 'God with us' (Mt 1:23). He promises his dynamic presence, Ha Enna 'amkon!“I am with you” (cf also Ex 3:12; Josh 1:5) with his disciples to the end of the time.

 

We can pinpoint three important affirmations of Jesus Christ in this 'final discourse.’ First of all, he assured the disci­ples of his power. All power is entrusted to him by his Father. He has conquered even the last enemy, death, by his own death. His authority on earth and in heaven is unquestionable. It is the power of this authority that he promised to his disci­ples. Hence, they are not to be afraid of anything else. Secondly, he gave them a commission. He has asked them to share every­thing that they have imbibed from him, and to win all men in all nations for him. And finally, he promised them his presence. The poor Galileans ought to have been afraid to take up such a great task of conquering the whole world for Christ. Hence, they are strengthened by this promise of his presence. They are not alone. In Jesus they are more powerful than anybody else in the world (cf also 1 Cor 1:28-31).

 

Baptism being an incorporation into the Risen Body of Jesus through a participation in his death and Resurrection, it is quite fitting to administer Baptism in connection with the Feast of Resurrection. Hence it was the custom in all Churches in the first centuries. Baptism was generally administered in conjunction with the vigil celebration. Hence we need not as­cribe any novelty to this practice in East Syriac Churches. But the mode of celebration, formulation of prayers, hymns and rites, selection of Biblical Readings, all differed from place to place and Church to Church. What is relevant here is the question whether this particular Gospel Reading in the East Syriac Churches serves to link Baptism and Resurrection. It appears that the analysis of the text has explained it sufficiently well.

 


Father Varghese Pathikulangara, CMI

Read more reflections