Dearly beloved, in the name of the risen Christ, the Redeemer of the world and Lord of history, I send special Easter greetings to you all. The joy of the Lord fills the hearts of all Christians for we are a people of the resurrection. Yes, we are “Hallelujah People”. This is that most exalted period in the life of the Church, when we recall and commemorate the great acts of salvation through which God saved the human race from sin and death. Right from the call to repentance on Ash Wednesday and led through the spirit of penance of the forty days of Lent, we arrive at the most sacred days in the entire Church’s calendar: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday – the Triddum. In these three sacred days, we experience vividly what God underwent to save us. Through the celebrations of this season, greater meaning has been given to that mystery of faith as we proclaim at Mass: Save us, Saviour of the world, for by your cross and resurrection, You have set us free.
Indeed, we have been set free; we have been ransomed. But we might ask: what kept us captive, what kept us hostage? Our minds turn to the evil of sin, first accounted for in the fall of man in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-6). Humanity was held captive by sin and death while the damning effect was the separation from communion with God. As such, in the punishment to Adam and Eve after the fall, there was the need for a Saviour.
Dr. Sofia Cavalletti comments that there are two interesting if not unique occurrences during the adjudication part of the narrative in Genesis 3:14-19. God directly curses the serpent only; this occurs nowhere else in the Bible. But God only punishes the man and woman. And the gift of mitigation by God for the man and woman occurs during the punishment of the serpent. There is a prophetic sense to the passage in Genesis 3:15, called the Protoevangelium, the first proclamation of the Good News: for, during the punishment of the serpent, God refers to the future, that there will be one "who will crush the head of the serpent." There is hope for the human race! (cf. Sofia Cavalletti. The History of the Kingdom of God, Part I: From Creation to Parousia)
The concept of Genesis 3:15 being the Proto-evangelium or "First Gospel" is attributed to St. Irenaeus of Lyons (135-202) from his work Against Heresies. He further writes: "'And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; He shall be on the watch for thy head, and thou on the watch for his heel.' For from that time, He who should be born of a woman, namely from the Virgin, after the likeness of Adam, was preached as keeping watch for the head of the serpent. This is the seed of which the apostle says in the Letter to the Galatians, 'that the law of works was established until the seed should come to whom the promise was made (Galatians 3:19).' This fact is exhibited in a still clearer light in the same Epistle where he thus speaks: 'But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman (Galatians 4:4).' For indeed the enemy would not have been fairly vanquished, unless it had been a man born of a woman who conquered him. For it was by means of a woman that he got the advantage over man at first, setting himself up as man's opponent. And therefore does the Lord profess Himself to be the Son of man, comprising in Himself that original man out of whom the woman was fashioned, in order that, as our species went down to death through a vanquished man, so we may ascend to life again through a victorious one; and as through a man death received the palm of victory against us, so again by a man we may receive the palm against death." (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book V, 21, 1)
Jesus paid our ransom to free us from sin, death, and hell. Throughout the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are found God's requirements for sacrifices. We read in Exodus 29:36 the instruction to sacrifice a young bull each day as an offering for the atonement of sin. In Old Testament times, God commanded the Israelites to make animal sacrifices for substitutionary atonement; that is, an animal's death took the place of a person's death, death being the penalty for sin (cf. Romans 6:23). Jesus is the fulfilment of the promise of salvation.
Easter is the celebration of the joyful ransom. This is our great joy for the history of salvation fills us with great cause for rejoicing as we, who were once lost to the power of sin and death have been redeemed by the power of the living God. In stretching His hands from above to raise us from our fall, God shows that He never forgets His creatures. As we celebrate this great season, let us strive to live for God and not allow ourselves be mastered by the devil. Let us not walk our way back to the realm of slavery through our sins.
In the joy of Easter, I pray God’s abundant protection upon you and your family. May you continue to enjoy the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. May He bless and keep you all in this most joyful season of Easter.
† Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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