From “Sermon on the Passover Sacrifice” by Aelfric of Eynsham

The custom in England at Aelfric’s time was to have no sermons or homilies on the “three still days.” But Aelfric preached a very complete Easter sermon about Passover. Here’s part of it, translated by Benjamin Thorpe in The Sermons of the Anglo-Saxon Church, Volume II: Sermones Catholici by Aelfric of Eynsham, 1844.

We would long since have treated of the lamb, which the old Israel offered at their Easter-tide, but we would first relate to you concerning this mystery, and afterwards how it is to be eaten. The typical lamb [ie,  Passover lambs as a type of Christ] was offered at their Easter-tide, and the apostle Paul said in this day’s epistle, that Christ is our Easter-tide, who was offered for us, and on this day arose from death.

Israel ate the flesh of the lamb, as God commanded, with unleavened bread and field lettuces [greens]; and we should partake of the holy housel [Communion], Christ’s body and his blood, without the barm [yeast] of evilness and wickedness. As barm changes creatures from their nature, so also sins change the nature of man from innocence to corruption. The apostle taught that we should feast not on the barm of evilness, but on the unleavened loaves of soberness and truth. “Lettuce” the plant was called which they were to eat with the unleavened loaves; it is bitter in the eating: and we should purify our minds with the bitterness of true repentance, if we desire to partake of Christ’s body.

The people of Israel were not accustomed to raw flesh, though God commanded them not to eat it raw, nor sodden in water, but roasted at the fire. He will partake of God’s body raw, who without reason weens that he was a simple man like unto us, and not God. And he who will inquire into the mystery of Christ’s incarnation according to human wisdom, does as though he seethed [boiled] the flesh of the lamb in water; for water in this place betokens human knowledge. But we are to know, that all the mysteries of Christ’s humanity were ordained through the might of the Holy Ghost, then eat we his body roasted at the fire, because the Holy Ghost came in form of fire to the apostles, in various tongues.

Israel was to eat the lamb’s head, and the feet, and the inward part, and nothing might there remain overnight ; if anything remained, it was to be burnt in the fire ; and they were not to break the bones. In a ghostly [spiritual] sense we eat of the lamb’s head, when we receive the divinity of Christ into our belief. Again, when we with love receive his humanity, then eat we the feet of the lamb, for Christ is beginning and end, God before all worlds, and man at the ending of this world. What is the lamb’s inward part but Christ’s occult [hidden] commands, those we eat when with eagerness we receive the word of life? Nothing of the lamb might remain until morning, because the words of God are to be considered with so great carefulness, that all his commands, with understanding and effect, be pondered over in the night of this present life, ere the last day of the universal resurrection appears. But if we cannot investigate all the mysteries of Christ’s incarnation, then should we with true humility commit the remainder to the might of the Holy Ghost, and not too daringly, beyond the compass of our understanding, inquire concerning those deep secrets.

They ate the lamb with girded loins. In the loins is the lust of the body, and he who will eat the housel shall bind up lust, and with chastity receive the holy aliment. They were also shod. What are shoes but the hides of dead beasts? We shall be truly shod, if in our course and work we imitate the lives of men departed, who throve to [thrived in] God through observance of his commandments.

They had staff in hand at the refection. The staff betokens care and guardianship. They who better know and can should have care of other men, and support them with their aid. The partakers were commanded to eat quickly, because God abominates slackness in his servants, and he loves those who with the speed of God seek the joy of everlasting life. It is written, “Tarry not to turn to God, lest the time be lost through slothful delay.” The partakers might not break the bones of the lamb, nor might the soldiers who hanged Christ break his holy legs, as they did those of the two thieves who hung on the two sides of him. But the Lord arose from death sound, without any corruption, and they shall see at the Great Doom [the Last Judgment] him whom they cruelly wounded on the rood.

This tide is in the Hebrew tongue called Pascha, that is in Latin, Transitus, and in English, Passover; because on this day God’s folk passed from the land of Egypt over the Red sea, from thraldom to the promised country. Our Lord also passed at this time, as the evangelist John said, from this world to his Heavenly Father. We should follow our Head, and pass from the devil to Christ, from this unsteady world to his steadfast kingdom ; but we should first, in our present life, pass from sins to holy virtues, from vices to good morals, if we desire, after this transitory life, to pass to the life everlasting, and, after our resurrection, to Jesus Christ. May he lead us to his Living Father, who gave him to death for our sins. Be to him glory and praise for that beneficence to all eternity. Amen.


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