Melito was bishop of Sardis in the second half of the second century A.D. His sermon, “On the Passover,” only recently discovered, translated, and published, has been called “the most important addition to Patristic literature in the present century.” Unfortunately space requirements prohibit us from presenting it here in its entirety. (The full translation of the homily appears in Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation, Eerdmans, 1975; the excerpt here is reprinted by permission.) Melito was the first Christian preacher known to make full use of the verbal arts of his day to impress his audience with the dramatic power of the Gospel.
As late as the second century most church leaders in Asia Minor, including Melito, still celebrated Easter at the same time as the Jews celebrated Passover. They did so in the following way: with a fast that ended on the fourteenth of Nisan (the first month of the Hebrew calendar, March–April of our calendar); with a vigil that included a sermon on the Christian meaning of the Passover; with the rite of baptism that depicted the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ; and with the eating of a love feast and the celebration of the eucharist. Melito’s sermon probably was composed especially as an Easter sermon; he delivered it during the vigil of a second-century Christian Passover celebration.
1. First of all, the Scripture about the Hebrew Exodus has been read
and the words of the mystery have been explained
as to how the sheep was sacrificed
and the people were saved.
2. Therefore, understand this, O beloved:
The mystery of the passover is
new and old,
eternal and temporal,
corruptible and incorruptible,
mortal and immortal
in this fashion:
3. It is old insofar as it concerns the ...1
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