Extracts from a homily given by Pope Benedict XVI on Easter Sunday in St Peter's Square, 12 April 2009.
The Hebrew Passover, commemorating the liberation from slavery in Egypt, provided for the ritual sacrifice of a lamb every year, one for each family, as prescribed by the Mosaic Law. In his passion and death, Jesus reveals himself as the Lamb of God, 'sacrificed' on the Cross, to take away the sins of the world.
He was killed at the very hour when it was customary to sacrifice the lambs in the Temple of Jerusalem. The meaning of his sacrifice he himself had anticipated during the Last Supper, substituting himself - under the signs of bread and wine - for the ritual food of the Hebrew Passover meal. Thus we can truly say that Jesus brought to fulfilment the tradition of the ancient Passover, and transformed it into His Passover.
On the basis of this new meaning of the Paschal feast, we can also understand Saint Paul's interpretation of the 'leaven'. The Apostle is referring to an ancient Hebrew usage: according to which, at the time of the Passover, it was necessary to remove from the household every tiny scrap of leavened bread.
On the one hand, this served to recall what had happened to their forefathers at the time of the flight from Egypt: leaving the country in haste, they had brought with them only unleavened bread. At the same time, though, the 'unleavened bread' was a symbol of purification: removing the old to make space for the new.
Now, Saint Paul explains, this ancient tradition likewise acquires a new meaning, once more derived from the new 'Exodus', which is Jesus' passage from death to eternal life. And since Christ, as the true Lamb, sacrificed himself for us, we too, his disciples - thanks to him and through him - can and must be the 'new dough', the 'unleavened bread', liberated from every residual element of the old yeast of sin: no more evil and wickedness in our heart.
Let us open our spirit to Christ, who has died and is risen in order to renew us, in order to remove from our hearts the poison of sin and death, and to pour in the life-blood of the Holy Spirit: divine and eternal life.
The Risen One goes before us and He accompanies us along the paths of the world. He is our hope, He is the true peace of the world. Amen!