This Sunday is the octave day of the Lord’s resurrection and, as such, it is also the eighth day. This day opens a pathway for the Church to appropriate more deeply and to contemplate ever more profoundly the mystery of the Lord’s victory over death.
In his reply to Faustus the Manichaen, Saint Augustine explained the change of signs from circumcision to baptism as well as the change of the Sabbath day from the seventh to the eighth. The saintly Bishop of Hippo did so by suggesting that the “eighth day” in the Old Testament carried with it the idea of new creation and resurrection. The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, was the third of the great pilgrimage feasts when all of Israel was meant to go to Jerusalem. The God of Israel instructed them to make a temporary shelter and dwell in it as in a tent, which had once been true during their wilderness wanderings in the desert. Thus, as God came to dwell with His people, like them, He lived in a tent, too—the meeting tent.
Then, in the fullness of time, with the Word becoming flesh taking root in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the lost presence of God was restored. Such a reconciliation only became possible when sin could be forgiven, which had been promised by the prophets and was accomplished by the atoning death of Jesus. The restored presence of God is seen in the manifestation of the two angels, sitting one at the head and the other at the feet where the body of Jesus lay (Jn 20:12), just as the two Cherubim sat over the Ark of the Covenant where the presence of God appeared when the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the mercy seat. In the resurrection of Jesus on the first day (i.e. the eighth day), the glory of God’s presence is made manifest to His people. Jesus brings about the new creation through His incarnation, death and resurrection and so fulfills the Feast of Tabernacles.
Christ died in order to defeat the powers of evil – sin, death, and the devil. In dying on the Cross, the death of the Lord Jesus, all that was necessary for the cutting away of the guilt, corruption and power of our sin was obtained. By His resurrection, Jesus ushered in the new creation, by both raising His people up to newness of life now, by securing our bodily resurrection when He returns and the new heavens and new earth fully dawn wherein righteousness will dwell at that consummation of time. The “eighth day” is pregnant with ceremonial significance in redemptive history. As with all the types and shadows ordained by God, that day is invested with theological significance to serve the redemptive historical purposes of God. As Augustine noted, Jesus finished the necessary work of salvation and, then, rested in the tomb on the Old Covenant Sabbath. Afterwards, on the first day of the week, or the octave or eight day, He first rose and affirmed His presence, which is forever guaranteed to believers. In the resurrection of Jesus on the first day, or the eighth and perfect day, the glory of God’s presence is made manifest to His people. The octave day can be considered as the “greatest day” of the Feast of Tabernacles itself. This practice of observing the octave day as the greatest day of the feast is rooted in Jewish celebration.
Divine Mercy Sunday (Feast of Mercy), the Second Sunday of Easter is “the greatest day”. We need to take the time to consider the meaning of these multiple aspects of this one octave day and the connection that exists among them. We must enter into this Easter Sunday celebration knowing that the greatest day of this feast is the celebration of God’s Mercy. Saint Gregory of Nazianzen also supports this interpretation, declaring that the Octave Day of Easter is even a greater feast than Easter, though it takes nothing away from the greatness of the Day of Resurrection itself. Easter Sunday is the boundary between death and life hence, a creation. But its eighth day, the Octave, is the fulfillment of what Easter is all about — perfect life in eternity that is a second creation or recreation, more admirable and more sublime than the first.