Pinocchio was swallowed by a whale, just like Jonah. Just like Jonah, he was spat out onto the land after repentance. Pinocchio’s story is told “according to” the story of Jonah, in a sense.
Now, this is a simplistic and obvious correlation, and I only use it because P. was on my mind at the time of this writing. I’m busy with a musical play that retells the story of Pinocchio for children. And my analogy isn’t quite right. Pinocchio just recycles what literary folk would call “the whale motif.” The New Testament doesn’t just recycle Old Testament motifs. The analogy in the Gospels between Jesus’ Resurrection and the Jonah story is called a “sign.” Jesus got swallowed by the tomb, or Hades, which in mythology is personalized – a kind of beast. Also, Jesus isn’t spat out by Hades passively as much as he just wasn’t held by it. Jonah (and Pinocchio) is passive to the actions of the whale. In Jonah, it seems that God commands the whale to vomit out Jonah. In P., he and Gepetto light a fire that causes the whale to sneeze. Jesus, on the other hand, rules Hades by virtue of His being the God-Man.
The point is, the story of Jesus out-sizes that of Jonah. Duh! But when telling the rather incredible story of Jesus rising from the dead, we begin to get a grasp on it by remembering the story of Jonah. You see, we’re accustomed to confessing Jesus’ Resurrection. But once-upon-a-time, it was a new proclamation. The folks who witnessed it had to make sense of it themselves first before they could pass it on. They understood it, in part, “according to” the story of Jonah. “Remember when Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the whale?” “Yeah.” “Well, Jesus kinda did the same thing.” “Really?! He did? How?” “Well, He was buried, and then three days later we saw Him and talked with Him and eve ate with Him!” Wow! What was that all about?!” “I’m glad you asked!”
The same is true for another type of the Resurrection – the crossing of the Red Sea. That’s a pretty big and awesome story. But Jesus’ story overflows it. Jesus doesn’t merely pass through death as Israel did the sea; He descends into it quite on purpose and even empties it. But we understand Jesus’ Resurrection “according to” the story of the Red Sea crossing. In it, as well as in the previous episode of the story when Israel is delivered from Egyptian captivity by being saved from the Avenging Angel, we find our vocabulary and images for telling about Jesus.
“For from death to life, and from earth to heaven has Christ our God led us as we sing the song of victory,” we sing. (It has a pretty catchy melody; maybe you’re humming it to yourself even now.) Egypt to Canaan, captivity to freedom, Moses to Christ, the song of Moses & Miriam to the song of the Lamb.
This is where Christian hymnography comes into play, for Orthodox hymns about the Resurrection call it “the Passover [pascha] of the Lord,” “a great Passover,” “the Passover of beauty.” The Gospels refer to His approaching “exodus” in the account of the Transfiguration, anticipating His Passion and Resurrection. These events in the life of Christ might have been somewhat ordinary when viewed “on the ground” by an average by-stander. I don’t know. There isn’t too much in the Gospels to indicate that the disciples saw anything that made Jesus’ arrest, trial, condemnation, crucifixion and burial extraordinary. It was His subsequent appearances and gift of the Holy Spirit which gave this new community their sight to see Jesus’ Passion as a New Passover — the Passover.
The theme of the New Testament is not one of miracles. That is not the proclamation. The proclamation is the Resurrection and what Jesus’ death and life mean in light of it. Jesus is the New Moses, the New Jonah, the Final Lawgiver, and the Final Word. He was raised “according to the Scriptures.” It’s not just that the Old Testament foresees this Messiahship, but it provides the means by which we understand it.
So, how do the hymns of the Church, in addition to what I’ve quoted above, understand and relate the Gospel, the Feasts and the Saints?
This is what we’ll continue to explore.