What is the Easter Vigil?

Having been raised as a liturgical girl, I consider myself quite savvy in the ways. There is one piece of the liturgical puzzle that I have not fully explored, but it with great excitement that I have read, studied and look forward to fully engaging. This piece is the service of the Easter Vigil. The Easter Vigil marks the end of the emptiness of Saturday, and leads into the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

The Easter (Paschal) Vigil has both historic and symbolic roots in the Jewish Passover. The Hebrew word pesach (Passover) became the Greek word pascha. Because Jesus’ death happened at the time of Passover, the term paschal mystery refers to his suffering, death, and resurrection. In this service, participants experience the passage from slavery to freedom, from sin to salvation, from death to life. The service begins in darkness, sometime between sunset on Saturday and sunrise on Easter, and consists of four parts: The Service of Light; The Service of Lessons; Christian Initiation (Holy Baptism); and the Eucharist.

The Service of Light: The darkness itself is the first movement of the liturgy. It represents all the meanings of darkness – devoid of light; evil thoughts, motivations, deeds; all that is hidden and secret, divisive, abusive, immoral and sinful. It represents the darkness of our world, and the darkness in our heart. Darkness is embarrassing and humbling, fearful and despairing. Darkness can be hard to sit in, so participants are intentionally moved to discomfort. Then a light is struck, and the light of Christ breaks into the darkness.

Liturgy of the Word– This next step is where nine readings are shared from Scripture – Seven readings from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament. Just before the Gospel, the Alleluia is sung. This is particularly meaningful, as throughout Lent our tempered worship has not sung Alleluia. This is another way that Easter is proclaimed.

Liturgy of Baptism– This is the third phase of the Vigil. Baptism and Easter have been closely linked from at least the end of the second century. Lent became the period of preparation for entering the Church through Baptism at Easter. Whether there are candidates or not, this is time for believers to re-affirm their own Baptism and remember their union with Christ in his death and resurrection.

Liturgy of Eucharist– This marks the end of the Vigil. All are invited to join at the sacrificial table. This table represents the broken body of Jesus and recalls his death and resurrection. It is the fullness of the gift of the Savior for us.

This vigil is a long service. In some traditions, it goes all night and day break marks the end of the service. This is where the sunrise service gets its roots. This is a time of moving from grief, to the recognition that restoration is not complete without the resurrection of Messiah. As the day breaks, hope is restored and the joy of the empty tomb delivers the good news of resurrection. This is that “day” that our faith matures. This is when we grown up in the knowledge and longing for resurrection.

My story will celebrate the Easter Vigil for the next 4 days. Each aspect of the 4 part liturgy will come to life in a story from my season of waiting in darkness. Sometimes I imagine being a follower of Jesus on Friday and Saturday. What despair. And then I remember that I am invited into the journey, not just symbolically, but intentionally in the gift of liturgy. May the waiting increase our dependance.

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