Our Easter observance really began last night. As we do every year, we made our family Paschal candle:
And took it with us to one of our sister congregations, where we lit it for the first time during the Great Vigil of Easter. This is my favorite service of the church year…I love how it begins with firelight outside at sunset, and ends with the full lights on inside the church as we celebrate the Resurrection!
We were at our church very early in the morning today, for the sunrise service. Bunny, Moose, and Ladybug participated in the outdoor reenactment prior to the service…the rain stayed away, and it was a beautiful morning!
After the first service, and a delicious breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we took pictures (much to my family’s chagrin), and attended the Easter Divine Service, which is probably my second favorite service of the church year. I love the abundance of Alleluias!
We’ve had a low-key afternoon at home since church, but the big Easter dinner feast is yet to come!
Today there’s an article on the Sisters of Katie Luther about my favorite church service of the year, the Great Vigil of Easter. If you’re unfamiliar with this service, or you’ve just always wanted to learn more about it, I encourage you to take a few moments on this Holy Saturday to read about what makes it such a beautiful, unique bridge between Good Friday and Easter Sunday!
So, what does the Great Vigil of Easter look like? What is a vigil, anyway? (That one is easy…it’s a devotional watching, often the night before a church festival.) Why should you go to a service on Saturday night (sometimes quite late, although often in the early evening instead), when you’re going to be up early on Easter Sunday morning anyway? What is the benefit of this service?
Now, I am may be biased, but the Great Vigil of Easter is my favorite service of the church year, and the one I have learned the most from over the years. The service is divided into four main parts: The Service of Light; Readings; The Baptismal Remembrance; and The Service of The Lord’s Supper. (Some churches also count the Service of Prayer, and the Service of The Word as unique parts). Each part of the Easter Vigil has a unique purpose, and the totality of the service bridges the gap from Good Friday to Easter morning.
via Easter Vigil – Sisters of Katie Luther.
Not only are we blessed with a wonderful congregation which we call home, we are also blessed to have a local sister congregation with whom we occasionally celebrate special services, including Epiphany, Ascension, and my favorite service of the year, the Great Vigil of Easter. I love the transition from darkness to light that this service brings, the symbolism and remembrances. It feels like an extended time of the Sacrament, when Heaven and Earth intersect.
The bulletin from the Vigil had a great explanation of the parts of which the service is made up, and I thought I’d share that here:
“The Vigil has four parts. (1) It begins with the Service of Light. The Paschal (Passover) candle is lighted from new fire. Then we light our candles from the Paschal Candle. Following a procession, the Exsultet (Proclamation) joyously sounds the theme for the evening. (2) During the second part of the Vigil, a series of Readings from the Old Testament recalls God’s saving acts for his people throughout history. These readings and the accompanying prayers, psalms, and canticles, are the “vigil” portion of the service. Vigil means patiently but expectantly waiting for a celebration. During this service we ignore time. The Vigil has no set length, it lasts as long as it lasts. (3) The third part of the Service focuses on Baptismal Remembrance. We rejoice again in the blessings God gave to us in Baptism. We confess again the faith that the Holy Spirit gave to us in Baptism. And we promise again to live faithfully as God’s baptized people. Often we have the privilege of witnessing Baptisms or Confirmations. (4) The Vigil comes to a joyous conclusion in the Service of the Lord’s Supper, which begins tonight and is completed at the Festival Divine Service on Easter morning.”
It is a great blessing to go to this service and have the chance to “peak in the tomb” before Easter Sunday’s services, and hear the Word proclaimed so completely.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Once referred to as the “still days,” the Triduum marks the three-day period from Maundy Thursday to Holy Saturday. The services of those three days are actually three parts of one long service, culminating in the Great Vigil of Easter.
On Thursday, we are blessed with the opportunity to partake of the Sacrament one last time before the altar is stripped in preparation of the solemn services of Good Friday.
On Friday, we enter the now-bare sanctuary, to hear the words of our Lord’s suffering and death, and hear the Bible slammed shut as we ponder Him giving up His Spirit for us.
On Saturday, is the agonizing wait, as we hold our breaths throughout Jesus’s rest in the tomb. And then the Great Vigil, in which the Light is brought back, and the first glimpse of the opening tomb is observed.
The Paschal Triduum marks the highest and holiest point of the church year. From Thursday through Saturday, we walk with Jesus from the Upper Room to Gethsemane to the trial, and finally to Golgotha. We watch as His body is placed in the tomb, and we weep with his mother and disciples. But we know the Story doesn’t end there, and we wait, with all the company of heaven, holding our breath, and waiting for that glorious festival on Easter Sunday…
I don’t think I could ever find words to describe how much I love this service. The return of the Light, the readings from Holy Scripture, the remembrance of Baptism, the return of the Alleluias, the Lord’s Supper–I love it all.
I still remember the first time I attended the Easter Vigil–it was when I was in college, and it was something my church was doing either for the first time, or one of the first times…we certainly didn’t do it when I was growing up there. I remember sitting in the pew, in the darkness (that service started at 11:00 p.m., so it was really dark!), and thinking that I wished it would never end.
I still feel that way. If it weren’t for worrying about how loud my children are being, or how much longer they can make it through the service, I could stay forever. There is something so ancient and beautiful about the way the service is arranged, and the readings that are chosen–it is the perfect transition from darkness into Light, from Lent to Easter–and also provides so much in the way of Word and Sacrament.
Surely it is the Church on Earth at Her best!
Without a doubt, this is my favorite church service. I look forward to it all year long (although, there have been plenty of years where there was no service available for me to attend). Don’t get me wrong, I love Easter morning and Christmas Eve services, and all the other festival Sundays, but the Vigil will always be my favorite. The return of the Light, the Scripture readings, remembering our Baptism, the Lord’s Supper…going from the tomb to the resurrection. So ancient and beautiful, with all of the chanting, and the sprinkling of Baptismal water, the Sacrament, and especially that moment where we can finally say again “He is risen indeed. Alleluia.” And the return of the joyful chords of Jesus Christ is Risen Today, which chokes me up every Easter, after the long wait of Lent.
There’s just nothing else like it.