Christians have for centuries kept vigil in darkness as night falls, lighting the new fire outside the church building, lighting the Christ candle from that fire, then carrying it inside, calling out in processional, "The light of Christ. Thanks be to God."
But who is the Vigil for?Like any service of Christian worship, it is for anyone. All are welcome. It may be a new experience for many going to church on Saturday night, but I encourage you to try it. The service is so very different from what you you have experienced Sunday mornings, or at prayer-services mid-week. It is the kind of service that is better seen than told about, experienced first-hand rather than heard about second-hand, so do consider yourself invited (and for the curious among us, the Wikipedia entry on Easter Vigil is quite good, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Vigil).
The Vigil is also especially for the candidates/catechumens. It is the service at which candidates for baptism are immersed in the baptismal waters and welcomed into the life of Christ. It is the service at which those returning to Christian community, or moving from other places, affirm their baptism in Christ.
The Vigil is full of readings from Scripture. Prepare your hearts and minds to hear the slow unfolding of God's gracious activity in the world and among us. Twelve readings are appointed, not all of which are read each year, but as a whole they lift up the greatest moments of the history of God's salvific work--creation, flood, testing of Abraham, deliverance at the Red Sea, the gift of wisdom, the valley of dry bones, the deliverance of Jonah, the deliverance from the fiery furnace, and more.
But why add an Easter Vigil?
Some churches call Holy Week the "liturgy of the three days." In a way, there are not three or four services that make up holy week, but one long service divided up into multiple parts. On Maundy Thursday, the church remembers Christ's last supper in the upper room with his disciples, and his servant-act of washing their feet. On Good Friday, the church commemorates his death on the cross. On Saturday, the church keeps vigil, mourning with the disciples, buried in the death of Christ, but anticipating the Easter morn. So it keeps vigil, re-tells the story of God's might deeds among Israel and in creation. It sits with the new in faith, and watches in anticipation for the light of Christ. The Easter Vigil is in this way both very solemn, and profoundly joyous.
Following the reading of Scripture, those who have been preparing for baptism come to the waters and new life in Christ. In our congregation, we have two adults and almost a dozen children who will be baptized this evening. Even if you don't like fire or the bible, you have to like babies, right? In which case you don't want to miss the Easter Vigil, because there will be plenty of cute babies and children being baptized. But this is more than cute, this is about new life, and new life in Christ, as we welcome these new Christians in our community. At the same time, we welcome the many adults affirming their baptism as part of our period of adult inquiry.
Where did you get this idea?
Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church in Seattle, Washington has been our primary mentor for implementing the catechumenate and the Easter Vigil. Their pastor, Paul Hoffman, has written a wonderful little book I recommend, Faith Forming Faith: Bringing New Christians to Baptism and Beyond
, which tells the story of developing The Way in their congregation. In addition, our denomination is increasingly encouraging this pattern for Christian faith formation in congregations around the country, and even hosts training and publishes resources to learn more.
I can hardly describe how excited I am to be hosting this service at GSLC this year. It is an honor and a joy and a privilege to gather with others as we anticipate and celebrate again the rising of the Sun, the one raised by his Father in victory over death. We will at that point no longer be able to contain our Alleluias!
You can attend seminars, including an upcoming training at Christ the King in Houston, Texas :
Read more about Phinney Ridge and the Easter Vigil here:
Learn more about the ELCA resources and approach here: