What is the Easter Vigil? If you’re wondering the answer to that question, keep reading. This article is for you.
The Easter Vigil is an evening service celebrated on Holy Saturday, the night before Easter. This year, we will hold our vigil on April 11 at 8pm. The beginning of the service is unlike anything else we do at Zion. We will begin outside, gathered around a fire pit in front of the church. Surrounded by darkness, this light symbolizes the light of Christ which breaks the darkness of sin and unbelief. From the fire pit, we’ll light the pascal candle. That’s the big white candle that normally rests on its stand by the baptism font, which represents the presence of Christ with his people. Once the candle is lit, we will process into the church in darkness. As the pillar of fire led the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land, the pascal candle leads us in to the church, where we receive heavenly manna until we as God’s people will be led to our eternal Promised Land in the New Jerusalem when Jesus returns.
Once we’re inside, we will each light individual candles from the pascal candle. At the Good Friday Tenebrae service, the sanctuary gradually was darkened to signify the darkness of sin and the solemnity of the crucifixion of the light of the world. The Easter Vigil acts correspondingly. We begin where we left off on Good Friday, in darkness, but more light is gradually introduced into the sanctuary as we begin the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and his victory over sin and death. It will also be the first look at the sanctuary that is decorated for Easter. We come into darkness, but as the lights are lit, we get our first glimpse of the glory of Jesus’ victory over the grave.
Next, there will be a series of readings. However, expect longer portions of Scripture than we typically hear on a Sunday. The Old Testament Israelites celebrated Passover to remember how God delivered them from slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt, even many generations after the Exodus. But, it was more than just cognitive reflection. By reenacting the Passover meal, they weren’t just recalling something that God did a long time ago, they were remembering and reenacting their story, the story of God’s salvation that he had called them into. Similarly, at the Easter Vigil we read of some of the key events in the history of God’s people as our story, the story of salvation and deliverance from sin in Jesus that he has called us into.
After the readings, we will have a time of remembrance of our baptism. We were brought into the people of God, out of darkness and into light, by our baptism. In baptism we were buried and raised with Jesus to new life. The Easter Vigil is a wonderful time to reflect on our baptism, which made us a part of God’s own people.
Then, we will have a time of responsive prayer, followed by a brief service of the word. Finally, we will receive the body and blood of Jesus crucified and risen for us for the first time since Maundy Thursday. We will remember that “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7), as we celebrate the victory of his death and resurrection.