EASTER VIGIL OR THE FIRST SERVICE OF EASTER
During the Great Three Days, from sunset Holy Thursday to sunset Easter Day, we celebrate the saving events of Jesus Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. In the development of Christian worship, each event came to be remembered on a separate day. In the earliest centuries, however, these events were celebrated as a unity in an extraordinary single liturgy that began Saturday night and continued until the dawn of Easter Day. It was known as the great Paschal (Easter) Vigil. Preceded by a fast day, it was the most holy and joyful night of the entire Christian year, for it proclaimed and celebrated the whole of salvation history and Christ's saving work. It is the most appropriate time for baptisms; persons baptized symbolically die and rise with Christ (Romans 6:3 –11). It has also come to be seen as a most appropriate time for congregational reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant. The Easter (Paschal) Vigil has both historic and symbolic roots in the Jewish Passover. That is why so many images are from the Old Testament and why so many analogies are experienced in Christ. In this service we experience the passage from slavery to freedom, from sin to salvation, from death to life. The Easter Vigil is the First Service of Easter. The following service is an adaptation of the ancient Paschal Vigil service and consists of four parts: (1) The Service of Light, (2) The Service of the Word, (3) The Service of the Baptismal Covenant, and (4) The Service of the Table. The length of the service may suggest that the sermon be brief. Thus we celebrate God's saving work in Christ through the symbols of light, word, water, and the heavenly banquet. This service may be celebrated in one of several ways:
1) It may be an Easter Eve service, comparable to a Christmas Eve service, reaching its climax after midnight. This comes closest to the ancient pattern and is appropriately called the Easter Vigil.
2) It may be a predawn Easter service, like a modern Easter sunrise service but beginning while it is still dark so as to experience the transition from darkness to light. In this case it may be called the First Service of Easter and may be followed by a festive breakfast.
3) Because the service is very long, it may be divided into two services: a predawn/sunrise Service of Light and Service of the Word, followed by a festive breakfast, followed by a Service of the Baptismal Covenant and Service of the Table. With the Easter Day service, a sequence of three different services would make a unity. Persons could attend any or all of them. THE SERVICE OF LIGHT
The service begins in darkness. If possible, the people should gather outside the building or in a room or hall other than the sanctuary that can accommodate the whole congregation. A fire, built on the ground or in a large brazier and symbolizing the Resurrection, is kindled while the people gather. The central sign is the paschal candle, a large freestanding white candle signifying the triumph of the Resurrection over the darkness of death. Each person may also be given a candle. Silence is kept until all have assembled. GREETING AND INTRODUCTION *
The leader addresses the people with these or similar words:
Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ our Lord.
My brothers and sisters in Christ:
On this most holy night (morning)
in which Jesus Christ passed over from death to life,
we gather as the Church to watch and pray.
This is the Passover of Christ,
in which we share in Christ's victory over death.
God of life,
through Jesus Christ
you have bestowed upon the world the light of life.
Sanctify this new fire,
and grant that our hearts and minds may also be kindled
with holy desire to shine forth with the brightness of Christ's rising,
that we may attain to the feast of everlasting light;
The paschal candle is lifted so that all may see it, and the leader says: Christ is our light!
A procession then forms. PROCESSION INTO THE CHURCH *
If candles have been given to members of the congregation, they may be lighted from others that have been lighted from the paschal candle. As the room fills, stationary candles in the sanctuary may be lighted. As the congregation processes into the darkened sanctuary, the following or another appropriate hymn from UMH may be sung: 173 Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies
For a public domain version see pages 25-26 of the Book of Common Prayer.
THE SERVICE OF THE WORD
Let us hear the record of God's saving deeds in history,
and pray that each of us may receive the fullness of this grace.
The number of readings may vary, but Exodus 14 and at least two other readings from the Old Testament should be used in addition to the New Testament readings. Each reading may be introduced with the words given and followed by silence, a psalm or a hymn, and then a prayer. THE CREATION
With a word God creates order out of the primeval, watery chaos.
God's good creation reaches its pinnacle in humankind,
the bearer of God's image.
Genesis 1:1 –2:4a
Silence, then one of the following from UMH: 767 Psalm 33 145 Morning Has Broken
Almighty God, you wonderfully created, yet more wonderfully restored,
the dignity of human nature.
Grant that we may share the divine life
of the One who shared our humanity,
Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
THE COVENANT BETWEEN GOD AND THE EARTH
God causes the earth, overcome by sin, to be drowned in a watery deluge. Yet in
and binds all together in a covenant with the sign of a rainbow.
Genesis 7:1 –5, 11–18; 8:6–18; 9:8–13
Silence, then one of the following from UMH: 780 Psalm 46 110 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
Almighty God of heaven and earth, you set in the clouds a rainbow
to be a sign of your covenant with every living creature.
Grant that we may be faithful stewards
of the dominion you have entrusted to us on earth,
according to your grace given to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Isaiah 55:1 –11 (or 1–5 if canticle follows)
Silence, then one of the following from UMH:
125 Canticle of Covenant Faithfulness 641 Fill My Cup, Lord
Creator of all things,
you freely offer water to the thirsty and food to the hungry.
Refresh us by the water of baptism
and feed us with the bread and wine of your table,
that your Word may bear fruit in our lives,
and bring us all to your heavenly banquet;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A NEW HEART AND A NEW SPIRIT
The prophet promises that God will renew God's people.
God will replace their heart of stone with a new heart.
Ezekiel 36:24 –28
Silence, then one of the following from UMH: 777 Psalm 42 393 Spirit of the Living God
Prayer for a New Heart (UMH 392) or the following is said:
God of holiness and light, in the mystery of dying and rising with Christ
you have established a new covenant of reconciliation.
Cleanse our hearts and give a new spirit to all your people,
that your saving grace may be made known to the whole world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
NEW LIFE FOR GOD'S PEOPLE
The prophet Ezekiel sees a vision:
God will take the dry bones of God's people,
reconnect them, breathe into them, and restore them to life.
Ezekiel 37:1 –14
Silence, then one of the following from UMH: 856 Psalm 143 420 Breathe on Me, Breath of God
Eternal God, you raised from the dead our Lord Jesus
and by your Holy Spirit brought to life your Church.
Breathe upon us again with your spirit and give new life to your people,
through the same Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
BURIED AND RAISED WITH CHRIST IN BAPTISM
The apostle Paul reminds us that in Christ we have already died,
drowned in baptism.
Yet we who have died are raised to newness of life.
Romans 6:3 –11
Psalm 114 (UMH 835) and/or an alleluia (UMH 78, 162, 186, 486) may be used. GOSPEL LESSON*
Matthew 28:1 –10 (Year A) Jesus is raised while the guards shake.
Mark 16:1 –8 (Year B) Who will roll away the stone for us?
Luke 24:1 –12 (Year C) Why look for the living among the dead?
THE SERVICE OF THE BAPTISMAL COVENANT
If persons are to be baptized, confirmed, or received into membership in the local congregation, or to make a personal reaffirmation of faith, The Baptismal Covenant I (UMH), II (UMH), or III (UMH) is used. If there are no candidates for any of these acts, the congregation may use The Baptismal Covenant IV (UMH). THE SERVICE OF THE TABLE
TAKING THE BREAD AND CUP
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING *
The congregation turns to A Service of Word and Table III (UMH) or one of the musical settings in UMH, and the pastor prays The Great Thanksgiving. THE LORD'S PRAYER *
BREAKING THE BREAD
The pastor breaks the bread and then lifts the cup, in silence or with appropriate words. GIVING THE BREAD AND CUP *
The bread and wine are given to the people, with appropriate words being exchanged. The congregation sings joyous Easter hymns while the bread and cup are given. When all have received, the Lord's table is put in order. The pastor or congregation may give thanks after communion. SENDING FORTH
HYMN* See suggestions for Easter. DISMISSAL WITH BLESSING *
We are sent forth in the power of Christ's resurrection. Alleluia!
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all. Amen.
GOING FORTH *
Keywords: Easter Vigil, Great Vigil, Great Vigil of Easter, Baptism, Communion, Service of Light, Paschal, Exsultet, Paschal Candle, bonfire