Introducing Holy Week: The Great Vigil of Easter
In the dark night (10:3o pm) before Easter Morning, a fire is kindled. A voice sings out “The Light of Christ!” The people respond, “Thanks be to God.” The Easter Vigil is the holiest moment in the Christian calendar. The liturgy is otherworldly, intentionally. In the darkness, the great and saving acts of God throughout history are recalled.
The people process into the church, and the cantor who sang “The Light of Christ” continues chanting the Exsultet, “This is the night when you brought the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land…This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.” This is the night, we hear it again and again.
The service then proceeds into a series of readings, silences, songs, and prayers. We read more of the Bible than at any other service in the year. The Church remembers God’s saving deeds. All of it builds to the reading of the Gospel of the Resurrection, the story of the disciples, women and men who followed Jesus walking into the empty tomb, discovering that Jesus is risen.
For almost two thousand years, the night before Easter has been the principle time when adult converts to the faith are baptized. As in the early church, during the Easter Vigil we will have a baptism by immersion. Our candidate will stand in a pool of water as pitchers of water are poured over her head, the priest saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” They the newly baptized will climb up out of the pool, and her forehead will be anointed with oil. She will greet the assembly at the peace.
After the Baptism, the darkened church erupts in light. The priest proclaims the first Alleluia of Easter: “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” and the people respond, “The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!” We celebrate Holy Eucharist together in the bright church. Afterwards, at Holy Communion, we continue the feast. We pop corked bottles of wine and sparkling cider. Tables of chocolate (and a chocolate fountain) and other desserts greet us as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection into the early hours of Easter Morning.