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A Peek into Holy Week: The Great Vigil of Easter

March 18, 2018

The Great Vigil of Easter Explained (2018) from Church of the Resurrection on Vimeo.

In preparation for Holy Week, we've been taking a peek into each of the three services that compose the Easter Triduum. We meet the presence of the Jesus in his servanthood and his body on Maundy Thursday. We encounter the intense love of Jesus on Good Friday in his sacrificial death. Our journey comes to its conclusion in the Great Vigil of Easter where we tell the story of God's saving deeds and fully encounter the resurrection Christ in his fully-alive glory.

The Great Vigil of Easter is the crowning jewel of Holy Week; it begins after sunset on Holy Saturday and extends through the night, culminating in the Vigil: Sunrise Service. Of all the services celebrated during Holy Week, the Easter Vigil is the oldest known service of the week. The earliest references to the Vigil are found in the second century AD. In the third and fourth centuries, Christians believed this was the most significant holy day for new Christians to declare their faith and become full members of the family of God. The Easter Vigil celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and looks forward to his coming again in glory to fully reconcile the world to himself.

The Vigil is made up of three services: Vigil: Light and Lessons, Vigil: All-Night, and the Vigil: Sunrise Service. The Vigil: Light and Lessons service begins with The Service of Light, which is often referred to as the Exsultet. The light represents our passage from the darkness of death on Good Friday into the light of life on Easter Sunday. It is at this time that the Paschal Candle is lit from a new fire outside of the church. Clergy members then process into the sanctuary with the light. As they reach the doors of the sanctuary, they stop and knock prior to entering. As the Paschal Candle enters the room, it is the only light. The Paschal Candle will burn during every service through Easter until Pentecost.

In the “Lessons” portion of this service, we dramatically reinterpret the traditional readings of our Great Vigil of Easter through visual art, theater, dance, and song. The artists of Resurrection prepare for months in advance, writing original songs, crafting new art, and theatrically interpreting these scripture stories to tell the story of salvation to the church and those who may never have heard of God’s saving deeds for all people. 

The Vigil: All-Night begins with a candlelight Taize service at 9pm, before we are ushered into the Liturgy of the Word, or the vigil readings. At Resurrection, we spend one hour exploring each reading through worship, an original song, preaching, and prayer. It is a time for us to slow down and dig deeply into the story of salvation presented to us through the vigil readings. It is also an opportunity for the many lay preachers and worship leaders at Resurrection to have an opportunity to lead. Throughout history, the number of readings has varied. We currently divide the readings between theatrical interpretations in our Vigil: Light and Lessons service, and traditional reading at the Vigil: All-Night service.

At 6am the Easter Acclamation service begins, and candidates for baptism are presented even as the congregation renews their own baptismal vows. Finally, we reach the moment that we wait for anxiously during Lent and all of Holy Week: the Easter Acclamation and the Holy Noise. The celebrant exclaims to the people: "Alleluia, Christ is risen!" And the people respond: "The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!" At this time, we shout and sing and dance as we celebrate the hope given to us all those many years ago on that first Easter Sunday morning, and we rejoice in the expectation of the return of Christ in the future. 

Watch the video of that moment below: 

Easter Sunday Explained (2018) from Church of the Resurrection on Vimeo.

This is truly the greatest moment of the entire year.  We then conclude the service by celebrating the Eucharist, enjoying together the meal that makes us one with Jesus' body and blood and unites us with the church throughout the ages. The Eucharist reminds us throughout the year of the death and resurrection of Jesus which we celebrate during Holy Week, and the first Eucharist of Easter is an especially poignant moment as it concludes our Holy Week pilgrimage.

At Resurrection, the Great Vigil of Easter is the most widely beloved service of the liturgical year. We experience a greater sense of unity both with one another and with the Lord in the celebration of the triumph over death. 

Join us Saturday, 3/31, at 4 or 7pm and through the night into Sunday, 4/1, at 6am to experience and celebrate Jesus' resurrection.