The Easter Vigil is an ancient service of the church, predating the Christ Mass (which became "Christmas") by centuries. It was a vigil service, meant for Holy Saturday, a preparation for the resurrection. Its four part form reflect the importance of the service and the importance of Easter Sunday. It has been preserved by Protestants as well as Catholics, with whom it originated. What follows is a description of such a service, an impression of it, if used for worship on Easter Sunday morning, used for the spectacle as well as to recover the sense of Good Friday (which many people skip over) and to give the Vigil its due.
This service divides into four services: a service of light; a service of the word; a service of water; a service of the eucharist. The form I used is drawn from the United Church of Christ Book of Worship which, in good Reformed tradition, places as much emphasis on the Word as on the Bread and Wine (so the Word precedes the renewal of baptism vows in the service of Water, and comes before the service of Bread and Wine, or the eucharist).
Each part is meant to recall the salvation history set out in the scriptures. The Service of Light centers around the lighting of the Paschal Candle and the Easter Proclamation, that recalls the salvation history. The service of the Word involves four lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures: Genesis 1:1-2:3, and verses from Psalm 33 or 46; Genesis 22:1-18, and Psalm 16; Exodus 14:15-51 and the Song of Moses, Exodus 15:1-10; and Isaiah 55:1-11, and the First Song of Isaiah, Isaiah 12:2-6.
The lessons from the New Testament is Romans 6:3-11, and Psalm 114 or 118, preferably sung; and the gospel lesson for the lectionary year. This year, Luke 24:1-12.
The Service of Water includes a renewal of Baptismal vows; and the vigil concludes with a service of the Eucharist.
It should start in a darkened room. Not a dark room, just a darkened one. No lights but what comes in the windows, and those preferably stained glass. "Stained" is the right term here; the right metaphor. Stained glass straining the light that wants to get in. Not yet; we are not yet ready for the light.
A darkened room; and a large room, not a small one. Not huge, but large, with a high ceiling; and with people. Not crowds, unless you like crowds. As many as you think necessary; as many as should be there. The first Easter was a solitary affair, but they ran to get others, so you shouldn't be alone, but neither do you need the whole world in attendance.
Now, song. Mournful song. "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" is appropriate, because too many of those there will have skipped Good Friday; and who can blame them? Death comes to us all, why should we be in haste to remember the death of our God? And if we don't recognize it as that, more shame on us. But if we do not care to come, year after year, to acknowledge it, let that be in our hearts. Song, preferably sung only by one, and light. A candle. A huge candle, perhaps four feet tall; but a single flame. A single candle. And that's all the light. Were you there?
If you have an orchestra, this would be a good time for the opening of Bach's Easter Oratorio. Only strings can emulate light in song, only Bach can put sunlight into music with such joy. But an organ will do, and a hymn, if no small orchestra is available. It doesn't matter. The joy is all that matters. Joy and more song and now lights and flowers, the lilies everyone associates with Easter, and the cloths on the altar, on the pulpit, on the lectern: the beautiful pure white ecclesial cloths of Easter. Bring those out now. And sing, and rejoice, and listen to the word, from the beginning to now, the lessons and the word, and celebrate the waters of life and baptism, the waters separated from the firmament as the earth is separated from the rain-bearing heavens. With the community, remember your baptism, renew your sacramental vows; vows made to the community of believer as well as to God. Then join in the eucharist, the thanksgiving, the celebration, shared on this day of all days. And go out in joy and triumph, sure over the victory of life over death, joy over sorrow, rejoicing over mourning.
The Easter Vigil is among the greatest of theatrical experiences, but you can only experience it if you believe it's true.ReplyDelete
I found even people unfamiliar with ritual appreciated it in a high, holy day when that us what's called for. And in the Christian calendar, it doesn't get higher or holier than Easter.ReplyDelete