In the Anglican Tradition we make a big deal out of Easter. As early as the 3rdCentury AD Christians have been observing the Easter Vigil, which takes place sometime between sundown on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Sunday. Today churches from a variety of traditions (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and various Reformation churches like Anglicans, Lutherans, and some of the Reformed) still celebrate the Vigil. At its heart, this night is about celebrating Jesus’ victory over death, something we love to anticipate just as we anticipate Christ’s birth on Christmas Eve. This service finishes the Lenten and Holy Week walk through Christ’s Passion and is a traditional time for new converts to be baptized. And it starts off the Easter Season. In other words, the party starts tonight and doesn’t die down for over a month.
The Easter Vigil is made up of four different parts:
1) the Service of Light
2) the Service of Lessons
3) Christian Initiation
4) the Holy Eucharist
The Service of Light The Vigil begins after sundown outside the church when a fire is kindled. This is called the new fire. From this, the Paschal (Easter) Candle is lit, and from there each person’s candle. The Paschal Candle represents the presence of the Risen Christ. It is lit during all services from Easter to Pentecost, and at every baptism. With the candles lit, we process into the sanctuary behind the priest, who along the way chants: “The Light of Christ,” to which the people reply: “Thanks be to God.” In the sanctuary we find our seats, as a leader sings an ancient poem proclaiming to us the holiness of this night.
The Service of Lessons We now hear passages of Scripture, which communicate to us God’s saving acts in history. In between readings we respond through prayer, or singing, or other means. This portion of the Vigil reminds us how all of Christian Scripture finds its fulfillment in Christ.
Christian Initiation Having heard all about God’s intentions to save us, we have the chance to appropriate that salvation for ourselves. At this time, those who have been preparing for baptism throughout Lent are examined, make their profession of faith, and are baptized. If there is no one to baptize, the congregation is called upon to renew their baptismal vows.
The Holy Eucharist At this point, someone makes the traditional Easter proclamation: Alleluia! Christ is Risen! This is the first time since before Lent that we’ve used the word alleluia. Everyone joyfully responds: The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! And then chaos ensues in a portion of the service aptly called “the holy noise.” The lights come on. We pull out bells and noisemakers and make a holy noise, expressing our joy in Christ’s Resurrection. During this time, the church is redecorated for Easter. Next we have two more readings and a sermon, followed by Communion and then the closing.
A few notes: Children are welcome at the Vigil. Our tradition fully embraces the place of children in the Christian community, and their participation in the service is highly valued. Most kids are partial to the Holy Noise. Since the Vigil is late and lasts somewhere around 2½ hours, you might want to bring them in their pajamas (and if they fall asleep, that’s fine). Take a nap beforehand, bring snacks, wander in and out if you need. Just make sure you bring your bells/whistles/air horns/kazoos/etc. You won’t want to miss out on this chance to take joy in our Saving God.