On the Saturday before Easter, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamburg, Michigan, will join an ancient pattern for the Christian church. The Easter Vigil takes place in the darkness as night falls the day before Easter. We will gather outside the church building and light a new fire. I am not talking about a metaphorical fire. We will light a new fire that will be ablaze with the joy that the darkness cannot stop the light of Christ. From this new fire we will light the Paschal Candle. Everyone present will share the light of this candle. Each person will get a candle and we will have the battery-operated candles for the kids. We will then walk into the sanctuary together. We will share in a series of readings from Scripture that will recount the movement of God’s promises from our sin towards our life in Christ.
What began on Maundy Thursday and continued through Good Friday and Holy Saturday will culminate in the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before Easter do not have three or four separate services that make up holy week, but one long service divided into multiple parts. On Maundy Thursday, the church gathered to remember the command of the Lord to love one another as we have been loved. We remember on that night Jesus washing the disciples feet and His institution of Holy Communion as a sacred meal of forgiveness. On Good Friday, the church remembers Christ’s death on the cross. On Saturday the church keeps vigil. We mourn with the disciples that Jesus was buried but we also anticipate the resurrection from the dead.
The vigil is a time to retell the story of God’s mighty deeds in creation and find ourselves anticipating the new light and hope that is in Christ Jesus. We solemnly remember Jesus buried into our death and joyously discover that we are raised from death in His resurrection. The people attending will experience the movement of the darkness of the tomb into the light of the resurrection when we turn on all the lights in the sanctuary and reveal the church decorated for Easter. This service is the movement of the church from Lent towards Easter.
The vigil service is comprised of six parts: 1) the Service of Light, 2) the Service of Readings, 3) the Service of Holy Baptism, 4) the Service of Prayer, 5) the Service of the Word, and 6) the Service of the Sacrament. The vigil is about keeping watch for the resurrection of our Lord.
I remember in 2001 I participated in an Easter Vigil service as a part of my vicarage experience at Trinity in Hicksville, New York. Many members of the congregation were also members of the Hicksville fire department. The service begins with an unlit bonfire that is set ablaze. In the notes for the service there are comments about a small fire set in a brazier or a grill. At Trinity the pastor asked some of the members of the fire department to set up the bonfire for the Service of Light. When the flint was struck, the new blaze warmed all our hearts with the promise that Christ is the light that scatters the darkness. The blaze also warmed my face with a reminder that fire fighters know how to build good fires.
I greatly appreciate the visual character of Holy Week services. Maundy Thursday has the washing of feet and the Lord’s Supper. Good Friday has the sanctuary barren of any adornments and the cross a simple reminder of the death of Jesus. Holy Saturday has the new fire ablaze with the confidence that Jesus was dead and buried but would not be defeated.
Everyone is welcome to join the Easter vigil on April 19 at 7pm. I appreciate that the work of Christ is shared with so many visuals during the service, including, the light of the fire, the water of baptismal remembrance, and the body and blood of the Lord’s Supper. The Easter Vigil worship service is a part of the ancient pattern of preparing for the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord.
I am thankful for the words that Rev. Clint Schnekloth used to introduce the Easter Vigil to his congregation.