Recently a friend who visited St. Stephen’s remarked on the buzz and vitality that she felt in our worship and amongst the congregation. This past year has brought new members to our community, a new feeding ministry (Saturday Table), and many people finding anew the gifts God has given them and the ways that they can be used at St. Stephen’s and beyond. Thus, it seems appropriate to cap this exciting growth in our community and in our ministries with the celebration of what many in our Church consider the holiest and most sacred liturgy in our Church year—the Great Easter Vigil on the eve of Easter. This year we conclude our observation of Lent and Holy Week with the celebration of the Great Easter Vigil. This service offers us the opportunity to experience the joy and awe that the apostles felt at the resurrection of Christ!
The Great Easter Vigil is not to be confused with the vigil that St. Stephen’s parishioners keep in the sanctuary after our Maundy Thursday service until the morning of Good Friday—they are keeping vigil. The Great Easter Vigil is traditionally held after dark on Holy Saturday and before dawn on Easter Sunday. We will be holding ours at 8pm on Saturday, March 30th. You can read more about this service in your prayer book on page 285.
The celebration of the Easter Vigil begins in darkness as we stand in the shadow of the cross and the bleak, dark emptiness of Christ’s death. Prior to entering the sanctuary we kindle a fire – a new fire, a new light, that represents new life and new birth- and from that new fire we will light the Pascal candle and process into our dim sanctuary. As we sit in this darkness, we hear, recall and claim the stories of our salvation history, the stories of God’s people and God’s saving work. Following these stories we traditionally celebrate baptism and renew our baptism vows.
At this point the celebration begins: The presider declares “Alleluia. Christ is risen!” The bells begin ringing (you are encouraged to bring bells), the organ sounds the altar candles are lit illuminating the Lord’s table, and we burst into song and rejoicing. Lionel Mitchell writes, “Baptism celebrates our passage with Christ from death to life and our passage with the church from the paschal fast to the paschal feast” (Lent, Holy Week, Easter and the Great Fifty Days, 102). This joyous moment is followed by the first celebration of Eucharist. After the service we will “break” the paschal fast with a celebration in the parish hall.
I urge each of you to participate in this service in which we are made one with Jesus as we participate in his death and resurrection. We will be enveloped in the symbols of our faith—fire, light, water, bread and wine. And during it we will experience the moment where life conquers death once and for all.
In order to help prepare us for this experience, I will be teaching a Lenten study on the Lent and Holy Week events leading up to the Great Vigil. I encourage you to attend this, if possible, but even more importantly, to attend the services that carry us through this holy season (Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Easter Vigil). It is this journey through loss and darkness that allows us to truly burst with joy and light at our Savior’s resurrection.
Yours in Christ,