We are nearly through Holy Week.
We have gathered at the Lord’s Table on Maundy Thursday.
We have worshipped at the foot of the cross of Good Friday.
On Holy Saturday the Church has traditionally gathered at the Great Vigil of Easter – considered the most important time of worship in the whole calendar.
In the 20th century the Vigil fell out of favour with Lutherans, mostly for being too Roman Catholic. But the Vigil, for the better part of 2000 years, has been when Christians have gathered together to tell all the stories of faith at once.
On the evening of Holy Saturday, the vigil begins around the new fire, where the new Paschal (or Easter) Candle is blessed for the coming year (the big candle that we have at the front of the sanctuary. The candle is blessed and the year is imprinted in wax on the side. And then a deacon sings the Exultet, the an extended litany extolling God’s praises, welcoming the assembly into the keeping of the Vigil.
This is followed by 12 readings from across the Old Testament, with 12 accompanying psalms. The readings span from Creation, to Noah’s Ark, to the Burning Bush, to King David and the Prophets. Stories are read and sung, reminding us of how God has walked with God’s people throughout the ages. This is the part of the service that gives the Vigil its name – since it often took all night to do in the early church. Though modern Vigils are usually only one to two hours.
Once the stories of God’s people have been told, those assembly remembers their baptism (or anyone needing baptism is baptized) as the presider sprinkles water on worshippers with green boughs dipped in the font.
Then follows the Resurrection Gospel and often the ancient Easter Sermon of St. John of Chrysostom. Then the Eucharist blends into a great feast that lasts until morning. This is where the tradition of the Easter Breakfast comes from.
And then everyone goes home to sleep.
Easter Vigils have started making a comeback among some Lutherans, and are much more common among Anglicans and Catholics.
But sometimes just knowing the story of the Easter Vigil is enough to understand the drama of the three days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil.
This year the MNO Synod is inviting anyone who wants to attend an Easter Vigil to go to the one at St. John’s College, 92 Dysart Road, University of Manitoba, at 4:30 pm on Saturday. If you haven’t experienced an Easter Vigil at least once, it is definitely worth it.
But of course we will also be having our usual Easter Worship service on Sunday at 10:30am, where we will gather to announce the Resurrection and hear the Good News of the Empty Tomb together.