Mar 17, 2021This is the night: The Great Easter Vigil

This is the night: The Great Easter Vigil

Kim Snodgrass Three-minute read.   Resources
Easter Vigil, 2014. Christ Episcopal Church, Springfield, Missouri. Image: Gary Allman

Since the third century, this is the night we gather as God’s people to light the new fire and hear the stories that teach us who we are and what our God is like. This night we welcome candidates for baptism and join in the Renewal of Baptismal Vows. This night we are united in the taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. This night is an especially long evening for excellent reasons.

As fire is a source of warmth and light. Lighting the new fire of the Easter Vigil (the Paschal Candle) represents the passage from death into life, from darkness into light. Imagine the Paschal candle is a campfire and that we are God’s tribe, seeking light in the darkness and comfort in the wilderness.

This is the night when we gather with God’s people from all over the world and tell the story of our tribe, the stories that matter most to us. We need to hear these stories again and again. There is always more to learn and absorb as we surround ourselves with stories and images that remind us where we’ve come from and that we belong to the whole family of God – Abraham, Moses, Sarah, Miriam, Paul, Blessed Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Through their stories, we know our God hears the cry of the poor and the oppressed, that our God is the God of freedom. We need to be reminded that when things seem desperate, our God will find a way when there is no way. Even when we are blind and can’t see a way forward, God brings us new hope, helps us see in a new way. They are our kin, and we are their children, called to be peacemakers, to faithfulness and compassion and love.

Easter Vigil & Baptisms at Grace Episcopal Church Carthage, Missouri. Saturday April 20, 2019. Image credit: Gary Allman

Through these stories we hear Pharaoh say no to Moses’ call for freedom and Rome say no to Jesus’ call for justice, but God says yes. Our God is the one who leads us from oppression to justice, and God will not let anything on earth silence the Good News. Not even death. Even though they killed Jesus, nailed him to a cross, and tried to forget about him, now he lives. This night and every day, Jesus lives in us, and as the community gathers, individual tiny lights blend to cast a stronger glow.

The Baptism of Persephone at Grace Episcopal Church, Carthage, Missouri. 2018. Image credit: Gary Allman

The Great Easter Vigil has always been a traditional time for baptisms and, in ancient times, for the laying-on of hands by the Bishop. If there are no candidates for baptism, the congregation joins in the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, recalling the time when we “died with Christ” and are raised with Him to newness of life. When we renew our Baptismal vows, our new life is rededicated to fellowship and prayer, resisting evil, proclaiming the Good News and respecting the dignity of every person.

At the Last Supper Jesus shared the bread and cup of wine at a sacred meal and commanded his disciples to “do this” in remembrance of him. This night, Christ’s sacrifice is made present by the eucharist, and in it, we are united to his self-offering. This liturgy is intended to bring people together, remove barriers and create a new focus of unity among believers. It is the Church at its best, liturgically and communally.

After the Vigil, we will have been reminded in word and deed (and hopefully thought) that our God is the God who leads us from death into life. That nothing, not even death, can stop God’s love, God’s peace, God’s justice, God’s abundance.

On this night we let God’s kingdom take root in us. We ask Jesus to live in us, and every time we reach out in love to help someone in need, Jesus rises victorious again. Every time we share the abundance God has given us, God’s kingdom grows. And it will grow and grow until it reaches the ends of the earth.

I encourage you to make attending this service a priority. If possible, in person, but if not, our cathedral — Grace and Holy Trinity — is hosting a diocesan-wide virtual Easter Vigil in all its full glory. You are most welcome and encouraged to join the celebration!

Sources: Building Faith and Sermons That Work

Kim Snodgrass is Assistant to the Bishop for Christian Formation.

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