To those Redeemed by Christ,
Last year a new service was offered on Easter Eve called the Easter Vigil. This candlelight service seemed to be well received by the nice crowd that came. I was expecting 5 to 10 people. 22 people showed up! One worshipper said, “I could have vigiled all night!”
The service is calm and serene. Worshippers process into a darkened church with candles in their hands. The busyness of the Easter Day services is contrasted with the quiet peace of the Easter Vigil. It is a time for reflective meditation and remembrance of what Jesus has done for us. All of the Easter decorations are shrouded in darkness, but the smell of the Easter lilies awakens the senses to the full joy that will be celebrated in the morning. Ancient chants are sung and call to remembrance the time when God’s people of old waited to be delivered. As the familiar stories are recounted again and God’s promises to us are renewed, there is the sensation that God is true to His people. The shouts of triumph wait for tomorrow, and yet the peace of what God is accomplishing in Jesus is fully present. Vigil means "to watch," and as Mary and the faithful women waited through the night, so we gather to wait for the morning when we too can go to the tomb and find that Jesus is alive.
If Easter Day is about the Feast of Holy Communion and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, then the Easter Vigil is about our baptismal life in Jesus. In a meaningful part of the service called the Service of Baptismal Remembrance, we call to mind the promises God made to us in our Baptism. Those promises are renewed. We rise to new life as we celebrate the anniversary of our baptism into Christ.
Maybe it doesn’t seem right to have a service on Easter Eve. And yet we have a service on Christmas Eve, don’t we? Just as the joy of Christmas Day spills over to our Christmas Eve service, so too the Easter Eve service prepares our hearts for the joy of Easter morning. In fact, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the service on Christmas Eve!
The Easter Vigil service has a long history in the church. In the early church Christians were baptized and confirmed on this night, and Holy Communion took place at the coming of Easter Day. Would there be a better night to celebrate all these festivities than the night when Jesus rose from the tomb delivering us from sin and restoring life and salvation to us?
The Easter Vigil allows God’s people further opportunity to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the most important day in the life of the church. In the midst of this evil world we wait and pray in eager hope of our Lord’s return. Though we daily experience the darkness of sin and the sorrow of death, Christ is overcoming these things and is bringing new life to us. Though the wait is long, the morning of a new dawn is coming.
I told my former congregation that if they came to the Easter Vigil service three years in a row I guaranteed it to become their favorite service of the year. I never stayed around long enough to find out, but I do know that now I have at least one convert in this congregation. We won’t follow her wish and “vigil all night,” but this hour-and-fifteen-minute long service, I pray, will be a blessing to our congregation this year and for years to come. We hope that you will join us this year.
The Lord bless you and your family this Easter.