“In one sense, the history of our Church could be summed up in the words of the disciples as they told their story to Thomas: ‘We have seen the Lord!’
An Ancient Service
Only the Eucharist itself is older than the liturgy of the Great Vigil. This service reenacts the passage from death into life. The liturgy begins in a darkened church. The paschal candle is lighted as the “light of Christ” is proclaimed and praised. Then several readings from the Old Testament tell of God’s work of creation, the calling of the Hebrews to be God’s people, and the deliverance of this people in the exodus.
An air of expectancy surrounds the prayers and singing of canticles that follow each reading. In many churches, small candles held by the worshipers provide the only light for this part of the service. These candles are lighted from the paschal candle. Then, the altar candles are lighted from the paschal candle and in a blaze of light and triumphant music, the first Easter Eucharist begins. Baptisms follow the reading of the gospel.
Easter Eve has always been the 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 may join in the Renewal of Baptismal Vows. Thus is recalled the time when we “died and were buried with Christ” and were raised with him to newness of life.
The Neophytes (the newly baptized) experience the sacraments of Easter as the basis for their understanding of their understanding of the period of Mystagogy that includes the fifty days of Easter. New life, through Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, is celebrated not only on Easter Sunday but throughout the Easter Season.
All these stories and rites, told and enacted in the Church’s liturgy, should only be the beginning of our Easter stories. In one sense, the history of our Church could be summed up in the words of the disciples as they told their story to Thomas: “We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25b)
So in this most solemn vigil, in recalling our shared history with God told in the scripture readings and in the sharing of the bread and wine, into the darkness of our lives with the light of his risen life. We celebrate or deliverance by Christ our Passover and look forward to the day when we shall see him face to face.
Living the Good News is a lectionary-based curriculum from Morehouse Education Resources. Beginning Fall 2012, it will be in a new online format. Learn more here.
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