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The Great Vigil of Easter

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled to God.

The Great Vigil of Easter is the very heart of the Christian year, the mother of all our celebrations.  In the irony that defines the resurrection, we celebrate it after the sun goes down. We celebrate the coming of the light in the darkness.  And we learn that what St. John says is true, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it."

The Great Vigil, which begins at 8 pm, has four parts:

  • We begin outside, weather permitting.  We light the new fire, a custom which is probably Celtic in its origins.  As the sun goes down
    we defy the darkness.  The picture to the right is the new fire from last year's Vigil.  We light the great Paschal (Easter) Candle, which will preside over all Services through the Great Fifty Days (through Pentecost).  All receive light from the fire and a great chant is sung, "The Exsultet."  The above words in italics are taken from this incredible prayer of thanks and praise.

  • The Vigil then begins, an extended Liturgy of the Word. Some of the readings we use are told in unconventional ways. We listen and we sing in the darkness, lit by our candles.  This year we have chosen the following readings:  Genesis 1:1--2:4a (The Creation); Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13 (The Flood); Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 (Israel's Deliverance); Ezekiel 37:1-14 (The Valley of Dry Bones); and Zephaniah 3:14-20 (The Great Gathering).  All the possible readings are here.  When these readings end, Easter is Proclaimed and the Glory to God is sung and bells rung (you are welcome to bring a bell).  We hear the story of the resurrection.

  • As our first Easter act, we renew our Baptismal Covenant.  In Baptism, we say, "we are buried with Christ in his death," and "by it we share in his resurrection."

  • Finally we celebrate the First Eucharist of Easter.
This is an incredibly joyful Service.  At its end, we are ready to be resurrection people in the world.

Here's a portion of 17th century Anglican priest and poet George Herbert's poem Easter.

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
                                                Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
                                                With him mayst rise:
That, as death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
                                                With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name,
                                                Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
                                                Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied
                                                And multiplied;
O let thy blest Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.

Ralph Vaughan Williams set this poem to music, one of his Five Mystical Songs.