Easter Vigil

THE EASTER VIGIL IS ONE OF CHRISTIANITY’S MOST ANCIENT OBSERVANCES, BEGINNING IN THE EARLY YEARS AFTER JESUS’ RESURRECTIONS. IT WAS A PARTICULARLY HOLY TIME, REMEMBERING GOD’S HEALING AND RESTORING WORK THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY OF GOD’S PEOPLE AND BECAME THE TIME WHEN NEW ADDITIONS TO THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY WERE WELCOMED THROUGH BAPTISM.

THE VIGIL IS INTENDED TO EXTEND THROUGH SATURDAY EVENING AND INTO EARLY SUNDAY MORNING, SO THAT AT ITS CONCLUSION, THE FEAST OF THE RESURRECTION IS SHARED AS A FIRST CELEBRATION OF EASTER.

FEW OF US HAVE THE STAMINA TO SEE THROUGH AN ALL-NIGHT VIGIL, BUT WITH THE HELP OF CURRENT TECHNOLOGY, AND WITH STAY-AT-HOME PRACTICES CONTINUING ACROSS THE COUNTRY, THIS COULD BE A GREAT TIME TO ENGAGE OUR NEIGHBORS IN THE VIGIL AT WHATEVER TIME OF DAY OR NIGHT.

THIS CAN BE A REALLY ENGAGING AND FUN EXPERIENCE FOR ALL AGES.

THE STORIES ARE LISTED BELOW.

IF YOU WANT A MORE FORMAL SETTING FOR YOUR VIGIL, YOU CAN FIND A FULL LITURGY HERE.

MANY OF OUR HYMNALS HAVE LITURGIES FOR THE VIGIL. THESE CAN EASILY BE ADAPTED TO THE FOLLOWING SUGGESTION.

OR, YOU CAN FOLLOW THIS LITURGY:

GATHERING

We welcome the Light of the World.

Begin worship after nightfall, if at all possible.

If you are able to have a small fire – in a camp ring or metal bushel basket (safely, away from buildings and following local codes), or an indoor fireplace, for instance – light that fire as the beginning of worship.

Pause for a moment of silence as the fire gains strength.

You might sing a song as the flames gain strength.

Or, you can listen to something like Peter Gabriel’s The Feeling Begins (Last Temptation of Christ Soundtrack). The young at heart might need to dance during this!

Light a large (white, if you’ve got it) candle from the fire as the following invocation (invitation for God’s Presence) is said by One or All:

Light of the World:

…brought to physical birth in Creation,

…guiding God’s people through the wilderness in both pillar and the Law,

…made human in the person of Jesus the Christ,

…poured out within every soul through the Spirit.

We celebrate your life-giving flame and welcome your presence in the midst of these days shadowed by fear and anxiety.

If worshiping solo, lift the candle as you repeat the following saying three times. If worshiping in a group, pass the lit candle around the group, repeating the following phrases as each person lifts the candle overhead.

The light of Christ.

Thanks be to God.

If you move around your space for each text response, let the lit candle travel with you throughout the evening, leading you to each new destination and marking each space you occupy as sacred.

PRAYER

The following can be shared by One or All or broken up to be shared by Many:

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your creative energy flowing through the cosmos;

…your cleansing waters renewing the earth;

…your commitment to covenants of grace;

…your deep desire to deliver from bondage;

…your abundant nurturing of bodies and souls;

…your wonderous wisdom freely offered;

…your unshakeable will to make us new;

…your renewing Spirit breathing life amidst death;

…your unquenchable thirst for justice;

…your unrelenting resolve to restore relationship;

…your patient cultivation of equity and joy;

…your fiery resolve to inspire faith;

…your unending urge to walk with us through death and pain;

…your eternal longing to bring wholeness through love.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story.

Let us see our own lives reflected in your life.

Fill us with your story.

As it has lit the paths of history and tradition, let us see it gleaming in the now.

Fill us with your story; let us enter into it.

Fills us with your story; may it spark our own.

Fill us with your story.

Let it be our story; shining in each moment of every day.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we see You present with us.

In gratitude and joy we pray; AMEN

WORD

Let people take responsibility for presenting a creative response to each of the following texts.

Individual family members or small groups could prepare something to share live within each home.

OR

Households could prepare a skit or a brief contemplative practice; they might share a story book or a physical activity like yoga or dance with moves specific to the story; or they might reword a familiar tune and sing it, etc., etc. for each text. Invite folks to share via video, TikTok, or other online platforms, bringing the stories together for the whole congregation.

Larger congregations might stick with a TikTok (i.e., 30 second or less) approach in which multiple households or individuals “present” on the same text, creating a montage/collage for each segment.

The outline for each section is as follows:

  • Read the full text or an excerpt chosen by presenters.
  • Share the response – live or video.
  • Observe a moment of silent reflection.
  • Sing a brief song or listen to music appropriate to the interpretation: presenters may find really creative options for this, or use songs familiar to the congregation.
  • Observe a moment of silent reflection.
  • Each section includes a suggested closing prayer.
  • Take a final moment of silence before moving on to the next text and visual offering.

The following texts are suggested in Evangelical Lutheran Worship; other traditions may have slightly different suggestions. For a slightly different list, see here.

NRSV links are to Oremus Bible Browser; The Message links are to Bible Gateway.

First Reading

Creation

Responsive Prayer

Joyful Creator, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your creative energy flowing through the cosmos.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Second Reading

Flood

Responsive Prayer

Blessed Renewer, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your cleansing waters renewing the earth.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Third Reading

Testing & Blessing

Responsive Prayer

Abiding Promise, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your commitment to covenants of grace.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Fourth Reading

Deliverance of God’s People

Responsive Prayer

Holy Deliverer, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your deep desire to deliver from bondage.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Fifth Reading

Salvation and Nurture

Responsive Prayer

Beautiful Mother, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your abundant nurturing of bodies and souls.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Sixth Reading

Wisdom

OR

Responsive Prayer

Divine Wisdom, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your wonderous wisdom freely offered.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Seventh Reading

New Heart & New Spirit

Responsive Prayer

Steadfast Transformer, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your unshakeable will to make us new.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Eighth Reading

Dry Bones & the Breath of Life

Responsive Prayer

Life-giving Breath, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your renewing Spirit breathing life amidst death.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Ninth Reading

God’s People Called Together

Responsive Reading

Righteous Judge, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your unquenchable thirst for justice.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Tenth Reading

Recall to Relationship

Responsive Prayer

Eternal Friend, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your unrelenting resolve to restore relationship.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Eleventh Reading

Good News in the Garden of God’s Favor

Responsive Prayer

Greenest Gardener, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your patient cultivation of equity and joy.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Twelfth Reading

Fiery Faith

Responsive Prayer

Flame of Rebirth, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your fiery resolve to inspire faith.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

Epistle Reading

Baptized in Christ’s Death and Life

[See “Remembrance of Baptism”, below, as an alternative to a presentation of this text.]

Responsive Prayer

Healing Christ, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your unending urge to walk with us through death and pain.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story. AMEN

REMEMBRANCE OF BAPTISM

Traditionally Holy Baptism is placed either here or after the Gospel reading and Sermon.

In some congregations/traditions this is a time for accepting new members or the Rite of Affirmation of Baptism.

In this time of hypervigilance around washing and cleansing, it seems appropriate to include a Remembrance of Baptism in this time of worship. You may do so either here or following the Sermon.

You will need a large pitcher (or whatever vessel is handy) of water, a large empty bowl or bucket, and a clean towel.

Prayer

Joyful Creator, Light of the World

Thank you for swirling us up in the waters of life,

calling, claiming and naming us as your own Beloved Child.

As we remember your life pouring out through all creation

and throughout time bury us, once again, in your story;

with it draw us from life through death

into your promised new life in Christ.

AMEN

As the water pitcher is raised over head, the following might be said by the One or Many:

We are one with Christ in the death of the cross:

a death of division and separation.

We are one with Christ in the death of the cross:

a death of injustice and violence.

We are one with Christ in the death of the cross:

a death of cruelty and outcasting.

As water is poured into the bowl (or bucket) the following words might be shared, by One or Many:

In baptism, waters of life are poured over us;

our shadow self is buried in Christ.

In baptism, waters of life are poured over us;

our little self is bathed in Christ.

In baptism, waters of life are poured over us;

our fearful self is embalmed with Christ.

As fingers are splashed in the water and then used to make a watery sign of the cross on another’s forehead, the following words might be shared:

We are united with Christ:

You are a wholly holy being.

We are united with Christ:

Your life is the Life of Christ.

We are united with Christ:

You are a Beloved Child of God.

Pause for a moment to enjoy the washing.

Song

You might sing along with Wade in the Water or another suitable song.

Wade in the Water

Lyrics

Ella Jenkins

Cynthia Liggins Thomas

Towel dry when the time seems right and close this segment with the following prayer:

Prayer

Fountain of Life, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your unending urge to walk with us through death and pain.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Let us see our own lives reflected in your life.

Fills us with your story; may it spark our own. AMEN

Gospel Reading & Sermon

Presentation of the Gospel can be the same as above texts, or it can be a traditional sermon from the pastor or a licensed congregational leader.

If you’re ready for the Resurrection Story, already, go ahead and use:

If you’re holding out for tomorrow for the proclamation of the resurrection, there’s still Good News to be found in either:

OR

You could sing again or follow the presentation/sermon with a moment of silence followed by prayer.

Prayer

Astounding Love, on this holiest of nights, we remember your Presence with us:

…your eternal longing to bring wholeness through love.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we seek your Presence with us:

Fill us with your story.

Let us see our own lives reflected in your life.

Fill us with your story.

As it has lit the paths of history and tradition, let us see it gleaming in the now.

Fill us with your story; let us enter into it.

Fills us with your story; may it spark our own.

Fill us with your story.

Let it be our story; shining in each moment of every day.

Gracious One, on this holiest of nights, we see You present with us.

In gratitude and joy we pray; AMEN

You might conclude your time with Prayers of Intercession and the Prayer that Jesus Taught Us. These can be collected via chat spaces on zoom or facebook, if you are using those platforms.

The Remembrance of Baptism can be moved to follow the Sermon.

OR

You may move on to Holy Communion.

Given the variety of denominational and synodical guidelines regarding sharing the Eucharist, no liturgy for the Eucharist is suggested here. However, you may consider options presented in suggested Maundy Thursday liturgies.

SENDING

You might close out this time of worship with these or similar words:

We rest now in peace, awaiting what tomorrow brings…