The Great Vigil of Easter is the heart of our Christian year and the culmination of the celebration of Holy Week. This feast celebration takes place after sundown on Holy Saturday and before sunrise on Easter morning. Beginning in darkness and silence as we watch and wait for the Lord’s Resurrection, the service takes us through the story of redemption – the passing from death to life and sin to grace. The service transitions to a joyous celebration of Jesus’ resurrection with light and the singing of Alleluias. As the first Easter act, we normally celebrate with baptisms, renewing our own Baptismal Covenant, and conclude with the first Eucharist of Easter.
PREPARE THE SPACE Gather at a time after sunset on Saturday or preferably, just before sunrise on Easter Sunday. Prepare your sacred space by arranging on your altar: two candles, a small bowl with a pitcher of water, a small sprig for asperging, and a bell for each person present. Additional candles may also be placed around the area.
PREPARE YOUR HEART Once the space is set, turn down the lights, and take a moment of silence.
THE LIGHTING OF NEW FIRE Light one candle. Once lit, the following is said,
One: Beloved in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to linger in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord in which, by virtue of our baptism into his death, into the hope of his resurrection, we celebrate the New Life we have received by his Mercy, awaiting the time when we may gather again around your holy altar.
One: Let us pray.
O God, you have bestowed upon your people the brightness of your light: Sanctify this new fire, and grant that we may so burn with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may attain to the festival of everlasting light; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The second candle is then lit from the first, and the following is said three times
One: The light of Christ.
All: Thanks be to God.
It is also appropriate for other candles to be lit at this time or as the Exsultet is said/sung. You may either read aloud the Exsultet as printed here. Each stanza can be said by a different voice. Or you may listen to the following chanted version of The Exsultet here: https://youtu.be/EgDelTrcH60
THE EXSULTET adapted from The 1979 Book of Common Prayer
One: Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and let your trumpets shout Salvation for the victory of our mighty King.
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, bright with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.
Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,
and let your holy courts, in radiant light, resound with the praises of your people. Amen.
One: The Lord be with you.
All: And also with you.
One: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
All: It is right to give God thanks and praise.
One: It is truly right and good, always and everywhere, with our whole heart and mind and voice,
to praise you, the invisible, almighty, and eternal God, and your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord;
for he is the true Paschal Lamb, who and by his blood delivered your faithful people.
This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel,
out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.
This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered
from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.
This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.
All: Holy Father, accept our living sacrifice of this candle in your honor. May Christ, the light of the world, bring us healing. May Christ, your light in us, drive away darkness and fear. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find our faith ever burning, our love of mercy and justice ever afire – he who gives his light to all creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
THE LITURGY OF THE WORD
One: Let us hear the record of God's saving deeds in history, how he saved his people in ages past; and let us pray that our God will bring each of us to the fullness of redemption.
The following readings and collects are to be read by candlelight. Because of the intention of this resource for a variety of uses, only three lessons are included. You may choose others here: https://www.lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/Easter/AEasVigil_RCL.html
These selections are also set in parts with dramatic responses. Have some fun. Responses are highlighted.
In the beginning---when God created the heavens & the earth---the earth was a nothing OOH
and darkness covered everything AAAHH
A wind from God swept over the waters OOOH
Then God said “Let there be light and there was light. YES
And God saw that the light was good. CLAP
God called the light---day OOOH And the darkness----God called night. AAAHH
And there we evening and there was morning the first day. GOOD NIGHT
On the next day God said “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters
and let it separate the heavens and the earth.” And it was so. YES
God called the dome---sky OOH And God saw that is was good. CLAP
And there was evening and there was morning---the second day. GOOD NIGHT
On the next day God said “Let the waters be gathered together in one place
and let the dry land appear. And it was so. YES
God called the dry land---earth. OOH and the water gathered together---God called the sea. AAHH
And God saw that it was good. CLAP
Then God said let the earth put forth vegetation; plants yielding grain and fruit;
trees of every kind on earth that give fruit. And it was so. YES
The earth brought forth vegetation OOOH plants yielding seeds and grain of every kind. AAH
and trees of every kind bearing fruit. OOH And God saw that it was good CLAP
And there was evening and there was morning---the third day. GOOD NIGHT
On the next day, God said “Let there be lights in the dome in the sky to separate the day from the night; lights in the skies to give light upon the earth. And it was so. YES
God made two great lights. The greater light---God called the sun---to rule the day. OOH
and the lesser light---God called the moon--- to rule the night. AAHH
God set the in the dome in the sky to give light upon the earth. OOOH
to rule over the day AAAAH and over the night. OOH
and to separate the light from the darkness. AAAH And God saw that it was good. CLAP
And there was evening and there was morning---the fourth day. GOOD NIGHT
On the next day God said “Let the waters bring forth all kind of living creatures and let birds fly above the earth. And it was so. YES
So God created the great sea monsters OOOOH and every living creature that moves in the sea AAAHH
and every bird in the sky. OOOH And God said that it was good CLAP
And there was evening and morning---the fifth Day. GOOD NIGHT
On the next day, God kicked it up a notch. God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over every living creature. So God created humankind in God’s very own image, YES in the image of God they were created; male OOOH and female AAHHH
God created them. YES God blessed them, and God said to them, ’Be fruitful. Multiply. Be nice. And take care of my creation. ’ And it was so. YES
Then God sat back and looked over everything---& indeed it was very good. CLAP..CLAP
And there was evening and morning the sixth day. GOOD NIGHT,
Thus the heavens and the earth were created. And on the 7th day God went to Beckwith Camp and rested from all the work that had been done. So God blessed the seventh day because God needed to take a break. YES.
This is the way it happened. From that time forever more, all creation praises God. OOOH
Angels, archangels and all the company of heaven....AAAAHHH And all of us here on earth too. YES.
One: Let us pray. (Silence) O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Exodus 14:10-31, 15:1-2
A Reading from the book of Exodus. As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Why have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” And Moses said to them, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”
The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers."
So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians. Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses. The Word of the Lord.
One: Let us pray. (Silence) O God, whose wonderful deeds of old shine forth even to our own day, you once delivered by the power of your mighty arm your chosen people from slavery under Pharaoh, to be a sign for us of the salvation of all nations by the water of Baptism: Grant that all the peoples of the earth may be numbered among the offspring of Abraham, and rejoice in the inheritance of Israel; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 [pot and pan can be used for a cymbal, and keys make a good rattle]
Ezekiel: A reading from the Book in the Bible called Ezekiel. The hand of the Lord was upon me. God brought me out and set me down in the middle of a valley…It was a valley full of bones. And God led me round among the bones and behold, there were many in the valley…and they were very very dry. And God said to me,
God: Son of Man, can these bones live?
Ezekiel: “O Lord you are the only one who knows that.”
God: Speak to these bones and say to them, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Behold I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will make muscle upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you and cover you with skin, and then I will put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am God.”
Ezekiel: So I spoke to the bones as God told me to do, and as I spoke, there was a noise. CYMBAL CRASH
Ezekiel: And then there was a rattling! RATTLE…RATTLE…RATTLE
Ezekiel: And the bones came together, bone to bone….and there was more rattling RATTLE…RATTLE
Ezekiel: Then muscles came upon them and flesh and skin. But there was no breath in them. Then God said,
God: Speak to the winds, and say, “Come O breathe of God as the four corners of the wind, and breath upon these bones…that they may live.
Ezekiel: So I spoke, and then breath came into the bones. BREATHE OUT…BREATHE IN
Ezekiel: And slowly they stood upon their feet, there were hundreds and thousands stretching to heaven. SLOWLY STAND UP…STRETCH TO HEAVEN
Ezekiel: Then God said to me.
God: These bones are like my chosen people of Israel. They say our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, we are cut off from God. Therefore say to them…Thus says God… Behold I will open your graves, and raise you up, and I will bring you home into Israel. And you shall know that I am God, and you will be my people. And I will breathe my Spirit upon you, and you shall live and you shall know that God has done this.
Ezekiel: And so I spoke. And it was so. RATTLE… BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT, SIT DOWN.
Ezekiel: The Word of the Lord.
One: Let us pray. (Silence) Almighty God, by the Passover of your Son you have brought us out of sin into righteousness and out of death into life: Grant to those who are sealed by your Holy Spirit the will and the power to proclaim you to all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
THE RENEWAL OF BAPTISMAL VOWS
After the final collect, pour water into the bowl. The leader address the people in these or similar words, all standing:
One: Through the Paschal mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life. I call upon you, therefore, now that our Lenten observance is ended, to renew the solemn promises and vows of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan and all his works, and promised to serve God faithfully in his holy Catholic Church.
One: Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
All: I do.
One: Do you believe in God the Father?
All: I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
One: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
All: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
One: Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
All: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
One: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
All: I will, with God's help.
One: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
All: I will, with God's help.
One: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
All: I will, with God's help.
One: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
All: I will, with God's help.
One: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
All: I will, with God's help.
One: May Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sins, keep us in eternal life by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
As a reminder of our baptismal identity, the people may asperge, which means to sprinkle] water from the bowl on each other. Take a moment and reflect silently or aloud of the baptisms you have witnessed. What made them special?
THE EASTER SONG A time of silence is now kept. Bells are readied. The silence is broken by the following acclamation which is said 3 times. Bells are rung to signify the ‘great noise’ of the tomb being rolled away on Easter morning.
One: Alleluia. Christ is risen.
All: The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
You may choose to listen to the following recorded hymn, Alleluia He is Coming:
One: God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord's resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
THE GOSPEL Matthew 28:1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."