III: The Vigil of Easter

Q: What is the Vigil of Easter?

A:   The Easter Vigil is a way of proclaiming and celebrating the death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the climax of Holy Week; the barrenness of Good Friday's stripped altar is changed into beauty; light pierces the darkness; all the church's signs of joy replace the signs of sorrow; The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!

Although its exact origins are unknown, the Easter Vigil was already spoken of in the third century by Tertullian as being so old that he does not know its origin. Some believe that Acts 20:7, speaking of such an all-night vigil, may reflect its origins. Now the Vigil does not always last all night, but it is longer than nearly all others, lasting one and a half to two hours, depending on the number of new members and baptisms scheduled.

The Easter Vigil consists of six parts. It begins with the Service of Light, in which a new fire representing the Resurrection is lighted. From this fire is lighted the newly blessed paschal candle, the sign of Jesus' Resurrection Light, which then leads the congregation in procession into the darkened church. All lights are taken from this candle. The Easter Proclamation, or Exultet, is sung. A service of Readings follows, 12 being anciently appointed, but four now generally used in many parishes. Old Testament passages recounting God's acts of salvation are read, interspersed with the singing of hymns, psalms, and canticles. Baptism and the Renewal of Baptismal Vows is the third part. In the early centuries of Christianity, the only time Christians were baptized was at the Easter Vigil. Because this was everyone's baptismal anniversary, the Vigil became the time for renewal of baptismal vows, recalling Paul's association of Baptism and the Resurrection in Romans 6 which Luther used in the Small Catechism. Although most of us have been baptized on different days, we too still renew our baptismal vows at the Vigil. The baptismal water is used as a sign of our baptismal remembrance by sprinkling the baptized during the Creed.

The Vigil continues with services of prayer and Word and concludes with the first communion celebration for the Easter Season, since it usually is scheduled to begin around midnight. Here our Lord Jesus Christ by the power of His Resurrection comes to be present among us through the preaching of His Word and the celebration of His Holy Sacrament. Thus, the Vigil leads us through death to life in our Risen Lord.

Adapted from About Being Lutheran © Lutheran Liturgical Renewal 1991. Used by permission.