Holy Saturday: Vigil in the Holy Night of EasterApril 6th, 2012
Rebirth. New Life. Gratitude. Salvation. Joy.
The real true story of our lives is that we live in darkness much of the time. We simply don’t know why we do the things we do, why tragedy befalls us, or how to live our lives with meaning and purpose. We stumble around in the dark trying to make things work, trying to make sense of it all, and trying to connect with the people we love. We fail often. But, sometimes we connect on a level that changes everything. That kind of connection gives us joyful hope that, in the end, all things—us included—will be redeemed. The Easter Vigil celebrates that kind of connection. It is nearly impossible to adequately describe what occurs at the Easter Vigil. It must be personally experienced in order to understand the awesome power and depth of a love that triumphs even over death. Suffice it to say that this is one liturgy you don’t want to miss.
In contrast to the simplicity of the liturgy of Good Friday, the Easter Vigil teems with an abundance of images, rituals, gestures, litanies, processions, and stories that connect us to the almighty power of a loving God who breaks into our history, and even our individual stories, to save us. Only the most striking images are captured here.
Darkness and Light. The Easter Vigil begins outside the church at nightfall. We gather around the new Easter fire, a symbol of the light of Christ that illumines the darkness and gives hope to our lives. The priest blesses the fire and the new Paschal candle which is then lit by the fire. Each of us have a small candle with which we pass the light of Christ from one to the other. Even before we enter the church, the priest or deacon stands at the entrance with the Paschal candle. Lifting it high, he sings, “Light of Christ.” We respond with joy, “Thanks be to God.” The Light of Christ precedes us into the darkened church, chasing away all the shadows of fear, sorrow, sinfulness and death and replacing it with the glorious fire of God’s mercy and love.
The Great Story. In the light of the new Easter fire, we recount, from the very beginning, the great stories of God’s immense love for us. We hear how God created the heavens and the earth; how God saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt; how God will never leave us orphaned; how God renews his covenant of love with us even when we sin; how God clothes us in splendor; how God restores us to wholeness. This great retelling concludes with the greatest story of all: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. These are not stories about people who lived a long time ago. These are our stories. What happened long ago still happens today. This is our story of our God who has deeply loved us from the beginning and will love us to the end and beyond.
The Waters of Rebirth. From the beginning of Lent, we have journeyed with those who were preparing to be baptized this night. We call upon all of heaven—all the saints and angels—to stand witness with us as the Elect come forward to receive new life in the waters of baptism. The Elect are called by name by God who wants to be in relationship with each of them. We share in their joy of receiving new life and welcome them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. Together with them, we are bathed in the glory of new birth and the hope of life eternal.
Gratitude and Joy. Our joy is not complete, however, until all of us gather around the altar of the Lord to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist. With grateful hearts for the supreme sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, for his glorious resurrection, for the rebirth he has given us in the waters of baptism, for the gift of himself in the Eucharist, we worship him who redeemed us from death and made us one Body in Christ. With joyful hearts, we sing, full-throated, the glorious strains, “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today!”