Tonight at the Great Vigil of Easter the baptismal themes that were explored during the season of Lent reach their logical conclusion in the words of this prayer, “Through the paschal mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by Baptism into His death, and raised with Him to newness of life.” (BCP, 292)
As Christians we participate in the dying and rising of Jesus. This we call the paschal mystery and it’s the heart and soul of the Christian faith and life. St. Paul writes of this participation as a “grace” in Romans 5:2, “Through [Jesus] we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”
The paschal mystery is the heart of the liturgical year. The dying and rising of Christ and how to apply this mystery to our lives undergirds our weekly celebration of Sunday and explains why we so dutifully participate in Lent and Holy Week.
The opening prayer for the Great Vigil sets the tone. “Dear friends 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 gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which , by hearing His Word and celebrating His Sacraments, we share in His victory over death.” (BCP, 285)
This is a power service, and there is a simplicity of interplay between darkness and light that is found through-out the evening. In the darkness of evening a fire is blessed and the paschal candle is lit from it. This candle is then lifted high and processed down the center aisle with the priest chanting “the light of Christ.” And the people respond, “Thanks be to God.” The purpose is to show how the light of Christ dispels the darkness. Darkness has no power over Christ. From this ‘paschal light’ other candles held by the faithful are lit so this New Light of Easter, reminiscent of “the true Light that enlightens every man” (John 1: 9) is seen as spreading over the whole body of the faithful. (BCP, 286)
The Liturgy of the Word
“Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout Salvation, for the victory of our mighty King!” (BCP, 286) “Darkness is vanquished!” These and other paschal themes of Lent are joyfully sung in the ancient hymn “the Exsultet” and they prepare us to hear once again the story of salvation history.
These seven readings woven together provide “the record of God’s saving deeds in history.” This is our story! This is the story that brought each one of us “… to the fullness of redemption” (BCP, 288).
- The Creation Story. Genesis :1-2:2.
- The Story of the Flood. Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18; 8: 6-18; 9: 8 -13.
- Abrahams Sacrifice of Isaac. Genesis 22:1-18.
- Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea. Exodus 14:10-15:1.
- God’s Presence in a Renewed Israel. Isaiah 4:2-6.
- Salvation Offered Freely to All. Isaiah 55:1-11.
- A New Heart and a New Spirit. Ezekiel 36:24-28.
This is the night when all of these plans and purposes of God come true.
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.
This is the night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. The mystery couched in this night restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.
We say, “this is the night” because the activities of God are never constrained or bound by chronological time. God “moves and has His ways” present and efficacious for all in every age. The sacramental theology of the Church explains this so carefully.
God’s grace-filled Providence makes this night “the night” when earth and Heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.
The Renewal of Baptismal Vows
Our baptismal pledge is to keep the truth of this night continually shinning in order to drive away all darkness. When Christ returns in glory we pray that He will find this truth ever burning in our soul and influencing our life.
So tonight the liturgy gives us opportunity to recommit ourselves to living our life in Christ into which we entered at our baptism. We do this by renewing our baptismal vows. The Resurrection makes all things new. We are so blessed to have this opportunity to renew our participation in the paschal mystery. On the Cross our Lord triumphed over the forces of evil, trampling down death-by-death and winning salvation for us! Sin and death have no claim over us. We are free!
The Easter Gospel
Tonight the Easter Vigil Gospel is Matthew 28: 1-10. This is the Resurrection narrative. Matthew writes, “After the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week. . . .” St. Matthew is speaking about the dawn of the New Day. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed everything. All of Creation was affected by it and is now being healed as we worship tonight! Things which were cast down are being raised up… and things which had grown old are being brought to their perfection by Jesus… through whom all things were made! (BCP, 291)
We hear the words of the angel, “Do not be afraid! I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said. Now go, quickly, and tell…” Twice in this Gospel we hear the command “Go and tell. . . .” Let the truth of this night burn in you deeply, then go, and do not be afraid. Jesus has gone ahead of you. Go and tell the world about Jesus. This is the mission of the Church. Amen