Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why is this night different from all other nights?

So the question goes from the youngest of those gathered to begin the Passover.  It might well be the question that begins the Easter Vigil.  On the night before Easter, the Church gathers for worship in anticipation of the dawn of Easter Day, the chief festival of the Church. God’s mighty deliverance of His people in the Old Testament is recalled as we look forward to God’s deliverance of His people through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Though the re-introduction of the celebration of the Easter Vigil in American Lutheranism is rather recent, the Easter Vigil is an ancient service of the Church and adds great depth to the central themes and celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Selected portions of the Easter Vigil go back to the very first centuries of the Church. The current order for the Easter Vigil combines various traditions from various portions of the Church’s history.  In some times in the history of the Church, the Easter Vigil was an all-night event, anticipating the dawn of Easter morning. It was the time when new converts completed their period of catechesis and were baptized into the Church.

The vigil consists of prayer, psalms and hymns, and readings, especially from the Old Testament, culminating
in the celebration of the resurrection at dawn with the Lord’s Supper. As the Church gathers in vigil, she waits in hopeful expectation for the appearance of the resurrected Christ in those most recently born in Him, the newly baptized. During the vigil, those who had prepared throughout Lent to be joined to Christ are baptized. At the dawn of the new day of Easter, the newly baptized take their place with the entire Church in the chorus of alleluias at Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

This year our Vigil will see an infant, a toddler, and a teenager baptized into Christ, making their journey on the ark, passing through the Red Sea, and being born again of water and the Word.  Of all the services of Easter that are loved, this is the service I love the most.  It is the great Vigil that ushers in the first alleluia, the first light, and the first holy joy of Easter morning... 

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