The Great Vigil of Easter, April 20, 2019 – 8PM.
It’s Saturday night. Jesus is dead. Hell is being harrowed.
The faithful gather in the darkness and gloom. Quietly, a fire is kindled; the first light of a growing dawn that will soon break over all the earth. Candles are lit and the people move into the holy place to re-member once again the story of how God is saving everything. A single voice sings by candle-light, perhaps feeble at first but with growing strength: “This is the night.” This is the night when You brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt…This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin…This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell…THIS is the night. The normal experience of linear time need not apply during liturgy. Heaven and earth kiss. Time itself bends and we join Christians everywhere and at all times at the tomb of our Savior. The night when Christ conquered death extends backward and forward throughout time and into eternity. It shakes the very foundations of the world. We get to be there; to experience it all through ritual and song, through word and sacrament. This is the night.
Even though the Great Vigil of Easter was included into the American Book of Common Prayer for the first time in 1979, it is probably the oldest service in that book. Its structure and many of its words come to us from the Church in Jerusalem in at least the 4th century (A.D. 320s). It is probably older than that: dating to the 2nd or 3rd century. Through this liturgy we are joining with the prayers and songs of some of the earliest Christians, gathering at Jesus’ empty tomb to celebrate the most astonishing, earth-moving, hope-dealing thing that has ever or will ever occur. It doesn’t get any more special or significant than that. You should come.