The Great Vigil of Easter

The Easter Vigil is the most important service of the Christian year. In the early church, the catechumens, their sponsors, and catechists gathered for an all-night storytelling session that culminated in baptism, the proclamation of the resurrection, and the Eucharist.

The baptisms were by total immersion. As candidates would remember the words about dying with Christ in baptism so that they could be raised with Christ in his resurrection. They were given white robes to wear after their immersion and anointing and then were led out to the congregation for the Holy Eucharist.

Such an event would have had a powerful effect. Today the drama and significance of baptism can still be emphasized. In the Book of Common Prayer, it is an event of darkness into light, death into life. The church tells the salvation story again with the candidates for baptism, summarizing the whole story as people prepare to turn their lives around.

Consider offering the nine readings as “chapters” in salvation history. Offer them in a variety of forms – dramatically, with movement, with sound effects, visual arts, poetry and storytelling. Move from place to place in the sanctuary. Offer the first four readings (which are keyed with water) around the baptismal font to emphasize the memories associated with God’s past actions.

Move around the sanctuary for the other readings. When it is time to renew the Baptismal Promises, move to the altar to represent the promise of the kingdom of God that is coming. Use a variety of places – the parish hall, the columbarium, an area outdoors – any place that makes sense in light of the texts.

Chapters in our Salvation Story:

  1. Genesis 1: – 2:4aThe Story of Creation ~ Read this with a congregational response, “Good. Good. Very, very good.!”
  2. Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 – The Flood ~ The can be read as a choral reading, assigning parts to several readers.
  3. Genesis 22:1-18Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac ~ Capture the text as it was shared in ancient times, as a dramatic reading.
  4. Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea ~ Movement with cloth representing the waters can be included with a dramatic reading.
  5. Isaiah 55:1-11Salvation Offered Freely to All ~ This is suited for reading by two people.
  6. Baruch 3:9-15, 32 – 4:4In Praise of Wisdom OR Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6The Gifts of Wisdom ~ A woman can give this speech as Wisdom speaking to the people.
  7. Ezekiel 36:24-28A New Heart and a New Spirit ~ A dramatic reading that can also be done in sign language.
  8. Ezekiel 37:1-14 – The Valley of Dry Bones ~ Again, a dramatic reading with movement as the bones come alive.
  9. Zephaniah 3:14-20The Gathering of God’s People ~ Why not have everyone read this together as you enter the nave together?!
See more ideas about how to bring life to an Easter Vigil service in The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education. 

About Sharon Ely Pearson

Wife, mom, grandmother; author, educator, consultant; trying to make a difference one action at a time. Christian formation has been my vocation for 40+ years - and counting!
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