Tonight at sunset – 7:50pm – Upper Room will begin its Easter Vigil service. I say begin because it’s actually the first part of a service that doesn’t completely end until the conclusion of our 11:00am service on Easter Sunday. Not only is it part three of the Triduum (see below), it’s also parts one and two of a four-part Easter celebration (see further below). This may merit some explanation, so, let me explain. (Note also that this explanation is also the fruit of what my co-pastor Mike explained to me earlier in the week. He’s turning me into a liturgy geek.)
If you’ve never been to an Easter Vigil service before, you may be surprised when some of the language tonight speaks as though Christ has already been raised from the dead. That didn’t happen till Sunday morning, right? Well, the women found the tomb empty at sunrise on Sunday morning, so technically it would have been sometime during the night that Jesus was raised. And who would have witnessed this? The angels. We join in worship tonight with the angels, seeing the events of Christ’s passion and resurrection through their eyes. So, our liturgy for tonight will include part of the Exultet, a centuries old hymn which proclaims the resurrection beginning with the angels: “Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, / and let your trumpets shout Salvation / for the victory of our mighty King!”
Easter Vigil is the third service of the Triduum, the series of services including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday which in effect constitute one long service. There’s no benediction at the end of any of them. And each of the services is fully aware of the events of the whole week. On Maundy Thursday we included songs about the cross and speech about the resurrection in the service. This is because (as Mike explained to me) we’re looking at the events again through the eyes of the angels. We know the good news about how the story ends.
Now to the four-part piece of information: The liturgy we’ll use tonight is a combination of Anglican and Presbyterian liturgies, with some traditional, contemporary, and home-grown music added to the mix. In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer’s liturgy for Easter Vigil, there are actually four parts to the service. While I think they would normally be celebrated together as one long service, we’re breaking things up and allowing people to go home and sleep. The parts are listed below, as we will celebrate them tonight and tomorrow morning.
1) The Service of Light – Sunset was the beginning of the next day for Judaism and for the ancient Church. So as we mark the transition to Sunday, we also will light the Christ candle again, signifying the return of life to Jesus’ body. We’ll sing a modern version of the ancient hymn Phos Hilaron (“Hail Gladdening Light”) and process into our worship space, where we’ll read the Exultet.
2) The Service of the Word – After the Exultet, the service of the Word begins. Most of the service tonight will consist of long readings from scripture, followed by space for reflection and singing. The scripture passages recall God’s faithfulness throughout history from creation to the promise of Christ. It’s meditative, and joyful in its simplicity. This is becoming my favorite service of the entire Church year. When it ends, you’re free to go home and sleep. The service continues at sunrise.
3) The Service of Baptism – This will be our sunrise service at 6:50am near the Blue Slide entrance of Frick Park. We will sing, we will read the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom, and then we will have a renewal of baptismal vows.
4) The Service of Eucharist – 11:00am at Upper Room. Our normal Sunday worship service will conclude the celebration of Holy Week, complete with Eucharist, celebrating our union with the risen Christ. Though this may feel like the “big” Easter service, it’s really the big conclusion and celebration of the worship which has continued throughout the week.