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A great Easter vigil experience

A fountain

We gathered after the sun went down. In the dark of the fellowship hall, we sat in a circle. Slowly, a drum began to beat. Then, one after another, each of us found a drum, a coffee can, a shaker, or another percussion instrument and started to play. We shared the sound of a beating heart. The rhythm was mostly a hope and a prayer that on this Saturday of Holy Week, crucifixion and death were not the final words. When one of us lost track of the rhythm of the beat, others were there for guidance. Together, we banged our way though the darkness of the evening. Finally, someone wearing a long white robe stood among us and said:

 “Grace and peace from Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
on this most holy night
when our Savior Jesus Christ passed from death to life,
we gather with the church throughout the world
in vigil and prayer.
This is the Passover of Jesus Christ:
Through light and the Word,
through water and the bread and wine,
we recall Christ’s death and resurrection,
we share Christ’s triumph over sin and death,
and with invincible hope
we await Christ’s coming again.
Hear the Word of God:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
In him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Then the pastor started a fire in an urn in the middle of fellowship hall. (Frankly, I was stunned. I knew that pastors put out fires in churches, but I had never seen one start one!) From this fire, the Christ candle was lit, and we all began singing as we marched out into the night air and up the hill to the entrance of the church.

We slowly made our way into the dark sanctuary. We followed the light from the Christ candle and carried our own small candles until we found our way to the front of the sanctuary. There we sang and heard the story of Creation, the Flood, Israel’s deliverance through the Red Sea, and the prophets. We were a bit overwhelmed by this story of God’s work in our world. Finally, the story of Christ’s resurrection was read. We sang our alleluias with gusto. When the lights of the sanctuary became bright, we were startled by the lilies and other flowers that surrounded us.

The minister began to speak. “Friends, at this first Easter celebration, we gather here to celebrate the baptism of our catechumens, those among us who have spent the past months preparing for baptism. We celebrate the gift of new life that they bring to this community of faith. As we gather around this font, we promise to support you, to pray for you, to encourage your questions, to provide resources for you, to draw on your gifts and energy, to learn from you. Tonight, our stories become a part of all of our readings from Scripture. As we pass through the water of this font, we join with the Israelites and the disciples in discovering the presence of God that guides us and sustains us. From the waters of baptism, we are absorbed into the work of God’s salvation. This Easter Vigil is an initiation rite for all of us. Tonight we join with those who have gone before us and with those who come to profess their faith in Jesus Christ by reaffirming our baptismal vows and renewing our commitment to live as disciples in this community of faith. In this Easter Vigil, around the waters of this font, we are united with all of those who profess faith in the God who brings new life.”

Then with much water, oil, and bread and wine, we experienced the good news that the risen Christ is present among us. The Easter Vigil is not an ordinary Presbyterian service. It is a special gift that the greater church passes on to us. I am grateful that I have experienced this way to celebrate the resurrection of the body of Christ.

Tell me more:

Article from ideas! For Church Leaders archives by Rev. Paul Galbreath, former associate for Worship.

Find worship resources for celebrating Easter