Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Great Vigil of Easter

J, B, and I barely made it to Victoria House in time for the Great Vigil on Holy Saturday evening and were each handed a slim white unlit candle. It was mostly dark at 7:30 PM, and we huddled outside the doors around a raised fireplace as Father kindled the fire with flint and steel in order to light the Paschal Candle. The liturgy for the Great Vigil is perhaps the oldest liturgy in the Anglican tradition, dating back possibly to the second century; as stated in the handout Father Acker gave us, it is also perhaps the most theologically important service of the Church Year. In it the new fire of God is struck, banishing darkness, and showing forth the victory won on Good Friday. The Vigil marks the time in the evening, while the people await the announcement of the Resurrection: "Alleluia! Christ is risen!" He is risen, indeed, and the Paschal Candle burns as the sign of the risen Christ.

Father prayed: "Beloved in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death into life, the Church invites her faithful, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and in prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing His Word and celebrating His Sacraments, we share in His victory over death."

The Paschal Candle is inscribed with the Cross, the Alpha and Omega, and the Year; Father drew a stylus over these red markings on the candle as he said: "Christ yesterday and today, The Beginning and End, Alpha and Omega, His are the times, and the ages. To Him be glory and dominion, through all the ages of eternity. Amen."

Then he placed five small nails into the red cross on the side of the candle which represent the five wounds of Christ; as he did so, Father said: "By His holy wounds, most glorious, may He guard us, and preserve us, who is Christ the Lord. Amen."

Then the Paschal Candle was lit with a taper from the New Fire, and Father prayed, "May the light of Christ, gloriously rising, dispel all darkness of heart and mind. Amen."

Then we proceeded slowly into the darkened house, pausing three times to light a few of the candles carried by each participant as Father proclaimed in plainsong (rather like chanting), "The Light of Christ!" and we replied in plainsong, "Thanks be to God!" Once we reached the seating area, we sat down as Father set the Paschal Candle in front of him, censed it (swung incense around it), and then he sang the "Exsultet Jam Angelica," an ancient hymn of praise and joy. After that, he also sang a long portion about the Jews being freed from Egypt, praising God for His protection and might. We all sat there, following along in our handouts in one hand and the burning tapers in the other -- the room was lit with candlelight only. It was so beautiful and so eerie to be hearing words hundreds and hundreds of years old while sitting there in the light of the candles.

Then several of us took turns reading Scriptures relating to the prophecies of salvation history: I read Exodus 14:24-31 and 15:1 (Israel's deliverance at the Red Sea); Dru read Ezekiel 37:1-14 (valley of Dry Bones), and Hap read Exodus 12:1-11 (The Lord's Passover). In between these readings were prayers and silent kneeling in adoration and thanksgiving. After the final reading, Father prayed:

Almighty, everlasting God, sole hope of the world, who by the heralding of thy prophets hast shown forth the mysteries of this present time; mercifully increase the devotion of thy people, since none of the faithful can grow in any virtue without thy inspiration. Through thy Son Jesus Christ out Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.

After this prayer we opened our 1928 Books of Common Prayer and renewed our Baptismal Covenants in which we renounced "the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh," and professed our belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, our acceptance and desire to follow Him, our belief in the Articles of the Christian Faith as contained in the Apostle's Creed, our willingness, with God's help, to obediently keep God's holy will and commandments and to walk in them all the days of our lives.

Then we prayed together the first Evensong (Evening Office of Prayer) of Easter.

It was a beautiful, solemn, yet quietly joyful service. God's Word flowed through us, His light penetrated us, dispelling darkness and evil and illuminating light and truth. We celebrated Easter with the familiar greeting:

"He is risen!"
"The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!"

And then we enjoyed the breaking of Lent with much chocolate! Alice made TWO chocolate cakes, plus she made hot cocoa for J and B -- so we really enjoyed the closing of Lent! The joy of the Resurrection began to creep into my heart as the service closed, feeling all the more powerful for the experiences of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. The Triduum is SUCH an important service, spread out over three evenings (and two churches, in our case) for the joy of Resurrection is intensified through the grief, sorrow, and suffering of Thursday and Friday. Walking in Jesus' footsteps through these services plus the Stations of the Cross (both at Lake Murray and at Queen of Angels) makes me love Him all the more and helps me to realize in the tiniest of ways, how much He suffered to die to MY sins (and everyone's sins) and rise again, triumphant over death and Satan.


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