The Great Vigil of Easter (Year A), April 19, 2014


Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and 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.


Let us pray.

O God, through your Son you have bestowed upon your people the brightness of your light: Sanctify this new fire, and grant that in this Paschal feast we may so burn with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may attain to the festival of everlasting light; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

People:     Amen.



The Paschal Candle is then lighted from

the newly kindled fire. 

The person appointed carries the candle

and proclaims:

The Light of Christ.

All  Thanks be to God.



At the mid-point of the procession,

the members of the congregation light their candles

from the Paschal candle

(and the younger children hold their candles).

When all candles have been lit,

the one carrying the candle again proclaims,

The Light of Christ.

All  Thanks be to God.


The candle-bearer leads the congregation into the sanctuary.  When all have taken their places, the candle-bearer places the candle in the stand, and proclaims for the third time,


The Light of Christ.

All Thanks be to God.

Then the person appointed,

standing near the Candle,

proclaims the Exsultet, as follows

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout Salvation for the victory of our mighty King.

Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth, bright with a glorious splendor, for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.

Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church, and let your holy courts, in radiant light, resound with the praises of your people.


All you who stand near this marvelous and holy flame, pray with me to God the Almighty for the grace to sing the worthy praise of this great light; through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Priest The Lord be with you.

People And also with you.

Priest Let us give thanks to

the Lord our God.

People It is right to give our

thanks and praise.

It is truly right and good, always and everywhere, with our whole heart and mind and voice, to praise you, the invisible, almighty, and eternal God, and your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; for he is the true Paschal Lamb, who at the feast of the Passover paid for us the debt of Adam’s sin, and by his blood delivered your faithful people.

This is the night, when you brought our ancestors, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.

How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving-kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son.

How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away.  It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn.  It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled with God.

Holy Father, accept our evening sacrifice, the offering of this candle in your honor. May it shine continually to drive away all darkness.  May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find it ever burning –– he who gives his light to all creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

People Amen.


The congregation’s candles are then extinguished.


The Liturgy of the Word


Celebrant Let us hear the record of God’s saving deeds in history, how he saved his people in ages past; and let us pray that our God will bring each of us to the fullness of redemption.


The Story of Creation  


  (Genesis 1:1––2:2, as taken from

“God’s World” in Scripture Out Loud!

by Marianne Houle and Jeffrey Phillips;

© Augsburg Fortress Press, 1999.

Used with permission. All rights reserved.)


Voice 1 of God  In the beginning, when I created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without life.  Darkness covered the face of the deep, and my spirit swept over raging waters.  Then I commanded, “Let there be light!”  And I saw that the light was good.  I separated the light from the darkness.  The light would be called Day, and the darkness Night.

Narrator And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Voice 2 of God   “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters!” I commanded.  “Let it separate the waters above from the waters below.”

Narrator God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters above.  God called the dome Sky.  And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

Voice 3 of God  Then I said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let dry land appear!”  And it was so.  I called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together I called Oceans.  I commanded the earth to bring forth vegetation: plants, grains, and fruit trees of every kind.  I looked at what I had done, and it was good.

Narrator And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

Voice 4 of God  “Let there be lights in the sky to separate the day from the night.  They will show the seasons and days and years.  Let them shine down on the earth.”

Narrator And it was so.  God made the two great lights — the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night — and the stars.  God set them in the sky to give light to the earth.

Voice 4 of God They shall rule over the day and over the night, and separate the light from the darkness.”

Narrator And it was so.  God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

Voice 5 of God I ordered the oceans to bring forth a multitude of living creatures, and I let birds fly above the earth across the sky.  I created the great sea monsters and fish of every kind, and every kind of bird.  And it was good.  I blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the seas, and let birds cover the earth.”

Narrator And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

Voice 6 of God “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind,” I proclaimed  “Tame animals, reptiles, and wild animals shall roam the earth!”

Narrator And God created every type of animal, and every living creature that creeps on the ground.  And God saw that it was good.

Voice 6 of God Let us make human beings in our image and likeness.  They will have power over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over all the animals and reptiles of the earth.

Narrator So humans were created in the image of God, both men and women.  And God blessed them.

Voice 6 of God Be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth.  Take care of the fish in the seas, the birds in the air, and all living things that move upon the earth.  I have given you every plant that yields grain, and every fruit tree for food.  And to the beasts of the earth, the birds of the air, and to every other living creature, I have given green plants for food.

Narrator And so it was.  God saw everything that was made, and was very pleased.  And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the whole universe was completed.  And on the seventh day, God was finished working and rested.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on that day God rested from all the work that had been done in creation.  And that is how the world was created.



Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea

(Exodus 14:10 – 15:1 as taken from

“Deliverance” in Scripture Out Loud!

by Marianne Houle and Jeffrey Phillips;

© Augsburg Fortress Press, 1999.

Used with permission.

All rights reserved.)


Narrator             Moses led the Israelite people out of slavery in Egypt.  Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, was angry and tried to recapture them.  As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back and saw the Egyptian army quickly advancing on them.  In great fear they cried out to the Lord for help, and blamed Moses for their plight.

Israelite 1  Wasn’t there enough room in Egypt for our graves?  Is that why you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?

Israelite 2 What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?

Israelite 1 Didn’t we tell you in Egypt to leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians?

Israelite 2 We would be better off serving the Egyptians than dying in the wilderness!

Moses Do not be afraid!  Stand firm, and see how the Lord delivers us today.  We will never see the Egyptians again.  The Lord will save us.  Keep still and watch!

Voice of God Moses, why do you cry out to me?  Raise your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea.  The water will divide in half and the Israelites will be able to walk through on dry ground.  Then I will make the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them into the sea.  I will show my power over Pharaoh and his entire army.  And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.

Narrator The angel of God, who had been leading the Israelites, went behind them.  A cloud, which had also been in front, moved between the Israelites and the army of Egypt.

And so the cloud lit up the night for the Israelites, but kept the Egyptians in darkness.  And the one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea.  All night, the Lord drove back the sea by a strong east wind.  The waters were divided and turned the sea into dry land.

The Israelites walked into the sea on dry ground.  The water formed a wall for them on their right and on their left.  All of Pharaoh’s soldiers, chariots, and horses went into the sea after them.

At dawn, God looked down upon the Egyptian army from a fiery cloud, and threw the Egyptians into a panic.  Their chariot wheels were clogged with mud, and they could hardly turn.

Egyptian Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them and against us.

Voice of God Moses, stretch your hand over the sea, so that the water may come and drown the Egyptians and their chariots.

Narrator So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth.  The Egyptians tried to flee, but the waters covered the soldiers, chariots, and horses.

The entire army of Pharaoh had followed the Israelites into the sea, and not one of them lived.  But the Israelites had walked through the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians.  Israel saw the great work that the Lord had done.  The people stood in awe and believed in the Lord and Moses, God’s servant.

Then the prophet Miriam took a tambourine in her hand and all the women went with her and danced with tambourines.

Miriam Sing to the Lord who has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver have been thrown into the sea!


All  Sing to the Lord, who has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver have been thrown into the sea!


A Reading from the Book of Zephaniah ( 3:14-20)


Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;

         shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,

         O daughter Jerusalem!

The LORD has taken away the judgments against you,

         he has turned away your enemies.

The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;

you shall fear disaster no more.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

Do not fear, O Zion;

do not let your hands grow weak.

The LORD, your God, is in your midst,

a warrior who gives victory;

he will rejoice over you with gladness,

he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing

as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you,

so that you will not bear reproach for it.

I will deal with all your oppressors

  at that time.

And I will save the lame

and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

At that time I will bring you home,

at the time when I gather you;

for I will make you renowned and praised

among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes

       before your eyes, says the LORD.

A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (6:3-11)


Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For whoever has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.



The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (28:1-10)


After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”





by Jennifer Oldstone-Moore

I always wonder what Lent and Holy Week were like “back in the day,” back in the day when people fasted during the day all through Lent, prayed more, ate less, and spent all of Holy Week in contemplation of Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem, the trial by Pilate, the Last Supper, betrayal and Gethsemane, standing before Caiaphas and Pilate, the walk to Golgotha, the horrors of the crucifixion, death on the cross, and burial in the stone tomb.  Or at least, I have a very vivid imagination about how that time looked, with faithful people utterly absorbed in not just remembering and retelling but reliving Jesus’ Passion.  And then I have a very vivid imagination about what the Easter Vigil would be like for them as well—hugely emotional, transformative, renewing, confirming.  I always feel disjointed when I try to observe a holy Holy Week, or a holier Holy Week.  Sometimes, not very often, I try to eat less and pray more.  But in any case, I’m at church a lot more.  This would include the Stations of the Cross that our deacon led on Wednesday that recall the deep personal sadness that accompanied the key moments of the Passion; Maundy Thursday’s moving images of servanthood, and washing hands, followed by the quiet but shocking Stripping of the Altar; and then yesterday’s somber, dark Good Friday.


But you know, daily life never stops, and I’ve never put the demands of family, home, work, friends, and what seems like “just plain living” successfully to the side for this week.  So I have extreme whiplash—a full day of teaching, helping my daughter with homework, cleaning up after the dog and pulling up a few dandelions, cooking dinner, church service and the heart rending “Oh Sacred Head Sore Wounded,” then back home to wash the dinner dishes, walk the dog, and head for bed.  From Springfield, Ohio, 2014 to Jerusalem AD 32 and back in just a few hours…and then another round trip the next day, and the next.

But you know, I think that this is what God meant when God became incarnate.  Not the busy part—although I do think the American disease is that we are all over extended and use our busyness as a shield from the unexpected call from God and neighbor.  But that’s another sermon.  What I mean is that I think that incarnation means that the story of renewal, of death and then life, resurrection, is exactly in present in the busy, unmanageable, irritating things that happen one after another.  And the story of the empty tomb is a reminder of this.  Maybe the women are heading to the tomb to meet the resurrected Jesus, but their fear and astonishment and joy doesn’t seem to suggest that.   Maybe they hoped they could somehow tend the body; maybe they just wanted to rest near the burial place for solace.


The story of the empty tomb is a story of faith.  I want to think about that a little.  I read a line that got me thinking:  “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.  They think faith is a big electric blanket when, of course, it is the cross.” [Flannery O’Connor]  The electric blanket version of religion would be the warm cozy escape, not getting out of bed in order to avoid all the trials and tribulations that face us, annoy us, challenge us, beat us down.  In that version I could walk through Holy Week and pretend to be alive then and there.  But where would that leave me on Easter Monday?  I live here and now, not then.


So what does it mean that religion costs the cross?  Sure, we will all die, and need to keep that in mind!  But the cross is about more than death.  It is about being broken through serving others.  The cross is about being broken in the relationships we’ve clung to and trusted.  The cross is about the disappointments that come, despite all good intentions, all preparation, all good work.  The cross is about being busy in the world, and  being hurt, and worse, for speaking truth and speaking justice.  This is what Jesus endured—and the cross is what God chose when the Word became Flesh.


Jesus’ followers had been told that he would rise again after three days.  Why do the women go to the tomb?  They’ve been told that he’ll rise.  Is their being close to his burial place a kind of electric blanket, going in grief, for the solace in ritual.  When someone we love dies, we are left without signposts, so we’ve created them.  We have rituals of mourning that help cement the reality of the loss and also to begin to pass the time to regain some calm.  What do they get?  “He is not here!”


This is, my friends, not an electric blanket of religion.  This is not a cozy comfort.  This is a spine tingling, goose-pimple raising proposition.  If he’s not here, where the heck is he?  And what is he doing in Galilee?  And why does he want us there?  No wonder they ran in fear and great joy.


We know that God is with us. But in this story we hear that God is also in our future.  God is ahead of us—raised from the dead, and waiting for us in Galilee, or wherever, to meet us again.  God is here, and there, in this time and in that time.  The cross is a bridge to that “in the future.”  He is not here smoldering in death; death itself has transformed into life.


We have image after image of this in our lessons today.  How about those Hebrews?  As soon as they realize that Pharaoh’s army is coming near they crave their electric blanket of Egypt. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in this wilderness?  What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?  Is this not the very thing we told in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and serve the Egyptians!’”  Really?  This from former slaves?? “We want to go back and be slaves again.”   But they are not to stay in the virtual tomb of slavery: they have to cross through the water—must have been scary—and yet what new life awaited them, even in the desert, but especially in the Promised Land!  The new life that awaited them is still the inspiration for this signature event in the lives of the Jewish people, their Exodus from Egypt, the crossing over to freedom, and to a completed covenant with God.  The passage through the darkness of being under water to rise to the light salvation is at the heart of the passage from Paul’s letter, where he ways that “we who have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that we too might walk in newness of life.”


I have to say that this is hard to take in as just an idea, or as a feeling, but not as an experience.   The women were stunned.  The Hebrews were awed.  Those who are baptized, especially if they are fully immersed, experience the tomb of water before resurfacing, totally new, and totally themselves.  So one more thought as we live into this moment where darkness fades into light—I love that image—darkness fading…In those dark times, I know it is hard for me to feel hope.  I know that in dark times the feeling of hopelessness can be very powerful.  But we can strive to live in hope, secure that God is with us, and God has gone ahead of us, waiting for us, too. We can walk through the quivering wall of water to other shore.  We can let ourselves be submerged, knowing that we will emerge.  And we can run to Galilee, knowing he is waiting there—and that we will meet him on the way there, too.


On this Easter Vigil, as darkness fades into the first light, may we know that Christ Jesus is alive.  He is not a figure from the past; he has gone ahead, to meet us wherever we might go.  And may we know in our incarnated lives, ever busy and ever too busy, that God is with us and working in us to make all things new.  He is risen.  Alleluia.