You can hear my Easter Vigil sermon on the Christ Church website, or read it here.
The Easter Vigil is the mother of all worship services. In it, we combine the expectation of Advent, the joy of Christmas, the revelation of Epiphany, the sacrifice of Lent, the great celebration of Easter, and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. We gather on a Saturday night, when it doesn’t yet feel quite like Easter, but it certainly is no longer Lent, and we do what Christians have been doing almost since the very beginning. We rehearse the story of salvation history, we welcome new members of the body of Christ, we make our shout of Alleluia, we offer our prayers for the world, we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ proclaimed, and we break bread together. There is room for precious little else in this service, which is why the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer call what his happening right now a homily rather than a sermon. KISS is the name of the game. Not, Keep It Simple Stupid, but Keep It Short.
As I’ve reflected upon my first Easter Vigil in several years, I find myself wondering why. Why, Saturday night when Sunday morning is our habit? Why, all the extra parts when it requires so much coordination? Why, bother when it means a nearly two-hour service? Why celebrate the Easter Vigil? Our answer comes in the Exsultet, which Brittany so beautifully chanted for us earlier this evening. We celebrate the Easter Vigil because “this is the night.” This is the night of God’s salvation. This is the night when God rescued the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. This is the night when God saved all God’s people from their bondage to sin. This is the night when God flung open the gates of hell and welcomed the faithful into life abundant. This is the night, as the Exsultet says in the optional portion, “when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away… when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.” This is the night. Moreover, we celebrate this particular night because, as Matthew’s account of the resurrection makes clear, Jesus didn’t wait until sun up to be raised. “The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out, but to allow the first witnesses in.” It is on this night that Jesus rose victorious from the grave, and so we gather to sing praise, to celebrate, to welcome the newly baptized, and to shout as loud as we can that Jesus Christ is risen.
It is a night, not just of praise and joy, but a night of teaching as well. Unlike any other service of the church year, tonight, we hear the full story of God’s plan for salvation. We’ve heard of the beauty of creation and God’s never-failing promise after the flood. We’ve heard of God’s salvation of Israel and the prophetic promise of restoration in the last days. We are reminded that our story is a part of God’s much larger story, and we are invited to find our place in it. The Easter Vigil is, despite the inside baseball of paschal candle lighting and Exsultet chanting, an evangelistic service. It might be the closest thing we Episcopalians come to a tent revival. As we listen to the story of God, we are invited to hear where we fall into it, and then, like the women at the tomb, we are propelled out of this place, with alleluia on our lips and joy in our hearts, to tell the story: the good news of God’s saving love in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This is the night, my friends, the night of our salvation. Rejoice, sing praise, and give thanks, for Jesus Christ is risen! Amen. Alleluia!