Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter/Paschal Vigil

Easter Vigils are hard to come by in my neck of the woods. So it came to pass some years ago that my wife and I ventured forth to Boston, to The Trinity Church on Copley Square. This is a church we had visited many times and appreciated for its strong liturgy, and where we understood they kept the Paschal Vigil. There we immersed ourselves in all three days known as the Triduum and it’s become an annual pilgrimage ever since. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Day services make for a rich and refreshing weekend.

I’m not going to attempt any real play-by-play account of the Vigil last evening—you really had to be there. But I did come away with some insights and fresh approaches that I think are worth passing along.

When we entered the church, we were handed a bulletin and a candle—a full ten-inch candle. From the large Easter Candle, ignited from the new fire in the gallery, our individual ones were lighted until the room was aglow. Being lighted near the beginning of the service, our candles would have to last, the way this service was designed, almost a full hour. For most of us in the pews they did. I was impressed by staff’s thoughtfulness to provide candles of sufficient length.

Following the Exsultet, a prayer calling the hosts of heaven, the creatures of the earth, and the whole church to rejoice in Christ’s victory, the Vigil continued with stories of God’s salvation in the past: A Story of Creation, A Story of Noah and the Flood, A Story of the Crossing of the Red Sea, and a Story of the River of Life.

Each of these stories cited biblical texts on which they were based, but each story was told in a different way. The Creation was a paraphrase re-telling of Genesis 1:1-2:4a. Noah and the Flood was presented in two stories, one based on cited Genesis passages, and the other a tale translated from the Arabic. The story based on Exodus 14 and 15 was told in the song, “Go Down, Moses,” a soloist proclaiming the verses, the congregation joining in the refrain. The Story of the River of Life was a close reading of Ezekiel 47: 1-12.

It was a different approach, one which I wasn’t sure I’d appreciate when I realized we were not rehearsing the scriptural texts. As it turned out, they were all very engaging. The biblical versions were familiar enough that they provided the context for the stories we heard.

I particularly had reservations about “Go Down, Moses,” but the power of the soloist’s proclamation in singing the verses, and the congregation’s eager response in the refrain, made it exciting and memorable.

I always pay attention to rubrics, those little printed instructions about the liturgy that customarily are printed in red (which is what “rubric” means). Here are a few of particular significance in this service:

“Children: Children are invited to worship with their families and are encouraged to arrange themselves so that they can easily see the actions of liturgy.” I really like how it is addressed to children personally, with the knowledge that the parents are the ones who will read it and see to it that children can see and take part in the worship.

“The drumming at the Proclamation of Easter comes from the traditions of the Ewe (Eh-vay) people of Ghana, West Africa. It is performed by a group of Trinity parishioners and friends, ages 8 and up, who have participated since February 2 in weekly drumming sessions led by Jeremy Cohen, a professional music educator and leader of musical study tours in Ghana.” It was an explosive, thunderous and vibrant announcement of the Resurrection.

“The Easter acclamation is said three times, each time louder, accompanied by ceremonial drum music of Ghana. The people ring their bells, louder and louder. For the rest of the liturgy, the People ring their bells whenever ‘Alleluia’ is sung or said.” Members of the congregation came armed with bells of all shapes and sizes and sounds—a wondrous cacophony of tones accompanying the single lyric, Alleluia!

And finally, as we approached Holy Communion, we read: “All People, regardless of faith tradition, if any, are welcome to receive Communion at Trinity Church.” This invitation was reinforced by the personal encouragement of the Rector who stressed that the table was not the church’s, but the Lord’s Table.

There is, of course, much more to tell, so stay tuned. For now you can be sure it was worth the trip.

If you attended Easter Vigil somewhere, or held Vigil in your own church, how did you review the history of God’s saving deeds with our ancestors? Was there a baptism? What was especially meaningful?


  1. Some year I hope to meet you there. What a rich and wonderful service!

  2. Charlotte KroekerApril 7, 2010 at 5:15 AM

    As a musician who has served Episcopal and Lutheran parishes where the Easter Vigil was an important part of the sequence of Holy Week, I too can attest to the beauty of a well crafted Vigil. I find some mixed reactions among parishioners, however, from those who believe it to be the important culmination of Holy Week to others who seem to either need the "rest" of Holy Saturday or think it takes away from the excitement of Easter morning. I would be curious to know if others have had this experience, and if there are ways to sustain a congregation (and the musicians!) through all the liturgies, including Easter morning? Thanks for listening.


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