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This is the Night-Easter Vigil Paper-Pub


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This is the Night-Easter Vigil Paper-Pub

  1. 1. This Is the Night: Introducing and Exploring the Easter Vigil Rev. Randy K. Asburry (M.Div., MA, STM) Presented to the Good Shepherd Institute Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne, IN 7 November 2016 Thank you for this privilege of speaking on one of my favorite services of the Church Year: The Easter Vigil. INTRODUCTION Surely, you remember the Hobbits from The Lord of the Rings—Frodo, Sam- Wise, Merry, and Pippin. Frodo and Sam-Wise had gone off to return “the Ring” to Mt. Doom—save the world or some such monumental thing. Merry and Pippin, though, had been captured by the Uruhkai. Then they escaped and were wandering through Fangorn Forest. That’s where they met the “Ents”—the tree creatures that walk and talk. The first “Ent” they met was Treebeard—a wise, old Ent. At first Treebeard wasn’t sure he had ever heard of little creatures called Hobbits. Treebeard went through his whole list of creatures—elves, dwarfs, ents, and humans; beavers, bears, hounds, and eagles; swans and serpents. Nope, no Hobbits. But he was pleased to meet Merry and Pippin. So, Merry quickly introduces himself by name. And Treebeard says, “Hoom, hmm! Come now! Not so hasty.” He wants to ponder why they call themselves “hobbits.” Pippin quickly introduces himself by name. And Treebeard responds, “Hm, but you are hasty folk, I see.” Then Treebeard slowly declares, “I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.” Why not? He explains: “For one thing it would take a very long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story.” You see, in Entish, Treebeard’s story- language, all things take a long time to say. Then Treebeard says, “It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.” Tonight we are being good little Ents! (Homily for Easter Vigil, 2016) Thus I launched this year’s homily for our Easter Vigil service at Hope in St. Louis. We introduced the Vigil back in 2006, and it has become a beloved staple of our Holy Week and Easter celebrations. What is the Easter Vigil? Where does it come from? How might you implement it, and why? These are the questions before us today. 1
  2. 2. After introducing Tolkien’s tale of Treebeard, I asked what that has to do “with Jesus, Easter, resurrection, and new life.” Like Merry and Pippin in the story, we also suffer from “a plague of hastiness.” Consider how “hasty we get in our world of 24/7 news, and Facebook status updates throughout the day, and email correspondence where we feel insulted if we don’t get a response in under three minutes.” “The symptoms of that plague include not saying much that’s worthwhile and not hearing much that’s worthwhile. Certainly, our hasty speaking, our hasty listening, and even our hasty living, all tend to crowd out our God who loves us for the long-term of eternity.” (Homily for Easter Vigil, 2016) Treebeard, though, gives a needed antidote to our “plague of hastiness” and a fitting lead-in to the heart of the Easter Vigil. As I proclaimed a short seven months ago, According to Treebeard, anything worth saying is worth taking some time to say it.… We actually gather here with the express purpose of taking longer than normal to worship ... waiting and watching in vigil … hearing lots of God’s Word … remembering our Baptism … confirming two young men … praying … and receiving His gifts.… Oops. I’m getting too hasty here. (Homily for Easter Vigil, 2016) WHENCE COMES THE EASTER VIGIL? First, let’s take the question “Whence comes the Easter Vigil?” For some today, the Easter Vigil seems like a liturgical novelty. That was the reaction of some in my own congregation when we introduced it. However, the Vigil actually has a long history, and a growing story of receiving it, sort of like Treebeard’s name. Fred Precht, in Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, traces the Vigil back to the early fourth century. Paul Bosch, in his Church Year Guide, explains that the Vigil is an ancient1 order that is being newly reclaimed. Among Roman Catholics, that reclamation has taken place since World War II, when Pope Pius XII officially reinstated it. Anglicans, Lutherans, and others, have been reclaiming the Vigil even more recently. Timothy2 Maschke notes that, “…the Easter Vigil has a long and revered tradition. Perhaps dating to early Jewish-Christian practices of an evening service in preparation for Passover, the Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, 169: “After A.D. 313 [when Christianity was legalized] the Easter1 Vigil was the prime time for baptisms of adults who had been instructed during Lent. It also ushered in the resurrection celebration. The Vigil thus focused on the saving power of Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5). By 400 in Africa and Northern Italy there was also a solemn celebration of light, since all lamps were customarily extinguished on Holy Thursday evening. The modern adaptation of this ancient service remembers the Exodus from Egypt, celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ, includes the sacrament of Baptism, looks forward to Jesus’ return, and may conclude with the Lord’s Supper.” Bosch, Church Year Guide, 38.2 2
  3. 3. Vigil recalls the many accounts of God’s deliverance of His people.” The Lutheran3 Service Book: Altar Book offers this historical note: “In some places throughout the early centuries of the Church’s life, the people of God would hold vigil, which means ‘keep watch,’ through the night in expectation of Christ’s return. A vigil in expectation of Christ’s return at Easter became a common feature of the celebration of His crucifixion and resurrection.”4 Here are some Early Church sources. Chapter 20 of the Apostolic Tradition (perhaps as early as the third century) treats those who are to receive Baptism at the end of Lent. First, the bishop would exorcise the candidates for Baptism. Then he would “sign them” with the cross on their foreheads, ears, nose and heart. Then, in the Arabic, we get this exhortation: “…and let them spend the whole night listening to readings and preaching.” The Canons of Hippolytus (early fourth century) have this parallel: “They are5 to spend all their night in the sacred Word and prayers.” The Testamentum Domini (4th/6 5th century) gives this context: “In the forty days of Pascha, let the people abide in the temple, keeping vigil and praying, hearing the Scriptures and hymns of praise and the books of doctrine. But on the last Saturday let them come early in the night, and when the catechumens are being exorcised till Saturday midnight.”7 What happened to this ancient tradition? Edward Horn, in The Christian Year, offers this as to why the Easter Vigil has fallen out of use in Protestant circles: “The Protestant reformers eliminated these ceremonies, again (as on Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Good Friday) largely because of their aversion to the blessing of things, rather than for any serious doctrinal difficulties.”8 Horn then connects our Easter Vigil in the Western Church with the custom of the Eastern Church: Some idea of the ancient practice may still be found in the Eastern churches. There the vigil is still observed with the last devotions of Lent— the people prostrating themselves before the tomb set up in the front of the church. Just before midnight the procession forms to go out of the Maschke, Gathered Guests, Second Edition, 309.3 Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book, 529.4 Bradshaw, Johnson, and Phillips, The Apostolic Tradition: A Commentary, p. 106.5 Ibid., p. 107.6 Ibid., p. 107. Paul Bradshaw, et. al., also gives this commentary on the frequent use of vigils in the early7 church: “Evidence for vigils other than at Easter may be sparse for the first three centuries of the Christian era, but it is not completely absent (see, e.g., Tertullian Ad uxor. 2.4; Pontius De vita et passion Cypriani 15; and canon 35 of the Council of Elvira). Later evidence indicates that vigils on other feasts (e.g. Pentecost and Epiphany), Sundays, at the tombs of martyrs, and on other occasions were common and widespread” (p. 111). Horn, The Christian Year, 127.8 3
  4. 4. church, with the clergy and people bearing the sacred vessels, books and banners. While the procession perambulates the church to the accompaniment of the church bells, the tomb is removed, candles replaced and the altar dressed for the first mass of Easter, which begins with the triumphant entry of the procession at midnight.9 So the Easter Vigil may seem “new” to our Lutheran Service Book treasury of services, and it may be new to many parishioners and even many clergy, but it is actually quite old. Our twentieth and now twenty-first century reclaiming of this ancient service is simply rediscovering a precious jewel, dusting it off, and resetting it into the necklace of our liturgical life. One question often arises. Why would we actually want/choose to celebrate Easter early, that is, before Easter Sunday? Some in my congregation asked that. Several brother pastors have also expressed concern that the Vigil could remove, or downplay, the “surprise” of Easter Sunday. I have three responses. First, there really is no “surprise” to our Easter celebration. We already know the story. We know what happened and how God worked His salvation. What we are doing is celebrating what we already know. In fact, we are putting ourselves into that story as our story. (More on that in a moment.) Second, we can look at the timeline and timing of the Vigil, if you will. The Vigil is intended to be a time of waiting and watching—of preparing—for the celebration to burst forth. If we go with the Eastern Church’s approach, the waiting, watching, and processing begins late on Saturday. Then, at midnight—now we’re at Easter Sunday— the bona fide celebration kicks into high gear, going into the wee hours of the morning. Or, as I prefer, consider the Easter Vigil from the ancient reckoning of time, in the time whence it comes. In the ancient reckoning of time—Jesus’ day and into the Early Church—the day actually began at sundown the evening before. Remember the order from creation: “there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Genesis 1:5). So,10 when we celebrate the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, by our Western time reckoning, it is also already Easter Sunday, by Biblical and ancient time reckoning. Third, consider what we are celebrating: the biggest, most profound event that changes us, our lives, indeed all of history—Christ’s resurrection. It’s why the Church sets aside not just one Sunday to celebrate Easter, but a whole week of Sundays—seven weeks, fifty whole days. It’s the Church’s way of saying, “This resurrection thing is so big, we cannot contain all the joy, all the celebration, in just one Sunday.” Likewise, the Vigil, on the front end, is the Church’s way of saying, “We just can’t wait to get to that celebration!” Think back to when you were a child at Christmas time. You know— despite Mom’s repeated commands not to—that you were sneaking under the Christmas tree to shake the presents to see what rattling sounds and clues they would give. You were eager to get to the celebration. Horn, 129.9 Also, consider how Jews to this day begin their Sabbath day observance on Friday evening.10 4
  5. 5. Speaking of Christmas, let’s also make the connection with the more common, even expected, celebration of Christmas in the Church. Many of us celebrate our Lord’s Incarnation on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. (And we do wish that our members would take in all of the services to get the whole message and meaning, not merely pick and choose the service that fits into their family traditions.) The tell-tale sign of a vigil—“keeping watch”—at Christmas can be seen in the traditional Christmas “candle-light service,” when Christmas Eve is celebrated as a “midnight” service that begins at 11:00 p.m. Why start celebrating Christmas before Christmas Day? Why gather at such an odd hour, when little ones are sleepy and come to church dressed in their “church pajamas,” as one member once put it? Quite simple: we are holding vigil, keeping watch, for Christ’s coming at Christmas. First, on Christmas Eve, we wait and watch by hearing the story of our Lord’s Nativity (Luke 2), and then, on Christmas Day, we actually celebrate and plumb the depths of what that means from John 1—“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Let’s call this a “vestigial vigil.” This vestigial vigil at Christmas can help us introduce and celebrate the Easter Vigil itself. WHAT IS THE EASTER VIGIL? Next, let’s take up the question, “What Is the Easter Vigil?” Let’s look at its “beating heart”—what is the overall thrust of the service?—and its “movement”—how does the service flow? 1. Its Beating Heart The Easter Vigil is intended to be celebrated on the evening of Holy Saturday, the evening before the joys of Easter burst forth in full bloom. When you do your in-depth exegetical study on the terms “Easter” and “Vigil,” it’s not hard to conclude from those long hours of lexicon study that the service boils down to two essential things. First, it’s all about Easter. Second, it’s all about keeping vigil. The term “Easter” draws us all the way back to the great Hebrew pesach, or (if you prefer Greek) the pascha, that is, the Passover. Celebrating the Old Testament Passover was no mere, hasty mental recollection of what happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Rather, it was ancient Israel’s way of “reenacting” or “participating in”— even “owning”—the reality of God’s salvation given in His mighty works of rescue and His meal of deliverance. After the first generation of freed Israelite slaves had perished in the wilderness, Moses prepared the second generation of Israelites—who had not known the burden of slavery in Egypt—to continue celebrating the pesach, the Passover. In Deuteronomy 6, Moses exhorted them: “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” Note the first person plural pronouns.11 Deuteronomy 6:20-21, emphasis added.11 5
  6. 6. Not just “they,” but we were slaves in Egypt. The Lord delivered us, not just “them.” The second generation (and all future generations), who had not experienced first-hand the slavery nor the Lord’s exodus, were to celebrate the same rescue and the same meal as their very own. This is the same thrust in the Easter Vigil: the story of Christ’s pesach/ pascha/Passover—God’s salvation in the Word made flesh, from beginning to end, from creation to crucifixion/resurrection and beyond—that story is our story. We own it because, by God’s free gift, He makes it our very own. We do that most powerfully and fittingly in vigil: in patiently waiting, in eagerly watching, in joyously taking our time to re-hear and re-live the whole story of Christ’s salvation—again, from beginning to end, from creation to crucifixion/resurrection and beyond. Speaking pragmatically, the Easter Vigil is our time to throw out those dreaded chronometers—clocks, watches and iPhones that keep us enslaved to a schedule. Throw them out the window…at least for one evening. Pastors and parishioners need to be prepared for and embrace a longer service, and intentionally so. We 21st century Americans readily and eagerly sit motionless for a two- or two-and-a-half hour movie that portrays a fictional story. We can certainly manage to carve out a couple of hours to re-hear and re-live our most authentic, most meaningful, and most true-to-life story of being recipients of God’s rescue in Christ Jesus. All of this is to say that “vigil” means both “keep watch” and “be ready to take your time in keeping watch.” There’s no need to rush through what God Himself delights to proclaim and give over and over again through time and into eternity. In his Church Year Guide, Paul Bosch describes the beating heart of the Easter Vigil this way: “The Vigil is an evening service, when the church keeps watch (in ancient times, through the night, right up till Easter dawn!) with its Lord, recalls its holy history, reaffirms its baptismal faith, and celebrates the first Communion of Easter. So the Vigil may be said to contain the fulness of paschal faith: a veritable catechism of faith’s 6
  7. 7. meaning and a breath-taking reenactment of faith’s dramatic journey, anticipated, affirmed, and fulfilled.”12 2. Its Movement Let’s move on to the “movement,” the flow, of the Easter Vigil. Lutheran Service Book gives a six-part outline to the Vigil: 1. the Service of Light; 2. the Service of Readings; 3. the Service of Holy Baptism; 4. the Service of Prayer; 5. the Service of the Word; and 6. the Service of the Sacrament. The Rite of Confirmation can take place within the Service of Holy Baptism. Ideally, the Service of Light begins in a place other than the nave, preferably outside, after sundown—weather permitting, of course—and moves us from darkness into light, bit by bit. A fire may be built outside, on the ground or in a brazier, to symbolize the light penetrating the darkness and to facilitate the lighting of the paschal candle. Pfatteicher and Messerli give this wonderful comment on the fire: “As at creation light came into the darkness, so at the beginning of the celebration of the new creation a fire is kindled in the darkness.” They also give these two notes on the paschal candle.13 First: “Thus the candle becomes a sign of the presence of Christ with his people, bearing his sign and title. This candle, which burns near the altar throughout the Great Fifty Days, represents the risen Lord shining in the splendor of his resurrection.” And14 Bosch, Church Year Guide, 38-39. See also Philip Pfatteicher in Commentary on the Lutheran Book of12 Worship: “The great Vigil of Easter is a repetition of actions and gestures initiated long ages before, a conscious replaying of paradigmatic actions from that time behind time encountered in the depths of Christian consciousness. In the celebration of this Vigil are found powerfully expressed the characteristics of ritual action noted by anthropologists and historians of religion. Space is transcended: the act of remembering takes place at a grave, but the grave is anywhere the event is recalled. The church building and with it the congregation moves from darkness to light, and in the font the baptized move from death to resurrection, boldly challenging the threatening powers of darkness and death. Time is transcended: ‘this is the night’ the Exsultet sings again and again, for the Passover and the Resurrection and the church’s celebration of Easter all merge and become contemporary events. The Vigil is a participation in the Event it proclaims, and the original deed lives again. What happened once in illo tempore (at that time) is repeated again and again hic et nunc (here and now) as an experienced reality. It is a re-creation of what happened in the archetypal event, newly activated in the here and now of each celebration. The fullness of the Christian faith is found in the Vigil; more than that, the fullness of Judaism as well, for this is the Christian Passover. And behind that lies the general experience of humankind in the wonder of new birth in the springtime, a death and resurrection. The movement from Lent through Easter parallels the four stages of the new year celebration in many primal cultures: the mortification of Lent, the purgation of Holy Week, the invigoration of the Resurrection, and the jubilation of the Fifty Days of Easter. Finally, in its deepest sense, this Passover celebration is not the festival of an individual, a hero, but of a people; the heroic and victorious deeds of Christ were accomplished not for himself but for the people of God, ultimately the whole human race.” Obviously, Pfatteicher is too eager to connect the Vigil service—the specifically Christian Passover—with the general religious experience of all of fallen humanity, at least for my comfort, but we can appreciate what he says on the “beating heart” of the Vigil itself. Pfatteicher & Messerli, Manual on the Liturgy: Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 328.13 Ibid., 327.14 7
  8. 8. second: “As the children of Israel were led by a pillar of fire from slavery to freedom in the promised land, so the church is led from the slavery of sin to the glorious liberty of the children of God in the heavenly land of promise. Again, a pillar of fire, the candle, leads the way.”15 When Hope began the Easter Vigil service, we did not make a big deal about everyone gathering outside before the service. Some people’s age, young or old, along with hearing and sight abilities are very real factors (not to mention the “security” of claiming one’s normal pew!). Weather is also a factor. For the first two or three years, I recall being the only one who actually set foot outside the church building, and that was merely to light the taper for the paschal candle. And some years that’s a challenge due to wind and rain! Keep a lighter in your pocket, just in case. Over the years, however, more and more people have willingly embraced starting outside. First, we had the choir and the candidates for Baptism and Confirmation join us outside. Then, over time, more and more worshippers have chosen to begin the service outside. After the opening address and prayer, the paschal candle is lit according to the detailed rubrics in the Altar Book. One can buy a new wax candle each year (which I would prefer) or one can use an oil candle (as we actually do). The ritual actions of tracing the Alpha and the Omega, placing the year on the candle, and inserting the five nails are good ceremonies that, done well and not rushed, communicate the focal point of the whole service: Christ crucified and risen is coming to bring us out of darkness into His most marvelous light. Following a prayer, the Service of Light continues with the Entrance. The paschal candle leads the procession into the church, followed by the choir, the candidates, other worshipers, and finally the assisting ministers and the pastor. As the paschal candle proceeds down the center aisle, worshipers light their candles from it and then pass the light down their pew to others. The semi-dark sanctuary becomes just a bit more lit, but we’re not yet at full light. As the procession enters, one choir member sings, “The light of Christ,” and the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” We repeat those lines until all candles are lit and all are in their places. Then the choir sings the Exultet—the song calling for all of creation, including us, to rejoice in God’s ultimate redemption and deliverance. We have the choir sing this as they surround the congregation across the front of the nave and down the side aisles. Following the Exultet comes the greeting and the proper preface, much like we hear and sing during the Communion liturgy on Sundays. This preface, though, repeats the phrase, “This is the night,” and recounts the story of God’s salvation, explicitly tying Christ’s atoning work to the story of the Exodus. The preface can be sung, but I speak it. Following the Exultet, the congregation extinguishes the candles and places them on the tile floor. Ibid., 328.15 8
  9. 9. Next comes the Service of Readings. As you can see from your outline, a whole twelve readings are listed. The Altar Book also gives “appropriate psalms or canticles” that can follow each one. Don’t let that list overwhelm or deter you! We read and hear the Word of God according to the Gospel; not according to some imagined “Altar Book law of the Medes and Persians”! In fact, the Altar Book wisely and evangelically says: “It is not expected that all twelve readings will be read. At a minimum, the Creation, Flood, and Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea are always read.” That’s only three. Then it says,16 “When only four readings are read, the fourth is The Fiery Furnace.” That’s a17 whopping four. And note this evangelical counsel: “Additional readings may be chosen as time permits, perhaps alternating from year to year. Whatever the final choice of readings, they are read in the order they appear in this service.” In our decade of18 celebrating the Vigil at Hope, we have used six—only half—of the readings listed, and we have used the same six readings each year. Those are shown in bold on your outline. The point of the Service of Readings is not how many you use, or which ones you choose beyond the three or four, but that the entire scope of God’s saving work in Christ Jesus may be read, heard, marked, learned and inwardly digested. Remember, we are holding vigil. We are waiting. We are watching for Christ’s coming in His resurrection. There’s no hurry. We’re not in a rush. No, we are delighting to gather together, to hear God’s Word, to be comforted and reminded of our real story in Christ. And when it comes to the pastor’s preaching task at the Vigil, the multitude of readings provides bountiful material for the brief—and, yes, I encourage brief, ten minutes, tops—homily. Pastors, you can focus on one, or several, or all of the readings that you’ve read—not in thorough, expositive preaching, but in weaving together the themes and pointing them all to their proper fulfillment in Jesus’ victorious bursting forth from the grave. Believe me, it will be quite meaningful for your parishioners, especially since they’ve had the privilege, by design, to sit and ponder those readings for a decent amount of time. Speaking of pondering the readings, once again—and this is for both pastors and worshipers—don’t get in a rush. We want to be good little Ents: take our time; ponder anew what God has done for us and how He makes Jesus’ story our story. Hence, after each reading comes a prayer. But between the reading and that prayer, please take the time for silent meditation. When we began the service in 2006, I would watch my watch (Yes, I’m still a bit old school in this digital age.) for a mere 30 seconds. I know, that can seem like an eternity, especially when silence is involved. But you can prepare your people, and your people will and do get used to it. These past couple of years, though, I have watched my watch for a whopping 60 seconds—one whole minute!—and it actually seems to go faster each time. The point is this: we are gathering in vigil, to wait and to watch for Christ’s Easter coming. The Service of Readings helps us do just that. Unplugging from our 21st Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book, p. 530.16 Ibid.17 Ibid.18 9
  10. 10. century digital craziness does no one any existential harm. In fact, it might just give the peace and the joy that everyone is so hastily clamoring to find. After the Service of Readings comes the Service of Holy Baptism. This is a bit abbreviated from a Baptism at other times. Also note this: the Service of Baptism is always used, whether there are candidates for Baptism or not. The exhortation includes Romans 6 and Luther’s “Flood Prayer,” both quite appropriate for the celebrating our Easter Pascha. If there are candidates for Baptism, they joyously get baptized. If there are no candidates for Baptism, the congregation still gets to remember the joys of Baptism once again. The “asperges”—the sprinkling of water on the congregation—can certainly be done and be very meaningful. We at Hope have not done this—not yet, anyway—but I have sat in the pew at another congregation where this was done. Again, it’s our Christian Passover story being enacted in our midst. The Rite of Confirmation comes at this point in the service, when you have catechumens to be confirmed. I do highly encourage making the Easter Vigil the annual time when the congregation confirms those have been instructed and examined in the faith. After all, that was its liturgical context in the Early Church. At Hope, the Vigil has become our annual time for Confirmation, and it is quite meaningful for folks to be confirmed and then receive their first Communion at the Christian Passover. Next comes the Service of Prayer. The litany in the Altar Book does a marvelous job of weaving together Holy Week and Easter narratives with our prayers for God’s mercy and deliverance. This year, 2016, was actually the first year we’ve included the litany. In previous years, we were more conscious of time, but this past year we included it to heighten the waiting and watching for Christ’s Passover coming. Now we are ready to burst forth in joy and praise! With the Service of the Word, the presiding minister acclaims (shouts!), “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” And all good Lutherans automatically know to shout back, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” The lights come up, thanks to a sexton manning the dimmer switch in the narthex. We sing “This is the Feast,” for the first time after a six-week Hymn of Praise fast. The candles are lit. The Table is prepared for the Lord’s Holy Meal. And all is set right. Darkness has finally given way to full light. Death is fleeing; Life is ours. The Holy Gospel from Mark 16 is read. A brief—and, again, I emphasize brief—homily is proclaimed. (While I did invoke the memory of Treebeard, I’m not sure he would approve of my brevity a short seven months ago.) And, finally, comes the Service of the Sacrament, straight up, as we’re accustomed to on Sunday mornings, in all its glorious Passover and Easter fulness. Somehow, the length of the Vigil service does not matter once you begin singing joyous Easter hymns such as “At the Lamb’s High Feast” (LSB 633), “Christ the Lord is Risen Today; Alleluia” (LSB 463), and “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing” (LSB 475). And, by the way, on such festive occasions at Hope, we do not cut short the hymns, either by slashing verses or by omitting hymns once Communion is ended. No, we sing them all, even if Communion happens to conclude only half way through the second hymn. After 10
  11. 11. all, this is OUR Passover. The Lord has just delivered US! What better place can we be? What better thing can we do? 3. A Sidebar on “Story” Before we get to some nuts and bolts on implementing the Easter Vigil, allow me a little sidebar on “story.” (I know, I’m mixing my media here. Sidebars are for The Lutheran Witness, and I’m speaking, not printing.) In the October 1993 issue of First Things, Robert Jenson wrote, “How the World Lost Its Story.” Jenson explores how modernism has given way to post-modernism,19 specifically how the “realistic narratives” of modernism have given way to the different stories of post-modernism. “Realistic narratives,” to paraphrase Jenson, could “really” happen out there in the real world. Think Jane Austen novels or the histories of Gibbon or even your local newspaper. Post-modernism’s stories, however, are different. They can make sense in and of themselves, in their own “story world,” but they cannot occur outside of the story-telling, that is, in the real world. Think of recent superhero movies —Iron Man, The Avengers, etc.—or even my favorites from the Star Trek universe. What does this have to do with celebrating the Easter Vigil? Jenson wrote, [T]he way in which the modern West has talked about human life supposes that an omniscient historian could write a universal history, and that this is so because the universe with inclusion of our lives is in fact a story written by a sort of omnipotent novelist…. The archetypical body of realistic narrative is precisely the Bible; and the realistic narratives of Western modernity have every one been composed in, typically quite conscious, imitation of biblical narrative.20 Jenson then explores how the West has lost its faith. He posits that “the entire project of Enlightenment” tried “to maintain realist faith while declaring disallegiance from the God who was that faith’s object.” That is, since God Himself is the “universal21 novelist” of our “realistic narrative,” we cannot very well kick Him out of His universe and expect to stay anchored in real life in a real world. We see that all around us in the culture, including make-believe marriages dictated by five elitist lawyers in black robes and the more recent edicts sparking gender-fluid bathroom wars. As Jenson observed over two decades ago: (Originally published19 October 1993; posted on website March 2010.) Accessed 24 October 2016. Ibid., p. 5 of 15, emphasis original.20 Ibid., p. 6 of 15.21 11
  12. 12. [I]f there is no universal storyteller, then the universe can have no story line. Neither you nor I nor all of us together can so shape the world that it can make narrative sense; if God does not invent the world’s story, then it has none, then the world has no narrative that is its own. If there is no God, or indeed if there is some other God than the God of the Bible, there is no narratable world.22 Again, what does this have to do with the Easter Vigil? To paraphrase Jenson, the Church used to be able to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that had some sense of “realistic narrative.” The post-modern church, however, can no longer presume that common ground. The Church herself must be and live out the real, narratable world composed and given by the Triune “novelist.” We do that best by means of the liturgy, and the Easter Vigil is a most powerful way of telling the true, real story. Jenson then speaks of “the place of the Eucharist” as enclosing “a world.” “[T]he great drama of the Eucharist was the narrative life of the world. Nor was this a fictive world, for its drama is precisely the ‘real’ presence of all reality’s true author, elsewhere denied.” Jenson continues:23 In the postmodern world, if a congregation or churchly agency wants to be ‘relevant,’ here is the first step: it must recover the classic liturgy of the church, in all its dramatic density, sensual actuality, and brutal realism, and make this the one exclusive center of its life…. If the church is not herself a real, substantial, living world to which the gospel can be true, faith is quite simply impossible…. Of course ritual as such is not the point; the point is the church’s reality as herself a specific real narrated world…. [E]verything must enact the specific story Scripture actually tells about that particular God…. [T]he story is not your story or my story or “his- story” or “her-story” or some neat story someone read or made up. The story of the sermon and of the hymns and of the processions and of the sacramental acts and of the readings is to be God’s story, the story of the Bible…. What is said and enacted in the church must be with the greatest exactitude and faithfulness and exclusivity the story of creation and redemption by the God of Israel and Father of the risen Christ. As we used to say: Period.24 So far Jenson. When we gather for the Easter Vigil, we gather to re-hear, re-tell and even re-live the story that gives real life—the story of Jesus’ Passover as He makes it the story of our Passover, from darkness into light, from death into real life. Ibid., p. 7 of 15.22 Ibid., p. 9 of 15.23 Ibid., pp. 9-10 of 15.24 12
  13. 13. HOW MIGHT YOU IMPLEMENT THE EASTER VIGIL? Now that I’ve persuaded you that, yes, you really want to implement the Easter Vigil, how might you do that? Here’s how we did it at Hope, St. Louis. We’ll also give some thought to using portions of the Vigil service in the familiar “Easter Sunrise Service.” 1. Implementing the Easter Vigil Service at Hope, St. Louis, MO When it comes to implementing the Easter Vigil service, it all boils down to two bits of overarching advice: 1) Plan ahead, and 2) Talk it up. When you begin using the Vigil service, the first and most important tip is: plan ahead. Start early. Don’t wait until Palm Sunday or even Ash Wednesday to plan and publicize it. At Hope, the Kantor and I began discussing and planning for the service about a year ahead of time, just after Easter of 2005. In planning ahead, you will benefit greatly by attending the Easter Vigil at a congregation that already uses it, if you can. I had the privilege of using the Easter Vigil at a previous congregation (from the old Lutheran Worship: Agenda, which is very similar to that in LSB), but I also attended a nearby congregation in St. Louis that was already using the LSB rite (in field test form at that time). Sitting in the pew as the service is conducted can be most helpful for your own planning and preparation. As you plan, you also want to talk it up. Bring others into the discussions, especially elders and musicians (organist, choir director, choir members). Beginning in October 2005—six months before first celebrating the Vigil—we began discussing the Vigil with our elders. We read through the section on the Vigil in Lutheran Worship: History and Practice. In these discussions, we kept highlighting that the service would be intentionally longer and include more and different ceremonies than normal. At each monthly meeting going forward, I reminded the elders of the coming Vigil service in one way or another—usually by including it in the schedule of upcoming services, sometimes by introducing a unique feature of the rite. If you are including baptisms and confirmations at the Vigil service, of course, you will want to begin the catechetical year by communicating the date and time with candidates and their families. The next phase of planning ahead came in teaching the congregation as a whole. Beginning in February 2006 I devoted my newsletter articles to catechizing on the Vigil —three months in a row leading up to Easter and then the month after Easter as a recap. (Those articles are in your handout.) Not only did these articles keep the date and time of the coming Vigil service in front of everyone, but they also addressed the key questions: What is a “vigil”? Where does this service come from? Why would we want to start celebrating Easter before Easter Sunday? Why are we moving baptisms and confirmations to this Saturday service? How does the Vigil fit into the “Holy Three Days” (the Triduum)? The “recap article” in May was a way to reinforce what happened in the Vigil, celebrate all of it, look ahead to doing it again in the future, and thank 13
  14. 14. everyone who took part. Planning ahead, starting early, and talking it up are absolutely essential. The next tip I can give, flowing out of planning ahead, is this: pastors, digest the details of the Vigil service. Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Easter Vigil service itself. That includes the introductory notes in the Altar Book as well as the rubrics throughout the service. You will want to wrap your head around the many details, because many of those details can be quite different from the normal Sunday morning routine. Who’s in the procession? How will the procession flow? Will the choir sing the Exultet from the nave or the loft? Who will assist with the readings? Yes, different voices—the pastor and his assisting ministers—greatly aids the hearing of all of those readings. Let me add one more overall tip: don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Don’t let all of the different details overwhelm you or deter you. Will you make mistakes, such as forgetting a lighter in your pocket on a windy evening? Perhaps. Will you get in a rush and forget some little detail or portion of the service? Perhaps. That’s all right. Live by grace. Our liturgical celebrations this side of eternity are still only dress rehearsals for what we will do forever. My advice is: just start and do it. You can tweak and improve in the years to come. And, speaking of years to come, give it time for the Vigil to sink in, that is, into the consciousness of your congregation. Growth comes in inches or even millimeters. Your people love what they know, and the more you celebrate the Easter Vigil, the more they will know it and the more they will love it. I know that, because it’s what has happened at Hope in St. Louis. Let me circle back to the question of why we actually want to start the Easter celebration before Easter Sunday. This will be an ongoing question—from different people in your congregation, perhaps several times from the same person who resists being convinced. Be prepared to answer it lovingly and patiently. I recommend a two-part answer. One: the evening before Easter Sunday is, really, still Easter Sunday. Two: there’s so much joy in our Easter celebration that we just can’t wait to get started! 2. Thoughts on Using Portions of the Vigil at Easter Sunrise How might you use some—I emphasize “some”—portions of the Easter Vigil service at an Easter Sunrise service? Obviously, with other scheduled events of the biggest Sunday of the year—the chief Divine Service, Easter breakfasts, Easter egg hunts, etc.—you won’t be able to take a long time in vigil, in keeping watching and eagerly waiting. If you are intent on introducing the Vigil on a Saturday evening, using the Sunrise service to introduce some features of the Vigil may be beneficial—back to planning ahead. If the Vigil just may not work in your congregation, then using some portions of the service can 14
  15. 15. certainly heighten your Easter Sunday celebrations and be a salutary way to set the Sunrise Service apart from the chief Divine Service. If you have the happy circumstance of actually beginning before sunrise, you could incorporate the fire outside, the darkness inside, and the lighting of the Paschal candle. Instead of focusing on the sun coming up—a great First Article gift, but still just a First Article gift—you would be able to focus on the Light who is Christ—the genuine Second Article gift—as the Paschal candle makes its way down the center aisle. The Service of Readings can easily be incorporated into the Sunrise Service if you focus on the three or four “at minimum” readings listed in the Altar Book. This gives the congregation a chance to re-hear and re-live the whole story of God’s salvation in the risen Christ. It would prepare them for “the rest of the story” yet to come in the chief service later that morning. It also gives the pastor something different to preach on (at least I would hope that’s a benefit…vs. recycling the same Easter sermon for a different liturgical context). The Service of Baptism, and the Rite of Confirmation within it, may not be an option for a Sunrise Service, especially if there’s already a tight schedule for Easter Sunday morning. The Service of Prayer—the Litany of the Resurrection—however, can easily be incorporated into the Sunrise Service. Again, this can give some healthy variety and distinguish the Sunrise Service from the chief Divine Service later in the morning. And, finally, the closing prayer and blessing from the Vigil would also be excellent at sunrise. CONCLUSION In conclusion, let me leave you with another portion of my homily from this year’s Easter Vigil. After I touched on the themes of the rite itself and some of the themes of the six readings that we use each year, I concluded with this: Yes, we’ve taken a long time to rehearse these stories. If there’s anything worth saying, it’s worth taking time to say it. You see, these are our stories. They teach us how to say, “CHRISTIAN”…. How do you say “CHRISTIAN”? By coming to Jesus’ house, by hearing and learning His words, by eating and drinking His Body and Blood—week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out. If there’s anything worth saying—and living—it’s worth taking time to say it and live it…. When we shout out and sing out that “Christ is risen,” we mean all of this. When we shout out and sing out that “He is risen indeed,” we mean His story is our story, His life is our life. When we shout out and sing out, “Alleluia!”, we shout out and sing out a word that is worth saying over and over and for a long time to come. Praise the Lord that He has sent His Son! Praise the Lord that He is risen from the dead! Praise the Lord that He has raised us to live with Him! Praise the 15
  16. 16. Lord that He teaches us how to say, “CHRISTIAN”! Praise our risen Savior that He has given us something to say, and a whole lifetime to say it! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! (Homily for Easter Vigil, 2016) + + + + + BIBLIOGRAPHY Paul Bosch, Church Year Guide, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN, 1987, pp. 38-41. Paul F. Bradshaw, Maxwell E. Johnson, and L. Edward Phillips, The Apostolic Tradition: A Commentary, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2002, pp. 106-107, 111. The Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, pp. 529-551. Edward T. Horn, III, The Christian Year, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1957, pp. 127-130. Robert W. Jenson, “How the World Lost Its Story,” First Things, October 1993. Timothy H. Maschke, Gathered Guests: A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church, Second Edition, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 2009, pp. 309-316. Philip H. Pfatteicher, Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship: Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, MN, 1990, pp. 257-288. Philip H. Pfatteicher & Carlos R. Messerli, Manual on the Liturgy: Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN, 1979, pp. 326-338. Fred L. Precht, editor, Lutheran Worship: History and Practice, Authorized by The Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 1993, pp. 169-170. 16