Lessons from the Easter Vigil, David Gambrell

We’re celebrating the Easter Vigil this evening in the congregation where I worship. If you’ve never had the opportunity to participate in the Easter Vigil, it’s the “swiss army knife” of liturgies. It’s got everything … Light, Word, Baptism (or reaffirmation), and the Lord’s Supper; there’s a bonfire, banners, bells, books, candles, children’s artwork, dancing, singing, praying, preaching, washing, anointing, eating, drinking, and lots and lots of Scripture. It’s an amazing opportunity to experience the whole story of salvation—God’s mighty acts from creation to resurrection to new creation—all in one evening.

Because there are so many “moving parts” in this event (literally, since we’re traveling in a kind of pilgrimage all around the church property to hear the various readings) I’m running a rehearsal this morning to allow all the leaders (a total of sixty people of all ages) to walk through the service. As I’ve been thinking about the main things I want the leaders to know and remember as we prepare for the service, it occurred to me that these are not only good guidelines for liturgical practice, but valuable lessons for all of Christian life.

  • Why are we rehearsing this service? With such an elaborate event, it’s helpful to go through the liturgy step by step to be sure we haven’t forgotten anything important. (Speaking of which, who’s getting the grape juice?) However, this is emphatically not to stir up a general sense of anxiety about getting everything “right.” (We won’t. We can’t.) Just the opposite, our preparation should serve to put our anxieties to rest, so that we can attend to what God is doing and trust the work of the Holy Spirit. As one of the readings from the Vigil teaches, “The Lord will provide.” (Gen. 22:14). In fact, Christ has already provided for us far more abundantly than anything we could ask or imagine.
  • I know that a big question on everyone’s mind is: How long will this all take? Some of us have kids to get to bed, and some of us are getting up for the Easter sunrise service. (And some both.) We’ll have a better idea in a few minutes. Our rehearsal will help us to streamline the service, avoiding some of the awkward gaps and glitches. But ultimately it doesn’t matter. In this service, there will be times of silence when we simply “wait for the Lord.” Remember, especially at those times, that this isn’t about our time. It’s about God’s time—how God, the author of our history, came at last to save us, and to lead us to life everlasting. It’s about how (in the words of the opening prayer from the Service of Readings), “in the fullness of time, God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us: Jesus Christ, our Redeemer!”
  • Finally, what is our main purpose as leaders in worship? We may have banners to carry, songs to sing, readings to present, prayers to say, but all of this is secondary. Our primary purpose is to point to Christ—to help others see what God has done, is doing, will do. Whatever else we have been called to, our main purpose (or “chief end,” in the words of the Shorter Catechism) is to give glory to God. And this is just as true in the service of daily living as it is in the liturgy.

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