Easter Vigil

Family-Friendly, nursery provided

7:00pm Saturday| at Imago Dei Anglican Church


Historical Context

The Great Vigil of Easter is the crowning jewel of Holy Week marking the first part of the celebration of Easter. This service highlights our deep desire to meet the Lord through Word and Sacrament by the power of the Holy Spirit as well as our desire to use the arts in order to make abstract theological concepts concrete and accessible. It is a “sacramental” moment when the invisible realities are made visible and we receive grace by faith through various mediums.

The Vigil begins after sunset on Holy Saturday, remembering the time when Jesus passed from death to life, and extends through the night, culminating in the church’s acclamation to the world at the Easter Sunday service.  Of all the services celebrated during Holy Week, the Easter Vigil is the oldest known service of the week. The earliest references to the Vigil are found in the second century. In the third and fourth centuries, Christians believed this was the most significant holy day for new Christians to declare their faith and become full members of the family of God through baptism. The Easter Vigil celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and looks forward to his coming again in glory to fully reconcile the world to himself. The Easter Vigil has four important parts: the Service of Light, the readings, baptism, and the Eucharist.


The Service of Light is often referred to as the Exsultet. The light represents our passage from the darkness of death on Good Friday into the light of life on Easter Sunday. It is at this time that the Paschal Candle is lit from a new fire outside of the church. Clergy members then process into the sanctuary with the light. As they reach the doors of the sanctuary, they stop and knock prior to entering. As the Paschal Candle enters the room, it is the only light. The Paschal Candle will burn during every service through Easter until Pentecost.


For the rest of the night, we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word, or the Vigil readings. At Imago, we will spend one hour exploring each reading through worship, song, and Holy Spirit ministry time. It is a time for us to slow down and dig deeply into the story of salvation presented to us through the Vigil readings. Throughout history, the number of readings has varied. There are nine readings currently found in the Book of Common Prayer.


The Baptismal and Easter Acclamation service begins, and candidates for baptism are presented and baptized by candlelight, even as the congregation renews their own baptismal vows. Finally, we reach the moment that we wait for patiently during Lent and all of Holy Week: the Easter Acclamation and the Holy Noise. The celebrant exclaims to the people: “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” And the people respond: “The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” At this time, we shout and sing and dance as we celebrate the hope given to us all those many years ago on that first Easter Sunday morning, and we rejoice in the expectation of the return of Christ in the future. This is truly the greatest moment of the entire year. We then conclude the service by celebrating the Eucharist, enjoying together the family communion meal that makes us one with Jesus’ and unites us with the church throughout the ages. The Eucharist reminds us throughout the year of the death and resurrection of Jesus which we celebrate during Holy Week, and the first Eucharist of Easter is an especially poignant moment as it concludes our Holy Week pilgrimage.


The day before Easter is called Holy Saturday and marks the day that Jesus’ body rested in the tomb. On this day, we do not celebrate Communion. Essentially this is a day of waiting for the resurrection. During the early days of the church, this was a day of fasting for remembrance and peaceful contemplation. At a later point in church history, those who were newly converted to Christianity used this as a day to publically declare their faith in Jesus. After sunset on Saturday, the Great Vigil of Easter would begin, marking the first part of the celebration of Easter. This service highlights our deep desire to meet the Lord through Word and Sacrament by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We also want to begin to use the arts in order to make abstract theological concepts concrete and accessible. It is a “sacramental” moment when the invisible realities are made visible and we receive grace by faith through various mediums.  Dramatists or artists are asked to be preachers by using their gifts to proclaim the heart of the Gospel.



SERVICE OF LESSONS: Old Testament readings are presented dramatically at our Easter Festival in order to bring a sensory immediacy to the sacramental reality of the texts.

SERVICE BEGINS IN DARKNESS: The Great Vigil of Easter begins in darkness because this service moves us from the darkness of Jesus’ death on Good Friday to the light of life found in Jesus’ resurrection at sunrise on Easter morning.

POUNDING ON DOOR: Fr. Justin pounds on the doors of the sanctuary as a reminder that Christ broke down the doors of Hell when he defeated death.

“THE LIGHT OF CHRIST”: The early church would strike a light on Jesus’ tomb and carry the flame with them throughout their celebration of his resurrection. Today, we light a Paschal candle every year as a reminder of the pillar of fire that led the Israelites to safety in Exodus 13. THE EXSULTET: Also known as the “Easter Proclamation,” this poetic hymn is sung by a cantor and brings the salvation narrative of Holy Week into focus around the Light of Christ. CONGREGATIONAL CANDLES: The light from the Paschal candle is spread to the whole congregation as a symbol of the intensely personal nature of Christ’s presence with each of us. THE HOLY NOISE: The conclusion of the Great Vigil of Easter takes place when the celebrant declares that Christ is risen. Imago has taken the ancient custom of ringing bells in celebration to new heights through the “Holy Noise,” when the entire congregation makes a “joyful noise unto the Lord.”

BAPTISMS: Baptism as the passage from death to life is powerfully reinforced by the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

ASPERGES: We rejoice in our own baptisms as the clergy sprinkle the waters of baptism on the congregation.

EASTER ACCLAMATION: To mark the end of the Lent and as the climax of our Holy Week pilgrimage, Fr. Justin proclaims, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”



The Great Vigil of Easter is the crowning jewel in our Holy Week pilgrimage. While you may be tempted to think that of Easter Sunday, in reality it is this quiet service that begins in darkness on Holy Saturday and erupts into joyous celebration Easter morning that encapsulates our pilgrimage. Hour by hour, we walk with the Lord from death to life, until the glorious moment when a Spirit-filled impartation of joy is released and we celebrate that the resurrection is, indeed, real. As we keep vigil through the night with Jesus, we join with believers who, for millennia, have understood the incredible significance of this evening and have given up sleep, despite being near the end of a long pilgrimage, in order to worship and pray. This is how we find ourselves dancing and singing at sunrise on Easter Sunday, sleepless as we may be. The joy of the Gospel overtakes us and we celebrate with childlike freedom the hope that we have as children of the living God.



When was the last time that you were moved by the joy of the resurrection?

What stands out to you most about this service

Material used with permission from: © 2016 Church of the Resurrection. All rights reserved. 935 W. Union Ave. Wheaton, IL 60187 churchrez.org Editor: Meghan Robins