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Waiting the Coming Day: A service anticipating the resurrection celebration.

Late in the evening of July 4, while most U.S. citizens were celebrating the birth of a nation with fireworks and pageantry, participants at the Conference on Liturgy and Music (COLAM), cosponsored by Reformed Worship and Redeemer College, gathered in Ancaster, Ontario, to celebrate Christ's resurrection.

The Great Vigil of Easter has both the richest history and the most profound significance of any service in the Christian year. Celebrated on Saturday night before Easter or early on Easter morning, the service proclaims and invites participation in the broad sweep of salvation history. Easter Vigil helpfully reminds us of our union with the church of all ages.

A vigil service captures that emotion or feeling that seems elusive in modern culture—that of patient, earnest yearning for a given event. Lighting should be subdued—just enough to read by—until the very end of the service. The sense of longing or waiting, common to any vigil, is encouraged by readings that trace the history of salvation. These heighten our anticipation for the joyful acclamation of the resurrection at the end of the service. Consequently, worshipers should be prepared for a long service by today's standards.

The Easter Vigil service consists of four parts:

1. The service of light focuses the worshipers' attention on fesus Christ, the Light of the world. The largest, central candle (often called the "Paschal" or "Christ candle") is a constant reminder of the Christocentric focus of our worship. The service of light has its roots in the early church, where it was adopted from Jewish practice. The text of the canticle Exultet, sung only once each year at this service, is at least as old as the fourth century; some attribute it to St. Ambrose.

2. The service of the Word forms a grand narrative, recounting the full history of salvation. Each of the readings, psalms, and hymns in the service are united by their reference to three images: light, water, and the heavenly banquet. These symbols, common to nearly all human religious expression, but given unique significance by the Christian Scriptures, are perhaps the richest symbols of Christian experience. They point to the key themes of the service: deliverance from bondage and union with Christ.

3 & 4. The celebration of Easter baptism and Easter Communion challenges worshipers to make this narrative their own and to declare their union with Christ in his dying and rising. The practice of baptism at Easter Vigil also dates to the early church and uniquely highlights the baptismal image of dying and rising with Christ.

In place of an actual baptism service at the conference, all were invited to renew their baptismal vows. Also, the Lord's Supper was not celebrated, although an essential part of the complete service. Congregations are encouraged to follow their denominational forms or use the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving found on page 35.

For more background on this service, see "Keeping Vigil" (RW 6, p. 10) and Handbook of the Christian Year (Abingdon Press, 1986).


The Great Vigil of Easter has both the richest history and the most profound significance of any service in the Christian year. Celebrated on Saturday night before Easter or early on Easter morning, the service proclaims and invites participation in the broad sweep of salvation history. Easter Vigil helpfully reminds us of our union with the church of all ages.

A vigil service captures that emotion or feeling that seems elusive in modern culture—that of patient, earnest yearning for a given event. Lighting should be subdued—just enough to read by—until the very end of the service. The sense of longing or waiting, common to any vigil, is encouraged by readings that trace the history of salvation. These heighten our anticipation for the joyful acclamation of the resurrection at the end of the service. Consequently, worshipers should be prepared for a long service by today's standards.

The Easter Vigil service consists of four parts:

1. The service of light focuses the worshipers' attention on fesus Christ, the Light of the world. The largest, central candle (often called the "Paschal" or "Christ candle") is a constant reminder of the Christocentric focus of our worship. The service of light has its roots in the early church, where it was adopted from Jewish practice. The text of the canticle Exultet, sung only once each year at this service, is at least as old as the fourth century; some attribute it to St. Ambrose.

2. The service of the Word forms a grand narrative, recounting the full history of salvation. Each of the readings, psalms, and hymns in the service are united by their reference to three images: light, water, and the heavenly banquet. These symbols, common to nearly all human religious expression, but given unique significance by the Christian Scriptures, are perhaps the richest symbols of Christian experience. They point to the key themes of the service: deliverance from bondage and union with Christ.

3 & 4. The celebration of Easter baptism and Easter Communion challenges worshipers to make this narrative their own and to declare their union with Christ in his dying and rising. The practice of baptism at Easter Vigil also dates to the early church and uniquely highlights the baptismal image of dying and rising with Christ.

In place of an actual baptism service at the conference, all were invited to renew their baptismal vows. Also, the Lord's Supper was not celebrated, although an essential part of the complete service. Congregations are encouraged to follow their denominational forms or use the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving found on page 35.

For more background on this service, see "Keeping Vigil" (RW 6, p. 10) and Handbook of the Christian Year (Abingdon Press, 1986).

A Service of Light

Organ Voluntary: "What Wondrous Love"
[arr. Samuel Barber]

Hymn Antiphon (sung by cantor): "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands," stanza 1
[PH 110, PsH 398, RL 324,TH 279]

Introduction:

Sisters and brothers in Christ: on this holy night, when our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, we gather in vigil and prayer with members of the Christian community dispersed throughout the world. We join with the whole company of God's people in recalling and celebrating his victory over death, and our deliverance from the bondage of sin and darkness to everlasting light.

Scripture Reading: John 1:1,4-5

Prayer:

Let us pray.

Eternal Lord of Life, through your Son you have given your people the brightness of your light. Sanctify this new fire, and kindle in our hearts and minds a holy desire to shine forth with the brightness of Christ's rising until we feast at the banquet of Eternal Light; through Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. Amen.

Lighting of the Paschal Candle:

The light of Christ rises in glory, overcoming the darkness of sin and death.

Thanks be to God!

The Exultet (Part I)

[The cantors will sing the stanzas, with the congregation responding with the refrain. The stanzas, translated by John Witvliet, are to be sung to the eleventh century chant tune VICTIMAE PASCHAL]; the music is found in Lutheran Book of Worship, #237. The refrain is taken from "The Lord Is Risen, Yes, Indeed!"[psh 211]]

Rejoice, heav'nly choirs of angels, Jesus Christ is risen.

Refrain: The Lord is risen, yes, indeed! Alleluia!

Sound the trumpet of salvation, rejoice, O earth, in splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King. Refrain

Christ has conquered; he is King. Darkness vanishes forever, for Christ has ransomed us with his blood. Refrain

This is the Passover, where Christ the Lamb is slain; this is the night of salvation where Israel was saved from sin and bondage. Refrain

This is the night when Christ the Lord broke the chains of death and rose a conquering hero; victoriously bursting bars of death. Refrain

Therefore, Father, hear our praises, help us see Christ's true light, dispersing the darkness of this night. Alleluia.

The Exultet (Part II)

[Following a brief organ interlude, the congregation will sing the following stanzas to TALLIS CANON [PH 535, PsH 441, RL 77,TH 401]

O Christ, you are the Light and Day,
you drive our death and night away!
We know you as the Light of light,
illuminating mortal sight.


O sing, you angels, now rejoice,
to Christ, our Light, lift up your voice;
exult the Lord, our reigning king,
with joyful hearts your worship bring.


Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
praise him, all creatures here below;
praise him above, you heavenly host;
praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Amen.



The Service of the Word
Scripture Readings

Hymn Antiphon (sung by cantor): "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands," stanza 2

Introduction:

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we now begin our solemn vigil. We hear the Word of God, recalling God's saving deeds in history and how God's own Son was sent to be our Redeemer. May the Holy Spirit illumine our hearts and minds in the hearing of the Word.

Scripture Reading: Genesis 1-2:3—The Creation

Response:

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

His love endures forever!

Hymn: "All Creatures of Our God and King" [PH 455, PsH 431, RL 4, TH 115]

Prayer:

Let us pray.

Almighty and eternal God, you created all things in beauty and order. Help us now to perceive how still more wonderful is your new creation in which you redeemed your people through the sacrifice of our Passover, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Genesis 7:1-5,11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-15—The
Covenant Between God and the Earth

Response:

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

His love endures forever!

Hymn: "You Are Our God, We Are Your People" [PsH 272]

Prayer:

Let us pray.

Faithful God, you placed the rainbow in the skies as a sign of your covenant with all living things. May we who are saved through water and the Spirit worthily offer to you our sacrifice of thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Scripture Reading: Genesis 22:1-18—Abraham's Obedience

Response:

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

His love endures forever!

Hymn: "Protect Me, God, I Trust in You" [psh 16]
stanza 1: cantor
stanza 2: cantor, with all on refrain
stanza 6: all


Prayer:

Let us pray.

Gracious God of all believers, through Abraham's obedience you made known your faithful love to countless numbers; by the grace of Christ's sacrifice fulfill in your church and in all creation the joy of your promise and new covenant. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Exodus 14:10-31óIsrael's Deliverance at the Sea

Response:

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

His love endures forever!

Hymn: "How Firm a Foundation" [ph 36i, psh 500, rl 172, th 94; canon accompaniments from All Praise to Thee, by Donald Busarow (Augsburg)]
stanzas 1-3: all
stanza 4: all in two-part canon
stanza 5: all in four-part canon


Prayer:

Let us pray.

O God our Savior, you once delivered by the power of your mighty arm your chosen people Israel through the waters of the sea; so now deliver your church and all the peoples of the earth from bondage and oppression, to rejoice and serve you in freedom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 4:2-6óThe Promise of a Renewed Land

Response:

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

His love endures forever!

Hymn: "Maranatha! Alleluia!"
[The cantors sing the stanzas from Music from Taize, Vol. 1, p. 62, with the congregation singing the refrain from PsH 639]

Prayer:

Let us pray.

O God, our Guide, you led your ancient people by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. May we, who serve you now on earth, come to the joy of that new Jerusalem where all tears are wiped away and where your saints forever sing your praise, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 54:1-10—The Eternal Covenant of Peace

Response

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

His love endures forever!

Psalm: "I Worship You, O Lord" [PsH30]
stanzas 1-2: all
stanzas 3-4: cantor
stanza 5: all


Prayer:

Let us pray.

Holy One of Israel, our Redeemer, your love is unending and your covenant is not shaken, even when our sin carries us away from you; take pity again, establish us in righteousness, and through our baptism lead us to salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 55:1-11—Salvation Freely Offered

Response

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

His love endures forever!

Hymn: "Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound"
[PH 280, PsH 462, RL 456, TH 460]

Prayer:

Let us pray.

O God, you have created all things by the power of your Word, and you renew all things by your Spirit; give now the water of life to those who thirst for you, that they may bring forth abundant fruit in your glorious kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 36:24-28—A New Heart and a New Spirit

Response:

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

His love endures forever!

Psalm: "As a Deer in Want of Water" [ph 189, PsH 42, th 661-662]

Prayer:

Let us pray.

God of holiness and light, in the mystery of dying and rising with Christ you have established a new covenant of reconciliation; cleanse our hearts and give a new spirit to all your people, that your saving grace may be proclaimed to the whole world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14—New Life for God's People

Response:

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

His love endures forever!

Hymn: "For Your Gift of God the Spirit" [PsH416,rl382,th339]

Prayer:

Let us pray.

Eternal God, you raised from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ and by your Holy Spirit brought to life your church; breathe upon us again with your Spirit and give new life to your people, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20—Gathering of God's People

Response:

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.

His love endures forever!

Hymn: "Glorious Things of You Are Spoken"
[PH 446, PsH 506, RL 393, TH 345]

Prayer:

Let us pray.

Ever-living God of power and light, look with mercy on your whole church, we pray; bring to completion your lasting salvation, that the whole world may see the fallen lifted up, the old made new, and all things brought to perfection in him through whom all things were made, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hymn Antiphon (sung by cantor): "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands," stanza 3

Scripture Reading: Romans 13:11b-12

Response:

The Word of the Lord!

Thanks be to God!

Sermon

Silent Meditation

Service of Easter Baptism

Hymn Antiphon (sung by cantor): "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands," stanza 4

Profession of Faith:

The Apostles' Creed

[Three questions are asked of the congregation, and they respond with the three sections of the creed:
1. Do you believe in God the Father?
2. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
3. Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?]


Hymn: "We Know That Christ Is Raised" [PH 495, PsH 271, RL 528]
stanza 1: cantor
stanza 2: cantor, with all on refrain
stanzas 3-4: all


Prayer:

Let us pray.

Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, you have given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit and have forgiven our sins. Continue to give us your grace that we may live in obedience to you, in the power of the resurrection which we now celebrate through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Charge:

Remember your baptism and be thankful. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen!
Service of Easter Communion

Hymn Antiphon (sung by cantor): "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands," stanza 5

Invitation

Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

Presentation Hymn: "Gift of Finest Wheat" [PH 521, PsH 300]

Charge:

Remember the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, your union with him, and be thankful. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen!
The Easter Gospel

Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:1-10

Hymn: "Were You There" [PH 102, PsH 377, TH 259]

Acclamation (by cantor and percussion):

[After a brief pause, a roll on a suspended cymbal began softly, increasing in volume, then adding pealing of bells on a C major scale; then more bells began chiming a pattern C-D-E-C, with the cantors singing "Alleluia" on that pattern several times, until the organ entered with the introduction to the final hymn. During the singing of the hymn, the lights gradually increased to full brightness.]

Hymn: "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today"
[PH 113, PsH 388, RL 325, TH 277]

Dismissal:

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

We are sent in the power of Christ's resurrection. Alleluia!

The blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us always.

Amen! Alleluia!

Organ Voluntary: "Good Christians All, Rejoice and Sing"
[arr. Paul Manz, Healey Willan]

The hymns in this service were selected from the latest editions of the following hymnals: The Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), Psalter Hymnal (PsH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), and Trinity Hymnal (TH).