My son is in high school, and he and I were talking about our Holy Week plans. I shared that our congregation wasn’t having an Easter Vigil due to the pandemic. I didn’t grow up going to vigils, and he was in middle school when we went to our first, so I was curious what he thought about this. I asked him what he remembered about that first vigil.
“It was OK,” he said. He’s never been very forthcoming.
Then I asked him about the moment the lights came on.
“That was pretty cool,” he said, his eyes lighting up.
For a teenager, that’s as high as praise gets.
Easter Vigils typically start outside with a bonfire at sunset on the day before Easter. The assembly then proceeds inside the church building, into darkness lit only by a paschal candle. In the early church, this was the point at which new converts were baptized.
The assembly next enters a sanctuary exploding with light, which symbolizes the resurrection. It’s a beautiful surprise that brings to life John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
I imagine we all need to feel that now.
Many of my family’s faith connections have been severed by the pandemic, but the Easter Vigil is an early ancient tradition that originated before there were even churches, and that can be adapted to our current context. This year we’re going to make John 1:5, and the joy of Easter, come to life by holding a vigil at home on Saturday, April 3.
If the weather is nice, our Easter Vigil will begin at sunset with a fire outside our house. One of us will read Luke 22:54-60—the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus, which also took place around a fire.
The next stage of the vigil will happen indoors (we may need to start there if the weather is inclement). We will dim the lights, light our son’s baptismal candle and each talk about what baptism means to us. The photo album will come out, and we’ll share memories of his baptism day. Then we’ll read Mark 1:9-11, the story of Jesus’ baptism.
Next, the whole family will walk into a darkened room we’ve already decorated for Easter with candy, eggs, more candy and, I hope, an Easter lily. Then I’ll flip on the lights and read the Easter story from Mark 16:1-8, followed by John 1:5. Then we will enjoy some treats and celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
I’m looking forward to this Easter Vigil as a fun way to bring to life the surprising joy of Christ’s resurrection, and I love that it does so in a way as ancient as our faith. I invite you to give it a try, adapting it for your family (those with young children may need to conduct an earlier vigil).