The season of Easter begins in the darkness, as we gather in the early morning hours to celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter. This most ancient liturgy of the church is comprised of four parts: the Service of Light, in which we celebrate the new fire kindled from which to light the Paschal (Easter) Candle; the Vigil of Lessons, in which God’s saving deeds in history are retold; the Renewal of the Baptismal Covenant, in which believers reaffirm their commitment to the Christian way; and The Holy Eucharist, which breaks the Lenten fast with the proclamation of the Easter “Alleluia.”
At the Monastery we follow the practice of silencing the bells which usually punctuate our life from Maundy Thursday until after the Easter Acclamation. Worshippers at the Great Vigil of Easter are encouraged to bring with them any sort of hand-held bell to ring as we sing the Paschal hymn and “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” These many bells, and the bell in the Monastery tower, joyfully announce the Resurrection. This custom may reflect even more ancient habits of keeping silence before a spring equinox or a winter solstice, then celebrating it with a joyous celebration of light and sound to announce that the darkness has fled and new life is coming back into the world.
Throughout the fifty days of Easter, the vesture of the sacred ministers is white, symbolizing the light of Christ. Another symbol of the light of Christ is the Paschal candle, which remains prominently in the midst of our worship throughout Eastertide. Marked with the year and the Greek symbols Alpha and Omega (symbolizing the beginning and the end), this tall pillar is lit during every service of worship to recall the light of Christ in the world and his triumph over the powers of darkness and death. The flowers and plants around the candle will gradually change from the whites and yellows of Easter, to the oranges and reds of Pentecost, with its emphasis on the fire of Holy Spirit.
During Easter, our worship space is also dominated by the baptismal font, from which the congregation will be sprinkled with waters recalling those used at our own baptisms. As this is done, the Schola sings the ancient hymn, Vidi aquam, “I saw water.” During Eastertide worship, the Apostles’ Creed, anciently associated with the sacrament of baptism, will also be chanted in place of the Nicene Creed. In all these ways, the season of Easter becomes a chance to reengage with the deep meaning and truth of our baptism.
Suggestions for Prayer and Practice
During the Easter Vigil, we reaffirm our baptismal vows and commit ourselves anew to the Baptismal Covenant. During Eastertide, you might find it meaningful to return to the Baptismal Covenant (BCP 304-305) in prayerful reflection. Where is God calling you to devote yourself in this next season of your ongoing conversion to the life of Christ?
Throughout Eastertide, when we gather to pray and worship, we say “Alleluia” out loud almost endlessly. Alleluia / Hallelujah is a Hebrew word that means “praise the Lord.” “Hallelujah” appears in the New Testament as the chant of the choirs of heaven, singing praise, and glory, and gratitude to God. During Easter, you might find it meaningful to take “Hallelujah” out of church and into your day. Saying “Hallelujah” throughout the day is a way of expressing your gratitude and claiming your part in what God is up to in sharing with us the gift of life. Saying “Hallelujah” heralds the hope of Easter. How might saying “Hallelujah” change your day – your life – this Eastertide?
Praying the Questions
In each of the three gospels that record resurrection appearances, the authors make it clear that although the Lord is risen and glorified, he is nonetheless still mutilated, still maimed. The marks of death and loss are not erased by God’s redeeming work. The same is true in our lives: signs of death appear right alongside the presence of promised resurrection life. Where are you aware of signs of death and loss in your life and the world around you? Where do you see resurrection in your life and in our world right now?
The first resurrection appearance is to Mary Magdalene, who is weeping in the garden when Jesus speaks her name. God often comes to us when we are face-first with death. When all we can hear is: “It is finished” and all weep because all we can see is death, then Jesus stands beside and calls us by name. Have you had this experience? How has Jesus called you by name before? How have you made it through death already, through past losses?
The resurrection is not just some past or future event. We are invited to tap into Jesus’ resurrection power in the here-and-now for ourselves, and to share it with those whom we know and love, with the stream of strangers who cross our paths, and with our beloved earth. How has resurrection power been present to you in your past? What can you do to channel and share Jesus’ resurrection power today?