The Easter Vigil: A joyous end to Lent brings light and renewal

Easter is the day that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. There are a variety of ways to celebrate, but the Easter Vigil has been the primary means to observe Easter since the earliest days of the church.

The Easter Vigil is the most ancient of Christian services, dating back to at least the second century. The Easter Vigil is the first celebration of the Eucharist during the 50-day celebration of Easter. It is marked by the first use, since the beginning of Lent, of the acclamatory word “Alleluia,” which is a distinctive feature of the Easter season.

The Vigil itself can begin at any time after sundown on Saturday and will often take place before sunrise on Easter Sunday. The Easter Vigil begins in darkness, where a new fire is lit amid the darkness. Some churches use a special Paschal Candle — a symbol of the Light of Christ — as the focal point for this part of the service. This return of light symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus from the grave and the light of salvation and hope that God brought into the world through the resurrection.

The Vigil was originally the only time permitted for baptisms in the early church; today, it remains the principle feast for baptism. The Easter Vigil concludes with the baptism of new converts, celebrating not only Jesus’ resurrection from death to life, but also the new life that God brought to individual believers through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Those baptized would then change into new white clothes to symbolize their new life in Christ (which explains the tradition of buying new clothes at Easter). Although today Easter baptism has become less common, the practice of renewing baptismal vows during the Easter Vigil remains an integral part of the service among Catholics and Anglicans.

Celebrated against the background of the shadows and darkness of Lent and Holy Week, Easter is the most openly joyful time of the church year.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Mercer Island invites everyone to attend its celebration of Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 11, starting at 9 p.m. Following the service, a champagne reception will be held.

Jeanette Marshall Petersen is a vestry member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and an Island resident.

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