The Great Vigil of Easter was made for pillow forts. No, really. I am utterly convinced that this, the holiest night of the year, the jewel of our liturgical celebrations, is perfect for home, in pajamas, under two chairs covered by a blanket. We begin in darkness.
It would be wonderful if someone kindled an impressive new fire outside. If you are participating as a church, show this on camera and please light the Paschal Candle from it. If you are doing this as a household and have a fire pit or fireplace, by all means, make a blaze safely. A fat candle in a glass jar will also be lovely. This is the prayer:
Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.
Let us pray.
O God, through your Son you have bestowed upon your people the brightness of your light: Sanctify this new fire, and grant that in this Paschal feast we may so burn with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may attain to the festival of everlasting light; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Next comes the Exsultet, the ancient Easter proclamation dating from the 4th century. It is usually chanted. You could listen to this beautiful rendition, which includes praise to the bees from whose wax the Paschal candle was made, or read the first three verses aloud:
Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and let your trumpets shout Salvation
for the victory of our mighty King.
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
bright with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.
Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,
and let your holy courts, in radiant light,
resound with the praises of your people.
Now it’s time for the stories, the record of God’s saving deeds through history. Tell them as if you are around a campfire in the desert. Hold a flashlight under your chin.
You don’t need to use all the stories. Actually, please don’t use them all. I recommend Creation, Exodus, Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones, and Zephaniah 3:14-20. If you are doing this over Zoom, let households choose the story the want to tell. Perhaps they’ll use poetry, music, drama, a picture book, various translations, a children’s Bible. Invite people illustrate the stories in advance (or maybe create a scene using LEGO bricks and snap a photo?) so you can share them with everyone.
If you are doing this with just your own family, I suggest James Weldon Johnson’s poem Creation, found here, or Phyllis Root’s charming picture book, Big Momma Makes the World. Exodus 14:10-31 is always read; I like Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message. At the line, “The Egyptians came after them in full pursuit” invite the listeners to slap their thighs, making a thundering sound of the Egyptians in pursuit, which should end abruptly at the line, “the sea returned to its place as before.”
Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones is next. I have found children love to be the bones. Remind them that bones lie very still! At the rattling (a maraca?), they roll on the floor. At the sound of God’s breath, they stand, and maybe dance? I suggest that the final reading before the Gospel be this, from the prophet Zephaniah, describing what it will be like when the Messiah comes.
It’s almost time. Have bells for ringing and pots and pans for banging at the ready, and someone will want to fling on all the lights. You’re all going to shout the Easter acclamation, three times:
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
The Easter Gospel is read. Even though Matthew is traditional, I am partial to John.
End with a rousing song of joy. We love Now the Green Blade Riseth, and you can sing along. Dessert, too, would be great. If you made a fire, how about s’mores? If not, these delicious s’mores bars have just 4 ingredients.
Alleluia! Alleluia! We sing this night,From Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy J. S. Seamans
joining heaven and earth that rejoice with delight.
Jesus, our Lord, is risen today.
God’s love and light is here to stay.
Joining heaven and earth that rejoice with delight,
Alleluia! Alleluia! We sing this night. Amen.
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!
*All the Holy Week and Easter at Home posts are gathered here*
Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents
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