The Great Vigil of Easter at home

Photo by Anuja Mary Tilj on Unsplash

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,
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.

From Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy J. S. Seamans

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

How to have Holy Week and Easter at home

In my previous life directing formation programs for children, youth and families at Episcopal churches, this has long been my busiest time of year, with countless hours spent preparing for the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter and all the special activities that go along with them. Having left parish ministry at the beginning of March 2020, I did not anticipate how different Holy Week and Easter would be, for all of us.

To that end, I’ve written a series of posts with some ideas for households with or without children, with simple ideas for observing Holy Week at home. In spite of everything, and just when we need it most, the stone will be rolled away from the tomb, Easter will come, and it is possible, perhaps even likely, that this year we will feel the mystery of the resurrection even more powerfully.

Palm Sunday with palms or without, and imaginative prayer

Maundy Thursday, with a simple foot-washing service and some thoughts about bread

Good Friday, with good theology and a recipe for hot cross buns

Holy Saturday, with ideas for the waiting

The Great Vigil, with one household or several

Easter, with butterflies and an invitation to new life

May we know that God is with us in this holy and tender time.

Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents.

Easter at home

Detail from Alleluia Banner made by the children of Trinity Church Wall Street

It has been a very long Lent. Today, the stone has been rolled away from the tomb. Wake your household up in the morning with the ages-old acclamation, “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” They will soon learn the response: “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!” Your earliest riser could do this for the family, given a bell to ring through the house. Before breakfast, light a candle and read from the Gospel according to John:

Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in. Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.

Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).

Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.

John 20:1-18, Common English Bible

This is a quirky story we tell, the resurrection of our Lord. Resurrection means, “to cause to stand up.” Easter is an even greater mystery than Christmas. My understanding of the hows and whys is imperfect. What I do believe is that our God is a God of love, grace and mercy.

Easter isn’t a day, it’s a season, a full fifty days. How will you celebrate? You could raise butterflies, even in an apartment. My most personal experience of resurrection was the year we brought home a caterpillar from the children’s museum, when Peter was four. Our tiny friend ate food from a tub they provided, and we painted the inside of a shoebox to look garden-like. A stick wedged at an angle provided a place for the chrysalis to hang from, and sure enough, one day our friend began to change. Covered with clear cellophane, the shoebox sat on the baker’s rack in our kitchen. For weeks, nothing happened. I was sure we had a dud. I even stopped bringing Peter’s attention to it, but I hadn’t the heart to throw it out. And then one day, we came home to to what we thought might be a small earthquake. (We lived in Southern California; it wasn’t unlikely.) Peter quickly realized it was just the baker’s rack that was shaking. The chrysalis had finally burst and our butterfly was beating its wings against the cellophane! We ran outside and released it. You can well imagine our surprise and joy! It was Easter all over again.

If you are able, start a butterfly garden, growing what butterflies need to flourish. Today, though, make some butterflies to decorate your windows, so that everyone who walks by will see signs of new life.

Illustrated Ministry has a lovely Alleluia Butterfly coloring page, as well as a mosaic tile poster the whole household can work on together. If you can bear to part with some coffee filters, this is my favorite butterfly craft. Here’s a short video that will show you how to make origami butterflies. A butterfly template might be all you need.

Later, you can watch a sweet animated version of Eric Carle’s classic storybook, The Very Hungry Caterpillar or National Geographic’s Monarch butterfly lifecycle video.

We are Easter people, and it’s our work and our privilege to point out and create signs of new life. Alleluia! The Lord is risen indeed.

Through Jesus, God’s love claimed victory over death, and opened for us the gate of new life forever. Lead us, risen Christ, into the mystery of Easter and fill us with your Holy Spirit so we can join you in building your kingdom of justice and love.

From Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy J. S. Seamans, p. 63

*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, from which this post is adapted.

Holy Saturday at home

Holy Saturday is a time of waiting. Good Friday has come and gone, and Easter has not yet arrived. There is quiet, and sadness, and a sense of strangeness that suits the present moment. Today, Jesus is between earth and heaven. You can almost hear the earth breathe.

It would be good to go for a walk early. Find some stones to put in your pocket. You’ll need them later. Look for signs of spring. You will find them. Aslan is on the move.

In our Brooklyn neighborhood we can walk to Prospect Park and still keep the required distance from others, but that’s another reason to go early. We can walk to the corner near the hospital, too, and pray for all those within.

When you arrive home, fish the stones from your pocket, wash them, dry them, and stack them, one on another, with a prayer for each stone. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob ran away in fear and spent the night in the desert. He took a stone and put it under his head for a pillow, and dreamed of angels moving up and down a ladder. When he woke, he said, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” He anointed the stone with oil and left it there as a reminder.

God was in that place.

The women who stood at the foot of the cross on Friday waited at home on Saturday, the Sabbath, in quiet and sadness and strangeness. Did they know God was in that place?

A good song to sing or listen to is “There are Angels Hovering ‘Round.” Even if we cannot see them. Earth and heaven touch today.

In Celtic spirituality, there is a term for places where heaven and earth touch, where the veil between them is so thin it becomes translucent.  Minister and poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description:

‘Thin places’, the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy.”

Holy Saturday is thin, I think.

In the afternoon, you might read from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or even watch it. There is deeper magic at work today, and come this evening, our waiting will be over.

*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.

Good Friday at home

cross-symbol-christian-faith-faith-161078.jpeg

Yes, it’s really hard to talk about the crucifixion with children. Adults have enough trouble with it. Please don’t skip over the hard parts, though. We do know how the story ends. We call Good Friday ‘good’ because we are an Easter people. Even in the name we give it, we do not look at this day alone for the terrible thing that happened, that Jesus died on the cross. We look all the way to Sunday, when Jesus rose again. We pause on Friday to remember that Jesus, whom we love, died on a dark day when soldiers shamed him, nearly all his friends left his side, and he wasn’t even sure that God was with him. We tell the story of what happened that day because it is vital for our children to hear: Jesus was afraid, he suffered, he died . . . and God turned his fear, his suffering, and his dying into hope, wholeness, and new life.

We tell this story—our Christian story—over and over again because it tells us the truth: not that there is no darkness, but that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Remembering that gives us comfort and makes us bold, helps us encourage others and find goodness in the most difficult of days. We are Easter people because we have been to the cross and the grave and we know the promise God makes to us in Jesus: God’s power and grace can transform anything; God’s love is stronger than the cross, stronger than death itself.

You might bring some sweetness to this bitter day in a traditional way, by baking hot cross buns, a custom that dates to Saxon times. My husband makes this recipe

Jesus said, “It is completed.” Bowing his head, he gave up his life. —John 19:30

 

When Jesus died that day on the cross

all creation together sighed, “This is a great loss.”

Time grew empty and the afternoon dark

as the light of the world had not even a spark.

The women stood by at a distance in tears

wondering what would become of their fears.

Fear not, the angels soon will say.

Jesus’s death has given us the way. Amen.

From Common Prayer for Children and Families by Jenifer Gamber and Timothy J. S. Seamans, p. 62.

I continue to learn from the wisdom of others who are in this work of articulating good theology for everyone, especially children and families. My friend Presbyterian minister and author Traci Smith writes compellingly about children and atonement theology here, and in this post she and another friend, author and theologian Laura Alary, have a deep conversation about Lent, Holy Week and Easter.

*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, from which this post is adapted.