Learn more about the materials in the Easter Vigil service and download a free sample from Creative Worship for the Lutheran Parish.
Season & Preparations
The third and final worship service of the Triduum is the Vigil of Easter. This may be less familiar to you than Holy Thursday or Good Friday. Timothy Maschke writes, “Although a relatively new service among Lutherans, the Easter Vigil has a long and revered tradition” (Gathered Guests, 309).
Unlike the Holy Saturday service, this service typically occurs sometime between sundown on Saturday and sunrise on Sunday. This reflects the Jewish method of when a day began and ended. Some Lutheran congregations celebrate the Vigil of Easter at sundown on Saturday and others closer to midnight, while others use the Vigil of Easter as their Easter Sunday sunrise service.
The Easter Vigil ushers in the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The mood is entirely different from the morning’s Holy Saturday service. The color changes to the white and gold of Easter and the alleluias come forth, but it is a journey from darkness to light, from death to resurrection, from mourning to rejoicing.
There is a rich history around the Easter Vigil service, and I recommend that you read Maschke’s recounting of the history and explanation of the service in Gathered Guests (pp. 309–17) and the description in Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book (pp. 529–51) for more details.
The Easter Vigil service takes place in six parts:
- Service of Light
- Service of Readings
- Service of Holy Baptism
- Service of Prayer
- Service of the Word
- Service of the Sacrament
Typically, this service will begin outside of the sanctuary or nave. Some congregations begin outside the building or in the narthex or fellowship hall (probably depending on the weather).
The paschal candle leads the procession into the sanctuary. You may choose to give taper candles to people gathered; their candles can be lit from the paschal candle.
The service ends with a Benediction (which the congregation did not hear on Holy Thursday or Good Friday) and the joyous Easter acclamation and response: “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
Readings & Theme
The Service of Readings in the Vigil of Easter has the option for twelve readings, all from the Old Testament. It is not expected that they all be read. The three that are always read are the creation account (Genesis 1:1–2:3), the flood account (Genesis 7:1–5, 11–18; 8:6–18; 9:8–13), and Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10–15:1).
You may choose from the other nine readings as you wish, but often Daniel 3:1–30, the account of the fiery furnace, is the final reading in this section.
When the Service of the Word takes place, the Gospel is either Mark 16:1–8 or John 20:1–18. Both record the first announcements of Jesus’ resurrection and of witnesses seeing that the tomb is indeed empty. John’s text continues on to Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene.
Hymns & Music
There is no specific Hymn of the Day for the Easter Vigil. Each of the twelve readings has an appropriate psalm or canticle, which pairs as a response (see p. 530 in Lutheran Service Book: Altar Book). You may wish to use “Song of Moses and Israel” (LSB 925) with the reading of Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea. Also consider “All You Works of God, Bless the Lord” (LSB 930), which pairs with the fiery furnace reading.
The Hymn of Praise is no longer omitted since Lent is over. Many congregations use “This Is the Feast” from pages 155 or 171–72 in Lutheran Service Book.
For a distribution hymn, I recommend “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” (LSB 633), which is filled with alleluias. This hymn does have a concluding doxological stanza, for which the congregation stands. This can be a bit awkward during Communion, but if possible, perhaps it can be the final distribution hymn that flows directly into the final prayer and the Benediction.
Additional Resources for Worship & Study
As we enter the Easter season, there are numerous children’s books that can facilitate the teaching of Easter to children. For the Easter Vigil in particular, consider The Very First Easter, Mary Magdalene’s Easter Story (which goes with the John 20 reading for this service), and Moses’ Dry Feet.
Looking for additional information on Easter Vigil? Download a free sample service from Creative Worship for the Lutheran Parish!
Quotations from Gathered Guests by Timothy H. Maschke, copyright © 2003, 2009 Timothy H. Maschke. Published by Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission.