Last night I attended the Easter Vigil held at Grace United Methodist here in Manassas. It was beautiful, it was soul lifting, it was interactive, it was powerful, and it was lovely.
Just as I outlined in my previous post on Holy Saturday traditions, the service was one of fire and light, Word, water, and table. We began the service outdoors around a fire. Everyone was welcomed, the opening prayer was given and we were ushered indoors as a member of the congregation carried the flame to light the candle on the altar.
Once inside the sanctuary, we began the service of the Word. Aside from the candle, the altar was unadorned, just as we had left it at the end of Maundy Thursday. The great and might acts of God were read at this stripped altar, from creation to the parting of the red sea, to the hope of the savior, with the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and the three gents in the fire wedged in between. After each tale was recounted we responded with music and singing of hymns. The energy and joy which was stirred with the opening fire continued to build with our praise and it was amazing. Amazing!
Next, we migrated to the church hall before the delicate stained glass windows. There, at the front of the baptismal font, we remembered our baptisms before the Lord and renewed our vows to him and to each other as the church as the pastor sprinkled each of us with the water. Then Pastor McNabb delivered the traditional Paschal sermon, written and first spoken by St. John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople in AD 390:
The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed!
If there are devout and God-loving people here,
let them enjoy this beautiful, radiant festival.
If there are prudent servants,
enter joyously into the Lord’s joy.
Whoever may be spent from fasting,
enjoy now your reward.
Whoever has toiled from the first hour,
receive today your just settlement.
If any came after the third hour,
If any of you arrived after the sixth,
have no misgivings, you have lost nothing.
If some have been as late as the ninth,
come forward, do not be at a loss.
If any of you have arrived only at the eleventh hour,
do not be dismayed for being late.
The Master is gracious;
He accepts the last even as the first;
He gives rest to those of the eleventh as well as to
those who have labored from the first;
He is lenient with the last while looking after the first;
to the one He gives, to the other He gives freely;
He accepts the labors and welcomes the effort;
honors the deed, but commends the intent.
So, all of you, enter into the joy of our Lord:
first and second, share the bounty.
Rich and poor alike, celebrate together.
Sober or heedless, honor the day.
Those who fasted, and those who did not, rejoice
The table is full, everyone fare sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; no one go away hungry.
Everyone, savor the banquet of faith;
relish the riches of His goodness.
No one need lament poverty,
for the kingdom is seen as universal.
No one need grieve over sins;
forgiveness has dawned from the tomb.
No one need fear death;
the Savior's death has freed us from it.
While its captive He stifled it.
He despoiled Hades as He descended into it; it was angered when it tasted His flesh.
Foreseeing this, Isaiah proclaimed: "Hades," he
said, "was angered when he met You below."
It was angered because it was abolished
It was angered because it was mocked
It was angered because it was slain.
It was angered because it was shackled.
It received a body and encountered God.
It took earth and came face-to-face with heaven.
It took what I saw and fell by what if could not see.
Death, where is your sting?
Hades, where is your victory?
Christ is risen and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen and demons have fallen.
Christ is risen and angels rejoice.Christ is risen and life rules.Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tomb.
For Christ, having risen from the dead,
has become the first fruits of those that slept.
To Him be the glory and the dominion, forever.Amen.
After this rousing invitation to the table, we returned to the sanctuary for communion. It was such a delight to find the altar covered in flowers and adornment once again, ending our fasting and our grieving of this season and celebrating the beginning of Easter.
Happy Easter to you and your family!
Alleluia, the great storm is over,
Lift up your wings and fly!