Practices From the Inside Out: The Great Vigil of Easter

Practices From the Inside Out: The Great Vigil of Easter April 16, 2022

Practices From the Inside Out: The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter

I belong to a liturgical church. It is not enough for us to understand our beliefs intellectually; we need to experience and appreciate them deep within ourselves. My favorite service of the entire year is the Great Vigil of Easter.

The service lasts for at least two hours and includes a series of readings that recount our entire story. The service begins in darkness and, slowly but dramatically, light enters the world.

It is my favorite service because, as the church slowly becomes more well lit, there is the dramatic moment when Lent becomes Easter. The church, which has been dark, is flooded with light and the congregation, who have been almost silent, bursts into celebration. In many congregations bells and tambourines appear from where they have been hiding and Easter explodes into reality. There is no mistake. You know the moment that Lent is transformed into Easter morning.

This year I have a serious responsibility at the Great Vigil of Easter. I will read the first words of the Liturgy of the Word, the story of Creation in near darkness at the beginning of the service.

Each year, we experience the story in new ways. Some years it is the lessons of Lent which make the greatest impression, some years it is the life of a new Easter. Some years it is in the darkness and the silence, some years it is in the light and celebration.

Each year, we remember when we have told the story before, and the lessons and discipline of each Lent open into the new life of each Easter.

Approaching the Great Vigil of Easter

We spend three days this week moving from the season of Lent into the season of Easter.

Today is the third and final day. Tonight, in the darkness, we will mark the moment Lent is over and Easter begins.

It is not a time of baskets, bunnies, or Easter bonnets. Tonight is a time of remembering our true selves.

We begin in darkness. Light spreads slowly as flame is shared from one candle to another. We begin our readings in near darkness. God speaks light into existence. We remind ourselves of the story in which we participate. The story flows through us and we remember.

We remind ourselves and each other the story continues in us.

Everything changes as we get to the moment when Easter begins. There is an explosion of light and sound. The lights go on, the readings and the music are different. The light which was shared one candle at a time floods the room, and each of us.

We have journeyed through a valley of darkness, and found a way into the light.

The story we share is not over. Our story is renewed again and again, reheard and reborn in new life. The world comes back to life again, and new life is born again in us.

A song may be ending, but the story never ends.

The spiritual life that fills us, and the universe around us, continues drawing us. Our hearts, like candles in the darkness, catch fire. We share our flame with the hearts around us.

Spiritual life floods in, igniting us to remember who we can be. We practice the story we share.

It becomes Easter.

Keeping the Great Vigil of Easter

Some of us feel as though we have been keeping vigil for several years now. We have been staying awake and waiting to see what would become of a pandemic which threatens to overwhelm us. Many of us have kept vigil for people we loved as they lived, and died, beyond our power to help them.

We may still be keeping vigil for people we love.

Many of us are keeping vigil in the face of war and all the atrocities which accompany it. We are surrounded by armed conflicts around the world, and we vigilantly seek peace and the end of war.

Our lives are filled with challenges and injustices for which we are keeping vigil.

The Great Vigil of Easter is our annual recognition of the ways we keep vigil in our lives. We begin in darkness and stillness and, slowly, we take time to remember.

Repeating our shared story, we remind ourselves and each other of how spiritual life lives in us. Like members of a family and friends keeping vigil around a loved one, we remember and repeat the story which holds us together.

After the final three dramatic days of Lent, our vigil opens our hearts and our eyes to the new life of Easter.

How we keep the Great Vigil of Easter tonight is a personal choice for each of us. Some of us spend time together in special places to share our story in liturgy. Others of us gather the people we love around us in our homes and share family stories.

There are people who separate themselves and focus on parts of their stories which drive them away from other people.

Each of us keeps vigil in our own way and lives into the story in ways which are meaningful to us.

Sharing the Great Vigil of Easter

Tonight we share the Great Vigil of Easter. While we may each understand it and experience it in our own ways, we share it together.

After taking time to prepare and anticipate, we remind ourselves of the amazing spiritual stories we share. In different languages and in places around the world, we remember the story we share.

Tonight we gather in darkness and stillness and we keep vigil for what we remember.

We listen as people we know retell parts of our shared story.

As we listen and remember, first slowly and them dramatically, Lent transforms into Easter.

We listen and we read, and we keep the Great Vigil of Easter.

How are we keeping the Great Vigil of Easter in our own ways today?

What new life will this Great Vigil of Easter open to us this week?

[Image by couleewinds]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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