This is the night!
This is the night we remember what God has done. This is the night we will light the Pascal candle. This is the night we will again hear about what God has done. This is the night that we sing Alleluia once more. At Amazing Grace, we will hang up a banner with handprints and alleluias that was made at a church event before Lent started. This is the night that Christ has triumphed over the tomb.
Some of you might be wondering, “Why are we singing Alleluia now? Is this too early? Didn’t Jesus rise on Easter Sunday? Why Saturday night?”
In the ancient Jewish and early Christian calendar systems, the day begins not at sunrise or at midnight, but at sundown the night before. That’s why Sabbath-keeping Orthodox Jews start their Sabbath on Friday nights. So, for us, in this ancient calendar system, we are entering into Easter.
The service we celebrate tonight might be unfamiliar to some Lutherans. There has been a strong movement in recent years by Lutherans in the United States to reclaim the Easter Vigil from the inner bowels of liturgy and theology books. For example, it was only in the minister’s edition of the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship, but is in the pew edition of the 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
But in the early centuries of Christianity, this was the night. This was the one time for new Christians to be welcomed into the life of the community through the waters of Baptism. So tonight, we get wet. We will remember our baptism and get sprinkled with water dripping from an evergreen bough. Still soaking from the sacramental rite, those early Christians would then share the feast of Holy Communion. We, too, share this sacred meal tonight.
While practicing for last year’s Vigil, some of the children noticed that we left out a verse from Rise and Shine—the “floodie, floodie” song about Noah and the flood. We did not sing:
This is the end of our story, story. Everything is hunky-dory-dory.
We left it out because it is not the end of the story. God’s story of promise and love does not end when the animals come onto the landy-landy. It is a new beginning—a fresh start.
God’s story does not end when the children of Israel trod with unmoistened foot across the Red Sea waters. It is a new beginning—a fresh start.
God’s story does not end when Jonah gets puked onto the shores on Ninevah. It is a new beginning—a fresh start.
God’s story does not end when Jesus shares the meal and washes his disciple’s feet.
God’s story does not end when Jesus gets betrayed and arrested.
God’s story does not end when Jesus hangs on the cross.
God’s story does not even end when Jesus says “It is finished.”
God’s story does not end when the women find that Jesus has risen.
It is a new beginning—a fresh start.
God’s story keeps on keeping on.
God’s story is the Resurrection.
God’s story is new life.
God’s story becomes our story.
As Christians we gather on Easter because we know that in a broken world, we need the promise of a God who breakes into our story.
Christ is Risen. Alleluia.