Maundy Thursday: Service of Word & Sacrament
Holy Saturday: Vigil of Easter
A vigil is a service of Scripture readings and prayers in which believers vigilantly and eagerly wait and watch for the celebration of the Savior’s deliverance. The Easter Vigil is the most well-known and historic of the Church’s vigils. In fact, in its general structure, it is one of the most ancient services of the Christian Church. Early records indicate that it may have been celebrated in Jerusalem already by the second century, and from there it soon spread to the rest of the church.
From its beginnings, the Easter Vigil was closely connected to Holy Baptism. In the pagan world, a conversion to Christianity meant making a clean break from one’s former lifestyle. It also meant facing difficult times, perhaps even death. The instruction of adults was, therefore, intensive and thorough, practical as well as intellectual. The instruction intensified during the season of Lent, as catechumens pondered not only the Savior’s battle with evil, but also their own battle with Satan and his forces. At the Easter Vigil converts were baptized, confirmed, and received their first communion.
The Easter Vigil consists of four parts: the Service of Light, the Service of Lessons, the Service of Baptism, and the Service of Holy Communion:
The Cross and Passion of Our Lord are the Hour of His Glory
Our Lord enters Jerusalem triumphantly, by joyful shout and palm branches. But that triumph is soon eclipsed by His suffering and death, where His true Triumph is found. “The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress and my Deliverer” (Historic Introit). The deliverance He brings comes through His riding in, through His Incarnation and death on your behalf (Epistle). It is yours this day to hear the account of His Passion, His willing suffering and death, His active and passive obedience, by which He earns for you salvation (Gospel). That salvation is won by His drinking of the cup (Communion), that He bring you the Cup of Salvation, that you enter heaven triumphantly (Processional Gospel). May His victory be your consolation this day as you see through His Passion to His entry into the Heavenly Jerusalem.
Today is often called “Palm Sunday.” But today also sets the stage for Holy Week. It’s not a week of mourning, but there are notes of joy and victory throughout, a realization that Christ’s sacred Passion was the path to Easter glory. This is why we read the account of our Lord’s Passion in its entirety today. We will not understand this week unless we keep these events in mind. That is true even today as we hear of His death, but receive him alive in the Supper.
In Trouble He Will Comfort You
On the eve of His death, He tells His disciples that they will be put out of the synagogue on account of Him and whoever kills them will imagine that they are offering God a service.
Yet in the midst of this dire prediction, the Lord Christ makes a promise. It is to their advantage that He goes to the Father by way of the cross. For by His going, He will send them the Helper, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth. Jesus says “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” The hymn and this Lenten Season then draws to a close where it began: “Dear Christians, one and all rejoice/With exultation springing/And with united heart and voice/And holy rapture singing/Proclaim the wonders God has done/How His right arm the vict’ry won/What price our ransom cost Him.”
Jesus is Our Redemption
In the temple Jesus said, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). For Jesus came to taste death for us—to drink the cup of suffering to the dregs in order that we might be released from its power. Clinging to His life-giving words, we are delivered from death’s sting and its eternal judgment. Christ is our High Priest, who entered the Most Holy Place and with His own blood obtained everlasting redemption for His people (Heb. 9:11–15). He is the One who was before Abraham was, and yet is his descendant. He is the promised Son who carries the wood up the mountain for the sacrifice, who is bound and laid upon the altar of the cross. He is the ram who is offered in our place, who is willingly caught in the thicket of our sin, and who wears the crown of thorns upon His head (Gen. 22:1–14). Though Jesus is dishonored by the sons of the devil, He is vindicated by the Father through the cross.
Your Ransom and Your Rescue
In stanzas 7-8 of our hymn, Luther has Jesus preaching to us. He pledges Himself to you as “your rock and castle.” You are the one for whom He strives and wrestles.” He promises that where He is, you will remain and that the old evil foe will not divide you from Him. He shed His blood to make it so. He suffers scorn and reject, bearing the wrath of God in your place. He suffers it all for your benefit, for your good. And to you He says be steadfast and believing for His victory snatches life out of death, His innocence bears your sin “and your are blest forever.”
Jesus goes to the Father, that is He goes to the cross, that you may be His forever. By His atoning death He has purchased and won you to be His own. You are not left as orphans but heirs of God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus. You are His and He is Yours. His blood says so.