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.
The enormous significance on Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection has always been the central focus of Christian worship. Prior to the fourth century, Easter Day itself included all three emphases, but thereafter they were distributed over three days of special observance, which St. Augustine of Hippo called “the most holy triduum (“three days”) of the crucified, buried, and risen Lord.” These days have long been understood as the climax of the church’s year. We hope you notice the close connection between the three services of Maundy Thursday (Institution of the Lord’s Supper), Good Friday (Christ’s death), and Holy Saturday, known as the Vigil of Easter (Christ buried in the tomb). Each of these services connects, one into another. For this reason, all three services are included in this folder. This is also the reason that the service this evening, as well as tomorrow evening, does not include a blessing. That blessing will come at the end of the third service—Easter Vigil—which we will celebrate at sunrise on Easter morning.