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Easter Vigil

The Great Vigil of Easter

The Great Vigil of Easter, when observed, is the first service of Easter. It is celebrated at a convenient time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Morning.

This, our autumn festival, celebrates a tomb burst open like ripened fruit. When the world turns towards its coldest and darkest, we Christians in New Zealand are among the first to proclaim that Christ, the light of the world, is risen. The fire heralds our winter, it is a welcoming beacon to church, the campfire of pilgrims around which we tell our stories, the hearth of our home.

The Paschal Candle (like a pillar of fire) leads the pilgrim people into the dark church. The very ancient Exsultet is chanted by the deacon or other minister. Everyone can hold a candle – lights from the light of Christ.

The service normally consists of four parts:

1. The Service of Light.

2. The Ministry of the Word.

3. Baptism or the Renewal of Baptism.

4. The Ministry of the Sacrament.

The order of the service may be 1-2-3-4 or 2-1-3-4.

People can be encouraged to leave their watches at home and enjoy the celebration – the party.

If the Ministry of the Word (2) begins the service, the many readings, psalms, and prayers can with imagination form a longer vigil, with the readings (recounting our salvation history) interspersed with commentary, music, lengthy silences, drama, dance, singing, and audio- visual presentations. Then in the dark, with the church lights out, “the new fire” may be kindled.

Liturgical colour: White, gold, or “best.”

The Service of Light

In darkness, fire is kindled. The presider may then greet the people and address them in these or similar words.

Dear friends in Christ, on this most holy night when our Saviour Jesus Christ passed from death to life, we gather with all the Church throughout the world in vigil and prayer. This is the passover of Jesus Christ. Through light and word, through water, bread and wine we celebrate the new life that Christ shares with us.

The presider may say the following prayer.

Let us pray.

Redeeming God,
source of life and light,
bless this new fire,
and grant that we who are warmed by the celebration of this Easter feast,
may share in the everlasting festival of your radiance,
through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.

The presider may trace a cross in the Paschal Candle, Alpha and Omega, and the numerals of the current year, saying,

Christ yesterday and today (tracing the vertical arm of the cross) the beginning and the end (the horizontal arm) Alpha and Omega (these letters, above and below the cross) All time (the first numeral, in the upper left corner of the cross) and all ages belong to Christ (the second numeral in the upper right corner) to whom be glory and sovereignty (the third numeral in the lower left corner) through every age for ever. Amen. (the last numeral in the lower right corner).

If grains of incense are inserted into the candle in the form of a cross, the following may be said:

1 By the holy 2 and glorious wounds 3 may Christ our Redeemer 4 strengthen us 5 and make us whole. Amen.

When the Paschal Candle is lit from the fire, the following may be said:

May the light of Christ, rising in glory, illumine our hearts and minds.

The deacon (or another minister if there is no deacon) bearing the lit Paschal Candle, leads the procession to the chancel, pausing three times, and with the candle raised, sings,

The light of Christ.
Thanks be to God.

If candles have been distributed to the congregation, they are lit from the Paschal Candle at a convenient point during the procession.

The Paschal Candle is placed in its stand.

The people are greeted.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

The deacon, or other person appointed, standing near the candle, sings or says the Exsultet.

Rejoice, all creation!
Let the heavenly chorus sing!
Jesus Christ, our light, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour, the light of Christ will warm our autumn night. Christ has conquered!
Glory fills you! Darkness will vanish for ever!
Rejoice, O church of God! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy. Echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

The Lord is here.
God’s Spirit is with us.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to God.
It is right to offer thanks and praise.

It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices we should praise you the eternal God, and your First-born, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
For Christ is the true passover lamb who at this feast has set your faithful people free.
This is the night when you saved the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.
This is the night, when the pillar of fire brought light to your wandering people.
This is the night when all who believe in Christ are delivered from gloom, and are restored to grace, and grow together in fullness of life.
This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.
Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled with God!
Therefore, Holy God, in the joy of this night, accept our evening sacrifice of praise, your church’s solemn offering.
Accept this Easter candle, a flame divided but undimmed, a pillar of fire that glows to your honour, O God.
Let it mingle with the lights of heaven and continue burning to lighten the darkness of this night!
May the Morning Star find this flame still burning among us. Christ is that Morning Star, who rises to shed your peaceful light on all creation.
Christ is now alive and glorified with you for ever and ever. Amen.

After the Exsultet, hand-held candles may be extinguished. Only those electric lights necessary for reasonable vision need be turned on. The Paschal Candle will burn at all services from now through the Day of Pentecost.

The Ministry of the Word

The presider may introduce the readings with these or similar words.

E te whanau a te Karaiti/ People of God, we have begun our solemn vigil, let us now listen to the word of God, recalling the acts throughout history by which God set people free; and how, in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus Christ to be our redeemer.

The following readings and psalms are provided from the Old Testament. A minimum of three is suggested. The reading from Exodus 14 is always used. After each reading, the psalm or canticle suggested, or some other suitable psalm, canticle, or hymn may be sung. A period of silence may be kept. An appropriate collect may be said.

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Psalm 136:1-9, 25-26

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13

Psalm 46

Genesis 22:1-18

Psalm 16

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18 (or page 100)

Isaiah 55:1-11

Isaiah 12:2-6 (page 43)

Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6

Psalm 19

Ezekiel 36:24-28

Psalm 42 & 43

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 143

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Psalm 98

Four Old Testament readings, with examples of collects, are given here.

First reading

The Creation

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Psalm 136:1-9, 25-26

Let us pray.


Bounteous God,
you wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature;
grant that we may share the divine life of the one who came to share our humanity, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Amen.

Second reading

Abraham and Sarah’s faithfulness

Genesis 22:1-18

Psalm 16

Let us pray


Gracious God of all believers, through Christ’s death and resurrection you fulfil your promise to Sarah and Abraham that you would increase your chosen people among all nations;
may we respond to your call by joyfully accepting your invitation to newness of life. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Amen.

Third reading

Israel’s deliverance through the Red Sea

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18 (or page 100)

Let us pray.


God of freedom, in the Red Sea you give us a symbol of our baptism;
grant that all the peoples of the earth may come to new birth by water and the Spirit and share in the heritage of your chosen people; through Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Amen.

Fourth reading

Salvation is offered freely to all

Isaiah 55:1-11

Isaiah 12:2-6 (page 43)

Let us pray.


God our provider, by the power of your Word your create all things, and by your Spirit you renew the earth;
give now the water of life to all who thirst for you, and nourish at your table all who hunger for you,
that our lives may bear the abundant fruit of your love; through Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Amen.

Glory to God in the highest (NZPB page 405) or some other suitable song of praise is sung, all standing. Bells may be rung during this hymn. In some places it is the custom not to use the organ until this hymn. The altar candles may be lit at this point and any additional electric lights may be turned on. The following or another Collect of the Day is said prior to the epistle reading.

Let us pray.


Eternal Giver of light and life, this holy night shines with the radiance of the risen Christ;
renew your Church with the Spirit given to us in baptism,
that we may worship you in sincerity and truth, and shine as your light in the world;
through Jesus Christ, your First-born, who is alive with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The New Testament Readings


New life in Christ

Romans 6:3-11

Psalm 114


(Year A) Matthew 28:1-10

(Year B) Mark 16:1-8

(Year C) Luke 24:1-12

The Sermon

A silence for reflection may follow.

Baptism or the Renewal of Baptism

The Liturgy of Baptism and the Laying on of Hands for Confirmation and Renewal (NZPB page 383) may follow. If there are no candidates for this, the presider leads the people in the following.

A Renewal of Baptism

I invite you (to stand) to affirm your commitment to Christ and your rejection of all that is evil.

Do you believe in God the Father?

I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Those who are baptised are called to worship and serve God. From the beginning, believers have continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.

Will you commit yourself to this life?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you forgive others as you are forgiven?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek to love your neighbour as yourself, and strive for peace and justice?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you accept the cost of following Jesus Christ in your daily life and work?

I will, with God’s help.

With the whole Church will you proclaim by word and action the Good News of God in Christ?

I will, with God’s help. (page 390)

If water is to be used, the following thanksgiving for water is said. The water may be in the font or in a special vessel.

The section between brackets may be omitted.

Let us give thanks to God.
It is right to offer thanks and praise.

We thank you God for your love in all creation, especially for your gift of water to sustain, refresh and cleanse all life.

[We thank you for your covenant with your people Israel; through the Red Sea waters you led them to freedom in the promised land. In the waters of the Jordan your Son was baptised by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit. Through the deep waters of death Jesus fulfilled his baptism. He died to set us free and was raised to be exalted Lord of all.]

We thank you that through the waters of baptism you cleanse us, renew us by your Spirit and raise us to new life. In the new covenant we are made members of your Church and share in your eternal kingdom.

We pray that all who have passed through the waters of baptism may continue for ever in the risen life of Christ. Through Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all praise and thanks be yours, Redeemer God, now and for ever. Amen. (cf. pages 385-386)

The congregation may be sprinkled.

The renewal of baptism is concluded with the following prayer.

God our creator, the rock of our salvation, we thank you for our new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, for the forgiveness of our sins, and for our fellowship in the household of faith with all those who have been baptised in your name; keep us faithful to the calling of our baptism, now and for ever. Amen.

The service continues with The Ministry of the Sacrament.

Variation/Addition to the Great Thanksgiving: Easter.

Alternative introduction to the Lord’s Prayer:

The risen Christ is in our midst, so with Christ we pray.

The Dismissal of the Community:

Go now to love and serve the Lord. Go in peace. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Amen. We go in the name of Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!

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