“The Vigil unto life that gives hope” – The Great Vigil of Easter – April 16, 2022

16. April 2022
Easter Vigil
John 20:1-18

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 

In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.

Vigils are kept on remarkable nights by people everywhere. A wife awaiting a husband’s return from a foreign field of battle will spend the night before his return in anxious prayer and eager anticipation. A son or daughter will remain on vigil at the bedside of a dying father or mother, so that his or her departure is not alone or unremarked in the realm of the living. A parent will keep vigil at the bed of a feverish and restless child, asking God for health, while soothing the hot brow of the child with cold compresses. Such needs, though create purely by human hardship, demand that we keep watch. 

Our Lord also calls us to watch with Him but one little hour. Each day, as the day draws to a close, we anticipate that this night be our last. We prepare for our Lord’s return in repentance of sins and trust in our Baptism. We ask our Lord to forgive us our sins where we have done wrong and to graciously keep us this night. And if sleep is kept from us, then our Lord would have us “watch and pray lest [we] enter into temptation.” If we awaken in the night, assume that the Lord Jesus wants us to pray. Like the wise virgins, whose lamps were kept lit through the Word and by the Spirit for the coming Bridegroom, we are given to remain steadfast in the Word, with prayer, singing, and sacrament until Jesus comes again. 

The Easter Vigil is not the suspenseful, frightened wait of the first disciples or of the people on the shore of the Red Sea caught between water and chariots (Exodus 13-14) but the quietly excited anticipation of the faithful redeemed who live in the eternal day of the resurrection light. We no longer fear death’s darkness, and thus we can meet the night’s darkness with anticipation of the light of Christ. Every other vigil over a sick bed, in anxious fear of a suffering child, is given meaning by this Vigil. This is the great Vigil, and every other has meaning only through it. This is the Vigil unto life that gives hope to every other vigil of life.

We can pray confident that if the Lord gives us a tomorrow, it is good and means fruitful labor for us. And if He gives us to sleep the sleep of death, no matter. He has already transformed our grave into a quiet resting place, a soft bed undefiled. Just as Joseph’s new sepulchre, the stone, the seal, nor the guard could hold Jesus, so also our tomb won’t hold us either. “And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.” Even if buried under six feet of earth, our Lord Jesus will awaken us, dragging us out of the earth, breathing life into us, and carrying us into the Resurrection. We will follow the Light that no darkness can overcome. 

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin