The Great Vigil is the first celebration of Easter, that Holy Saturday night service when the "Alleluia" returns after its Lenten hiatus; the giant Paschal candle, which will burn through Pentecost, is lit from a newly kindled fire; and new Christians are baptized and new members of the church confirmed and received.
It's an experience of the intersect "between ancient wisdom and living Christian community in the mystery of Christ's resurrection," according to Isaac Everett, liturgical minister at The Crossing, the young adult worshiping community at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston.
The Crossing has been organizing and hosting the cathedral church's Easter Vigil for about five years, putting its own nontraditional mark on a traditional service by incorporating, for example, soulful, contemporary music and performance poetry, and hosting a dance party afterwards.
Fire spinning--a performance art involving a choreographed twirling of flaming material--will be a highlight this year, Everett said. "It's our interpretation of the bonfire," he said, from which the Paschal candle is traditionally lit.
The Vigil also is a time to settle in for some good storytelling.
The service's Scripture lessons begin at the beginning, with the story of creation in Genesis, and then recall the Great Flood, Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, Israel's deliverance and the regathering of God's people. The Crossing's use of performance arts in a liturgical setting aims to enhance and reinterpret the storytelling tradition of the Vigil, Everett said.
"It's our way of retelling the story of our people and what God has done with us," he said. All this, and then comes the celebration of Holy Eucharist, the sacramental meal remembering Christ's life, death and resurrection.
"The members of The Crossing who create this service have a deep reverence for the tradition and structure of the liturgy and honor that fully, and they've found ways to inhabit it with creativity and imagination and grace," said the Very Rev. Jep Streit, Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. He recalled hearing from a woman from another parish who was received into the Episcopal Church at last year's Vigil, alongside her son who was being confirmed.
"She said it was the most relevant service she had ever attended. So it's not just for young adults," Streit said.
Bishop Alan M. Gates will preside at this year's service, on April 4 at 7 p.m., to be held at the Church of St. John the Evangelist (35 Bowdoin Street) because of the ongoing renovations at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. Two people will be confirmed and three baptized, according to the cathedral office.
New contributors this year come from the budding branch of relationships The Crossing is nurturing with other Christian communities. Several of them have caught the Vigil fire and will be participating in this year's service. They include members from Old West Church (United Methodist) and The Sanctuary (Unitarian Universalist), along with the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry at MIT, the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Boston University and the MANNA homeless ministry of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. Trinity Chapel in Shirley is also participating.
These relationships across communities reflect a newness of life that is part of the Easter mystery and, Everett says, are what will help make this year's Easter Vigil truly great.
All are invited and welcome to come as they are. Dance party to follow.
--Tracy J. Sukraw
Find the Cathedral Church of St. Paul's full Holy Week schedule here.