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Saturday 16 April 2022: Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil)

Keeping Vigil with The Lord

Genesis 1:1-2:2; Genesis 22:1- 18; Exodus 14:15-15.1; Isaiah 54:4-15; Isaiah 55:1-11; Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4; Ezekiel 26:16- 28; Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 117; Luke 24:1-12

By Anne Morris

Provincial of the Daughters of the Holy Spirit, England/Ireland/ Wales; formerly Deputy Director at St. Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre, North Wales

Context: Paschal celebration in the retreat centre, with 40-50 adults attending, from a variety of Christian traditions

Aim: asking how we can ‘keep vigil for the Lord’ every day of the year


The Easter Liturgy has been a long time in the making. The Easter Vigil, as we now recognise it, only began in 1951, with further developments in 1970, giving us our present rich selection of symbols and readings; candles, light and darkness, water and fire, nine scripture readings taking us through the glorious sweep of salvation history, from Genesis to the Easter Gospel, this year from Luke. These carefully chosen readings remind us of the many twists and turns of events, in order that salvation might come into the world. It may not so much be about ‘God writing straight with crooked lines’ as ‘God being forced to write with crooked lines because of human perversity.’ We often seem to run counter to God’s plan and made other choices that might have run more smoothly!



If you have ever had the opportunity of making the Ignatian Exercises, one of the instructions given for the Third Week, the period of praying the passion and death of Jesus, is to stay in the present moment. We, knowing the story with hindsight, can easily skip what it was really like to live through these terrible events, without any idea or hope of how it would end. Many of those surrounding Jesus had expectations of an overthrow of the existing system. So, what were they experiencing, when all those hopes came crashing down around them on Good Friday?

One version of the Exercises suggests imagining Holy Saturday as a day spent with Jesus’ mother Mary, in the home of John. Both would have been exhausted after the previous day’s events. But as often happens after a death, there is also a need to talk. Would Mary have asked about the last days and weeks of Jesus, that she wasn’t present to? Would John have wanted to hear of Jesus’ childhood and early years in Nazareth? Would others have come to offer words of sympathy. Would Peter or any of the other apostles have felt able to show their faces, given their abandonment of Jesus in his final hours? All concerned, wherever they were, would be coping with shock and grief, trying to make sense of why things were in the mess they were. Remember, you stay in the present, with no hope or comprehension of what is to follow.



The word ‘vigil’ comes from the Latin ‘to stay alert’. You stay in the present, with no hope or comprehension of what is to follow. Keeping vigil at a bedside, you try to stay alert, not knowing if it will end in recovery or death. As we know, staying alert in times of anxiety and stress is not always easy. Witness the disciples falling asleep in Gethsemane, despite Jesus asking them to stay awake. In this Easter vigil, we keep watch after the death, when all hope has been extinguished. Played out before us in darkness, one spark sets light to a fire, that then illuminates the paschal candle, that in turn lights many other candles. It only needs that one spark. Afterwards we listen to the scripture texts that keep telling us that God always finds a way, whether it is hovering over chaos and bringing life out of darkness or parting the Red Sea for God’s chosen (if perverse) people to escape.

Each Gospel tells its own story of how the women discovered that Jesus was risen from the dead. Luke says that the women discovered first that the body of Jesus was not there. He was ‘conspicuous by his absence’ (as the saying goes), made glaringly obvious by the fact of not being there.

To underline this further, Luke, has the presence of not just one angel but two, asking the simple but profound question, ’Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he has risen.’ The angels go on: ’Remember what he told you…that the Son of Man would be handed over …and rise again on the third day.’

In the same way that the nine readings of the vigil have reminded us of the direction this story was taking, down through the centuries, and as Jesus would remind the disciples on the way to Emmaus, we too need constant reminding. In the words of Bernard Häring: ‘If we live a life of thanksgiving for all that God has already revealed and done…even if God leads us where we did not want to go… [then] for those who put their trust in Christ, everything, even the most insignificant, or the most unpleasant event, becomes a sign of grace and hope, a school of vigilance for the coming of our Lord.’

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