During the Great Three Days, from sunset Holy Thursday to sunset Easter Day, we celebrate the saving events of Jesus Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. In the development of Christian worship, each event came to be remembered on a separate day. In the earliest centuries, however, these events were celebrated as a unity in an extraordinary single liturgy that began Saturday night and continued until the dawn of Easter Day. It was known as the great Paschal (Easter) Vigil. Preceded by a fast day, it was the most holy and joyful night of the entire Christian year, for it proclaimed and celebrated the whole of salvation history and Christ's saving work. It is the most appropriate time for baptisms; persons baptized symbolically die and rise with Christ (Romans 6:3 –11). It has also come to be seen as a most appropriate time for congregational reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant.
The Easter (Paschal) Vigil has both historic and symbolic roots in the Jewish Passover. That is why so many images are from the Old Testament and why so many analogies are experienced in Christ. In this service we experience the passage from slavery to freedom, from sin to salvation, from death to life.
The Easter Vigil is the First Service of Easter. The following service is an adaptation of the ancient Paschal Vigil service and consists of four parts: (1) The Service of Light, (2) The Service of the Word, (3) The Service of the Baptismal Covenant, and (4) The Service of the Table. The length of the service may suggest that the sermon be brief. Thus we celebrate God's saving work in Christ through the symbols of light, word, water, and the heavenly banquet.