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Six Stories for the Easter Vigil

by The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
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Here are the versions of lessons that I have used in the past.  The idea here is to make these living stories and not dry and dead lessons.  Therefore choose people who have a flair for story telling to present these stories.  As much as possible, get the story tellers close to the people and away from the lectern unless the story is being acted out in some way.

 

The Story of Creation  (Genesis 1:1-2:3 RSV below or TEV)

Suggested Ideas:  Have a female reader stand close to the people at the center for this story.  Or try this -- Have a box filled with stuffed animals and dolls to represent the items of creation.  A person representing God (male or female) takes each item out of the box as each is created and places it on the stripped altar.  Reader to one side near the people. The TEV translation works well here also.

The Story of Creation.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

And God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth." And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens." So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.

That is the Story of Creation.

 

The Story of the Flood   (From Genesis 7 and 8 TLW)

Suggested Ideas:  Have a male reader stand at center near the people for this story.  Or try this -- Draw a large but simple ark on plastic or paper table cover, about the size of one rectangular fellowship hall table.  Place it on the front pew, along with a person at each end to carry the ark.  As the story is read, have a Noah silently act out the story.  As the ark is "built," have the two people stand and raise up the drawing of the ark (not too high) facing the people.  When the animals are loaded into the ark, have Noah gather the stuffed animals left on the altar from the previous story and place them back into the box from which they were originally taken.  As the waters rise, so does the ark, which then "sails" all around the outside aisles of the church (Noah carries the box of animals behind the drawing of the ark) until it comes to rest at center front again.

The Story of the Flood.

There was a man named Noah who loved God very much He was a good man in a time when the whole world was filled with wickedness.

One day, God came to Noah and said, "Noah, I have decided to exterminate all human life on earth, because they are so filled with sin and corruption. But I will save you and your family. I know that you love me, and you do no wrong, and you follow my commands.

"Therefore, make yourself an ark of oleander wood, for a great flood will come. Make the ark with cabins for your family and stalls for as many animals, birds and creeping things as I will instruct you to gather. In this way, I will repopulate the earth after the flood."

So Noah began constructing the ark, according to the instructions of the Lord. The ark was very large, with three decks, a doorway, a window, and a roof over the top-most mid-section.

When the ark was finished, God commanded that Noah begin gathering animals into the ark: seven pairs of every clean animal that was fit for food, and two of every unclean animal that wasn't fit for food. He collected animals of the forest and of the field. He collected birds of the air and thing that creeping upon the ground. He collected wild animals and tame ones.

Finally, the Lord God commanded that Noah gather his family into the ark and shut the great doors.

Then the rains came. The heavens opened above and the fountains of the deep opened below. For 40 days and 40 nights, great torrents of rain fell, until the waters covered the whole earth -- even the mountain tops. Every living being left upon the earth drowned in the flood.

But Noah and his family, and all the animals in the ark, were safe. The ark floated on the waters, protected by the hand of the Lord.

At last the rains stopped, and the sun and the winds began drying up the flood. After 150 days, the waters slowly receded, until the ark came to a rest on a mountain top.

After 40 more days, Noah opened the window and sent out a dove to see if the water had gone down enough. But the dove returned, because the waters were still too high for it to find a place to rest.

Two weeks later, Noah sent out another dove. This dove did not return, so Noah knew that the waters were finally gone.

Then God commanded Noah to go out of the ark with his family and to release all the animals and birds and creeping things. "Take all the birds and animals out with you," he said, "so that they may reproduce and spread over all the earth."

After this, Noah worshiped God and gave thanks that God had saved him and his family. And God blessed Noah and his family, and gave them this promise: "I make my covenant with you and your descendants and with all living beings, that I will never again destroy the earth by a flood.

"And look, I have put my bow in the clouds, as a sign of the promise that I have made with you and with every living being. When I look upon it, I will remember the everlasting covenant that is between you and me and every living being on earth, and never again will I destroy the earth by a flood."

So, that is the Story of the Flood.

 

The Story of Abraham & Isaac  (Genesis 22:1-18 LB)

Suggested Ideas:  This story is so familiar to everyone that it works well simply acted out in mime without any verbal reading at all.  Or try the scripted version below with four readers (Narrator, God/Angel, Abraham, Isaac).

READER 1:  (standing front center) The Story of Abraham and Isaac.

Later on, God tested Abraham's faith and obedience.

PASTOR/READER 2:  (seated in the chancel) "Abraham!"

READER 1:  God called.

READER 3:  (seated in the cong.) "Yes, Lord?"

READER 1:  he replied.

PASTOR/READER 2:  "Take with you your only son -- yes, Isaac whom you love so much -- and go to the land of Moriah and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I'll point out to you!"

READER 1:  [So] the next morning, Abraham got up early, chopped wood for a fire upon the altar, saddled his donkey, and took with him his son Isaac and two young men who were his servants, and started off to the place where God had told him to go. On the third day of the journey, Abraham saw the place in the distance.

READER 3:  "Stay here with the donkey,"

READER 1:  Abraham told the young men,

READER 3:  "and the lad and I will travel yonder and worship, and then come right back."

READER 1:  Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering upon Isaac's shoulders, while he himself carried the knife and the flint for striking a fire. So the two of them went on together.

READER 4:  (seated elsewhere in the cong.) "Father,"

READER 1:  Isaac asked,

READER 4:  "we have the wood and the flint to make the fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?"

READER 3:  "God will see to it, my son,"

READER 1:  Abraham replied. And they went on.

When they arrived at the place where God had told Abraham to go, he built an altar and placed the wood in order, ready for the fire, and then tied Isaac and laid him on the altar over the wood. And Abraham took the knife and lifted it up to plunge it into his son, to slay him.

At that moment the Angel of God shouted to him from heaven,

PASTOR/READER 2:  "Abraham! Abraham! Lay down the knife; don't hurt the lad in any way,"

READER 1:  the Angel said,

PASTOR/READER 2:  "for I know that God is first in your life -- you have not withheld even your beloved son from me."

READER 1:  Then Abraham noticed a ram caught by its horns in a bush. So he took the ram and sacrificed it, instead of his son, as a burnt offering on the altar. Abraham named the place "Jehovah provides" -- and it still goes by that name to this day.

Then the Angel of God called again to Abraham from heaven.

PASTOR/READER 2:  "I, the Lord, have sworn by myself that because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your beloved son from me, I will bless you with incredible blessings and multiply your descendants into countless thousands and millions, like the stars above you in the sky, and like the sands along the seashore. They will conquer their enemies, and your offspring will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth -- all because you have obeyed me."

READER 1:  And that is the story of Abraham and Isaac.

 

The Story of the Exodus  (From Exodus 1-14 TLW below or TEV)

Suggested Ideas:  If the previous readings have been acted out or mimed, then perhaps a straight reading/story telling is best here with one reader at front center near the people. Or try this version for two narrators, both at front center near the people.  Watch the timing and pacing of this narration closely.  It starts with relaxed long sentences and paragraphs divided between the story tellers.  But later the sentences and phrases are divided between the story tellers, indicating a faster pace and excitement.

NARRATOR 1:  The Story of the Exodus.

After 400 years in Egypt, after generations of being slaves and working under the whip to build the cities of Egypt, the children of Israel were released by Pharaoh from their bonds. Moses led them out, while the Egyptians were still reeling from the terrible tenth plague -- the angel of death, who had killed all the firstborn males of Egypt.

NARRATOR 2:  No harm had come to the Israelites, though. The angel of death had passed over their houses when he saw the blood of the lamb from their passover meal on their doorposts. And now the Israelites were leaving Egypt amid the cries and the wailing caused by the hardness of heart of their own Pharaoh. Yet one more passover remained before the children of Israel would find themselves completely free.

For now, they were content, because the Lord God himself was guiding them -- in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. The cloud and fire of the Lord were never out of their sight. And the Lord led them to the Red Sea, where they set up camp to rest after a long journey's walk.

NARRATOR 1:  Shortly after the Israelites had gone, Pharaoh and his officials began questioning themselves. "What have we done? We have let the Israelites escape, and we have lost them as our slaves."

NARRATOR 2:  So Pharaoh and his rulers set out to chase after the people of Israel.

NARRATOR 1:  All the king's chariots, including 600 of his finest, commanded by their officers, set out in hot pursuit.

NARRATOR 2:  The entire army of Egypt, horses and chariots and drivers, gave chase to make the Israelites their slaves once more.

NARRATOR 1:  The people of Israel saw this great multitude coming in the distance, and they knew that it must be Pharaoh and his army. They were terrified. They cried out to the Lord and complained to Moses,

NARRATOR 2:  "Did you bring us out here in the desert to die? Look what you have done! The Egyptians are coming to kill us! We told you this would happen while we were still in Egypt. It would have been better for us be slaves in Egypt than to die out here in the desert."

NARRATOR 1:  But Moses said to them, "Don't be afraid! Stand your ground, and you will see what the Lord will do to save you today. You will never see these Egyptians again. The Lord will fight for you, if you but keep still and let him do it."

NARRATOR 2:  Then the Lord commanded Moses,

NARRATOR 1:  "Move the people forward toward the sea. Lift up your staff over the waters, and the sea will part before you so that the Israelites may walk through it on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians until they follow behind into the sea. Then you will see me honored as I defeat them all -- the king, the army, the chariots and the drivers. And all Egypt will know that I am the Lord."

NARRATOR 2:  At this point, the pillar of cloud that had been leading the Israelites moved to the rear and held back the Egyptian army into the evening and all through the night.

NARRATOR 1:  Then Moses stretched out his staff as God had commanded him, and the Lord opened up a path through the sea.

NARRATOR 2:  Walls of water piled high on each side.

NARRATOR 1:  A strong east wind blew all night long and dried the sea bottom.

NARRATOR 2:  Then the next morning, the Israelites began to pass over to the other side,

NARRATOR 1:  walking on dry ground,

NARRATOR 2:  as the Lord had promised.

NARRATOR 1:  When they were able, the Egyptians followed the Israelites into the sea.

NARRATOR 2:  All the horses and chariots and drivers of Egypt gave pursuit.

NARRATOR 1:  But the Lord looked down from the pillar of cloud and threw them into a panic.

NARRATOR 2:  Their chariot wheels clogged and wouldn't move.

NARRATOR 1:  Some fell off entirely.

NARRATOR 2:  "Let's get out of here," yelled one of the Egyptians.

NARRATOR 1:  "The Lord is fighting for the Israelites and against us!

NARRATOR 2:  Let's get out of here!"

NARRATOR 1:  And they began to retreat toward the shore.

NARRATOR 2:  When all the Israelites had reached the other side, the Lord said to Moses,

NARRATOR 1:  "Now stretch out your hand and your staff over the sea, and the waters will come back again, covering the Egyptian army and their chariots and their drivers."

NARRATOR 2:  So Moses did as the Lord commanded, and the sea returned to its place beneath the morning light.

NARRATOR 1:  Some of the Egyptians tried to escape from the water,

NARRATOR 2:  but the Lord drowned them in the sea,

NARRATOR 1:  covering the pathway and all the army of Pharaoh.

NARRATOR 2:  Not one remained alive.

NARRATOR 1:  But the Israelites had passed over into their freedom by walking through the sea on dry ground,

NARRATOR 2:  with walls of water on both sides.

NARRATOR 1:  On that day, the Lord saved the people of Israel from the Egyptians, and the Israelites saw their enemy lying dead upon the seashore. When the Israelites witnessed the Lord's mighty power that defeated the Egyptians, they were in awe of him. And they believed in the Lord, and they had faith in him and in his servant Moses.

In praise and celebration, Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord.
(The Canticle of the Exodus follows, sung by the congregation.)

 

The Story of Jonah  (From the book of Jonah TLW)

Suggested Ideas:  One year I had someone make very simple drawings of the action of this story on a large newsprint pad.  As the story was told, a person stood at an easel and flipped the pages from drawing to drawing.  Another year, a couple people made simple puppet drawings on popsickle sticks of the main characters and stooped behind the altar to act out the story as it was read.

The Story of Jonah.

There once was a prophet named Jonah. He was from Galilee, and like most prophets of his day, he counseled the kings of Israel.

One day, the Lord came to Jonah and said: "Jonah, son of Amittai, I want you to go the great city of Nineveh and speak out against it. The people there are very wicked, and if they do not repent, I will destroy their city."

Jonah knew of the wickedness of Nineveh and how powerful and great they were, and he was afraid to go there. So he set out in the opposite direction in order to get away from the Lord.

He went to Joppa, where he decided to book passage on a sailing ship. The ship was bound for Spain, which is about as far away from Nineveh as you could go in those days. There, he thought, he would surely get away from the Lord.

But the Lord sent a strong wind and a great storm upon the sea. It was so violent that the ship was in danger of breaking up. The sailors were terrified and cried out to their gods.

Jonah came forward and told them, "I know it is my fault that you are caught in this violent storm. For I have run away from my God who made the land and the sea and all there is. Throw me into the sea, and it all will calm down."

So the sailors picked up Jonah, and tossed him into the sea. And it calmed down at once.

God had not intended that Jonah should drowned, however. At his command, God sent a large fish alongside the ship, and it swallowed Jonah as soon as he hit the water. Jonah remained inside the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.

During that time, Jonah prayed constantly to the Lord and repented for trying to run away from his command. Jonah was very grateful that God had saved him from drowning in the sea and promised to follow his command from now on.

God heard Jonah's prayers and caused the fish to cast Jonah out on the dry land. When God commanded a second time that Jonah go to Nineveh, he did not hesitate. Jonah set out on the road that went north to Nineveh.

Now, Nineveh was a very large city, three days walk from one end to the other. Jonah went throughout the city and proclaimed, "Nineveh will be destroyed in forty days! Nineveh will be destroyed because of the people's sins!"

The people were convinced that God had sent Jonah, and immediately went to their king to ask him what to do. "Let everyone turn away from sin and repent," he said. "Perhaps if we are penitent, the Lord will forgive us."

Everyone obeyed the king's counsel throughout the city. They all prayed humbly for the Lord's pardon and repented of their wickedness. Day and night they prayed to the Lord for forgiveness.

God heard their prayers and saw their changed ways. And he did not destroy the city, because he is loving and merciful, patient and kind. The people were not evil any more, and they were saved -- thanks to the word of the Lord delivered by Jonah.

So that is the Story of Jonah.

 

The Story of the Three Young Men  (From Daniel 1-3 TLW)

Suggested Ideas:  This story may be told by one story teller using this or the Living Bible (LB) translation.  Or consider the following version for four or more voices (there could be voices for each character of the story).  Note that there is a little bit of movement in this version suggesting a little acting of the parts.  Memorization is not required.

VOICE 1:  (standing alone front center near the people)  

The Story of the Three Young Men.
Nebuchadnezzar was the noble king of Babylon, a great country with a strong army. He had led that army to defeat the city of Jerusalem and to take the people of Judah into exile in his fair country. He did not know the God of the Jews, but he knew the Lord's prophet Daniel. And the king greatly respected Daniel for his wisdom and his faith and his ability to interpret the king's dreams. So he made Daniel a counselor to the king regarding the people of Judah and a ruler over the province of Babylon and over all his wise men. At Daniel's request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as Daniel's assistants to help him in ruling the province of Babylon.

Now King Nebuchadnezzar decided to make a huge gold statue of his god. And he commanded that it be made 90 feet high and nine feet wide. After it was made, the great gold statue was set up in the Plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon, where Daniel and his three young assistants were rulers.

Then the king sent messages to all the princes and governors, captains and judges, counselors and rulers of all the provinces of his empire. And he invited them all to come to the dedication of his statue.

When they had all arrived in the plain and were standing before the great gold statue, a herald called out:

VOICE 2:  (rises from being seated in cong.): "O people of all nations and languages, this is the command of the great King Nebuchadnezzar: when the sounds of instruments begin to play, you must all fall down upon the ground and worship the statue that our great king has made. And if you do not fall down to the ground and worship the statue, you will be thrown immediately into the burning fiery furnace." (Walks to front center beside Narrator)

VOICE 1:  As soon as the command had been given, the instruments began to play. And the people assembled before the statue -- from every nation and language -- all fell down upon the ground and worshiped the statue.

But after looking around, some of the king's officials went to Nebuchadnezzar and said to him,

VOICE 2:  "O great king, there are some Jews who are not obeying your wise command to fall down and worship your wondrous gold statue, your majesty."

VOICE 3:  (standing and walking to front center) "And just who are they?"

VOICE 1:  asked the king.

VOICE 2:  "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, your majesty"

VOICE 1:  they answered,

VOICE 2:  "whom you have put in charge of your affairs in the Babylon province. They have defied your majesty and refused to serve your gods or to worship your great gold statue, O wise king."

VOICE 1:  Nebuchadnezzar went into a furious rage and ordered the three young men to be brought before him immediately.

VOICE 3  "Is it true,"

VOICE 1:  he asked them,

VOICE 3  "that you have refused to serve my gods and to worship the great gold statue that I have set up?"

VOICE 1:  The king did not wait for an answer.

VOICE 3:  "I will give you one more chance. When the instruments sound, you will fall down and worship the statue, and all will be well. But if you refuse, you will be thrown into the burning fiery furnace within the hour. Then we'll see what god can deliver you out of my hands!"

VOICE 1:  But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied,

VOICE 4:  (standing and walking to center, while saying) "O great King Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you. Our God is able to deliver us even out of the burning fiery furnace if it is his will. But even if he doesn't, please understand, sir, that we can never under any circumstance serve your gods or worship the statue of gold erected by you."

VOICE 1:  Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fearsome fury, and his face became dark with anger at the three young men. He barked out his command:

VOICE 3:  "Let the furnace be heated up seven times hotter than usual!"

VOICE 1:  And he called for the strongest soldiers to bind up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. With ropes, they bound the three young men tightly so they could not escape. Then the soldiers threw the three young men into the flames of the burning fiery furnace. The furnace was heated so hot that the flames immediately leaped out and killed the solders as they threw them in. So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego fell bound into the roaring fire. (pause)

Suddenly, as he was watching, the king jumped up in amazement. Quickly he asked his advisors,

VOICE 3:  "Didn't we throw three men into the burning fiery furnace?"

VOICE 2:  "Yes, your majesty. We did indeed, your majesty."

VOICE 3:  "Well how is it then that I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and not even hurt by the flames?"

VOICE 1:  Nebuchadnezzar was astonished.

VOICE 3:  "And the fourth one looks like a god!"

VOICE 1:  The king moved in closer, as close as he could get to the open door of the fiery furnace. He yelled in,

VOICE 3  "Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego! Servants of the Most High God! Come out! Come out here!"

VOICE 1:  So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stepped out of the burning fiery furnace where the king and all the princes and governors, captains and judges, counselors and rulers of all the provinces moved in close to examine them. Not a hair on their heads was singed. Their clothes were unscorched. They didn't even smell of smoke!

Then King Nebuchadnezzar said in everyone's hearing,

VOICE 3:  "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. For he sent his angel to deliver them when they trusted in him over the king's command. They were willing to die rather than worship any god except their own. Therefore, I make this decree: Any person of any nation or language who speaks against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses laid in ruins. For no other god can save like their God."

VOICE 1:  So that is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And this is the song that the three men sang with the angel in the burning fiery furnace.

(The Canticle of the Three Young Men is sung by the congregation.)