What is Vespers?
Friday rolls around, and you’re spending time with your friends or relatives when they mention they’re going to vespers this evening.
They said the word so nonchalantly. Maybe that made you feel like you should know what it means. Maybe that’s what brought you here now.
Vespers comes from the Latin vesper, meaning “evening star,” and vespera, meaning “evening.” Today it refers to an evening prayer time, or “evensong” in Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican churches. It could take place any evening and usually happens around sundown, involving prayer, celebration, thanksgiving or praise of God.
As we’ll see next, Adventists are more specific when they use the word.
Vespers for Adventists is a special time of worshiping God to begin or end the Sabbath. It can range from a quiet time of Bible reading to a casual home gathering, or even a formal worship service.
We’ll dive into the specifics of vespers and why it’s so important to Seventh-day Adventists. You’ll learn:
- The meaning of vespers
- Why Adventists hold vespers
- What happens during vespers
- Where to find a vespers program
Let’s start with what the word itself means.
What does “vespers” mean for Adventists?
When Adventists talk about vespers, they’re referring to a time of informal worship or formal liturgy that either begins the Sabbath or ends the Sabbath—Friday night vespers (the most common) or Sabbath night vespers.
They celebrate it at sundown because the biblical Sabbath runs from sunset to sunset. In our clock-controlled world, we begin our days at midnight. But in biblical times, the new day began with the setting of the sun.
This goes back to Creation.
Each day of the Creation week concluded with the words “there was evening and there was morning, the [first, second, third, etc.] day” (Genesis 1:31 NKJV). After the evening and morning of the sixth day, God rested on the seventh day and set it apart as holy (Genesis 2:1–3). This 24-hour period is the same Sabbath that we welcome during vespers.
Why do Adventists participate in vespers?
Friday evening vespers, beginning at sunset, celebrates the start of the seventh day, the Sabbath—a day to set apart from the rush of life and focus on our relationships with God and with other people. Vespers serves as the boundary between day-to-day busyness and the Sabbath.
Hurry permeates our lives. So many people have demanding jobs, or work overtime. To add to that, we often rush from there to pick the kids up from school to take them to sports practices. And don’t forget cooking meals for a hungry family and folding the laundry that’s been on the couch for days!
With all the busyness, it can be hard to slow down and transition our minds onto God.
But vespers paves the way for that transition. We praise and thank God for His guidance and help through the past week. And then, we turn our attention to God and the people around us so that we can be fully present in the blessings of the Sabbath.
At the same time, vespers connects us with like-minded people who want to draw closer to Jesus.
And as Sabbath ends on Saturday evening, we once again pause, this time to thank God for the blessings of the Sabbath and ask for His strength in the new week. We transition out of the Sabbath and back into the day-to-day, refreshed, and bringing God’s presence with us.
Who can attend vespers?
Vespers is for anyone! Even if you don’t keep the Sabbath, you can enjoy the activities of a vespers service. Adventists are an inclusive bunch, so we’ll welcome you with open arms, whether you want to participate or just observe.
What happens during vespers?
Vespers can involve a variety of worship-related activities. Some vespers services, particularly those on Adventist college or academy campuses, can be like miniature church services or concerts. But others take place in people’s homes with simple traditions—lighting candles, eating a special meal, singing certain songs, or sharing blessings from the past week.
And note: Vespers doesn’t have to happen with other people. Sometimes, a person may prefer to spend a quiet Friday evening reading the Bible, taking a walk while praying, or listening to music. Or a family may use Friday evening as a way to bond with one another instead of being with a large group.
Regardless of the exact circumstances, here are some possible vespers activities:
- Bible study
One person might pray to begin and end vespers. Or the vespers could be structured like a prayer meeting, where people share prayer requests and pray together in pairs or small groups.
Many Adventists sing hymns or praise songs to welcome the Sabbath. Some may pull out their instruments, too.
Two common vespers songs from the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal are “Day Is Dying in the West” and “Abide with Me.” The Hymnal also has a section of songs about the Sabbath with “Don’t Forget the Sabbath” and “Safely Through Another Week” being the most popular.
In a family or home setting, this could be as simple as reading a Bible passage, devotional, or story and discussing it. Some may host a small group Bible study for vespers, too.
In a more formal program, an individual might share a short message or sermon.
Sometimes, a vespers program can be a testimony service, where people have the opportunity to share how God is working in their lives. Or even what they’re thankful for or lessons they’ve learned.
Where to find a vespers program
Vespers programs are held in numerous places: churches, Adventist college and high school campuses, people’s homes, or out in nature. They can even happen over ZOOM and livestream. To find a vespers program near you, contact your local Seventh-day Adventist Church. Their websites’ calendars and Facebook pages can help you, too.
Experience the joy of the Sabbath through vespers
Vespers is a special part of Adventist Sabbath-keeping. Throughout the week, we look forward to this time, and when Sabbath ends, we ride on its strength into the new week.
But it’s more than just a tradition.
It boils down to relationships—vespers allows us to connect with Jesus on a deeper level and foster a sense of community.
So, why not attend a vespers program yourself? It could be just the experience you’ve been looking for.
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