The Purposes of Lent and Eastertide
Historically, Lent and Eastertide have been all about discipling people in the way of Jesus and sending them into ministry in his name.
The primary purpose of Lent has been to help people begin to live the way of Jesus as they prepare to receive baptism or reaffirm the baptismal covenant at the Easter Vigil or on Easter morning.
The Greek term for this process is "catechesis." The word in Greek means, roughly, "re-echo." Catechumens (persons preparing) learn to "re-echo" Christ in their own lives as they see Christ being lived out in others (catechists) who are training them.
Eastertide picks up where Lent leaves off. It helps those schooled in living Christ's way during Lent both to understand what has happened to them in baptism, what it means to be part of the body of Christ, and to begin to take their place as ministers in Christ's name and in the power of the Holy Spirit who has given each gifts for ministry.
The Greek term for this process is "mystagogia" (mystagogy, we say in English), which means "leading into the mysteries." Part of the work of these weeks of Eastertide is doctrinal, to begin to form in the newly baptized and to remind the rest of us what it takes to "give an account of the hope that is in us" (I Peter 3:15). This is an initial immersion in Christian doctrine intended to be followed up for a lifetime.
But mystagogy, thus the work of Easter Season, is about more than doctrine. It's also about launching new or renewed disciples, grounded in the way of Jesus and now also in the basic teaching of the church, into a lifetime of ministry in Jesus' name with the support and accountability of the whole church.
In Lent, then, the church acts as midwife to those being born again or those renewing their commitment among us. In Eastertide, the church acts as life coach to help those born by water and the Spirit to discover their gifts, connect with their God-given passion, hone their skills toward excellence, and, come Pentecost Sunday, to commission them into ministry in Jesus' name with the support of the church and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Planning Worship That Supports the Doctrinal and Ministry Formation Work of Eastertide
Teaching doctrine, helping people discover gifts and claim their passions, discerning where ministries might lie and then sending them into those ministries… it's a tall order for just fifty days! Obviously, worship alone can't hope to accomplish all of that. So start planning now, if you haven't already, to make sure you have enough qualified teachers, small groups, and small-group leaders, and opportunities for group and one-on-one discernment and coaching in place to give the newly baptized or reaffirming the best possible start they can have.
Worship can't do it all, but it can certainly have a key supporting role in your congregation's processes for intentional teaching, discernment and coaching during these weeks. Worship guided by the readings of The Revised Common Lectionary (1992) and its Calendar (The United Methodist Book of Worship, 224, 227-37), along with the Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, can certainly help. These Eastertide readings were developed by the Consultation on Common Texts and adopted by General Conference precisely to help your congregations and worshiping communities have the scriptural foundations for public and personal worship to accomplish this very thing.
As you gather your worship planning team to develop your Eastertide plans, begin with the end in mind. Start by reading and reflecting on the Pentecost lessons and with the commitment that by the end of these fifty days, you will be commissioning people in your worshiping community to be starting or continuing to live out those texts in their fullness. Then as you review the readings and suggested themes for each of the Sundays between Easter 2 and Pentecost, ask yourselves how each week's readings and theme can lay a foundation in worship that supports your teaching, small-group, and one-on-one coaching through these weeks.
Second Sunday of Easter: Declare the Resurrection of Jesus
Doctrinal Focus: The Mind-Blowing Mystery of Resurrection
Ministry Focus: Rejoicing with One Another through Suffering
First Reading: Acts 2: 14a, 22-32—A powerful example of the declaration of the resurrection of Jesus in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost.
Second Reading: I Peter 1:3-9 — I Peter is another kind of sermon, a sermon at baptism that calls for us to live our hope in an imperishable inheritance as we encounter the Risen One in our own contexts of ministry, in personal prayer, and in worship with the community of faith.
Gospel: John 20:19-31 —This story is not about Thomas—it is another declaration about the Risen Lord. Jesus shows the signs of both his death and his resurrection to Thomas. We, his body, are called and empowered to do the same before a skeptical world.
Third Sunday of Easter: Live What You Have Seen and Heard
Doctrinal Focus: The Meaning of Messiah Made Known in the Breaking of the Bread
Ministry Focus: Living as the Changed People You Are
First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41 — Peter declares God had made Jesus both Lord and Christ. The people’s respond, “What must we do?”
“Repent and be baptized.”
Second Reading: I Peter 1:17-23 — How to live as the baptized: in reverent fear of God, and with deep affection for one another from the heart.
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35 — Emmaus: Jesus reminds dispirited followers what they have seen and heard in the Scriptures and in the ministry of Jesus and reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. They go forth with joy to share the news with the others.
Fourth Sunday of Easter: Life in the Flock of the Good Shepherd
Doctrinal Focus: Jesus Is the Sheep-Gate
Ministry Focus: Living in and with the Flock
First Reading: Acts 2:42-47— After the Spirit’s mighty move and thousands of baptisms, people begin gathering daily to hear the teaching of Jesus from the apostles, to break bread, to offer the prayers in the temple, and to share their resources freely with each other. What happens during this period is not merely growth, but multiplication.
Second Reading: I Peter 2:19-25— When unjust suffering comes to us, we understand it as a sign of God’s blessing and a call to endurance, following the example of Christ in his own suffering through his arrest, trial and execution.
Gospel: John 10:1-10 — Jesus is the gate for the sheep. We, his body, join him in calling sheep to safe pasture, protecting them from harm, and offering life abundantly.
Fifth Sunday of Easter: Christ as Cornerstone, Way, Truth and Life
Doctrinal Focus: Christ is Made the Sure Foundation
Ministry Focus: Proclaim the Mighty Acts of Christ
First Reading: Acts 7:55-60 — Stephen sees and proclaims Jesus at God’s right hand. The crowd sees stones. Stephen’s boldness and forgiveness are remembered. All but one name from the crowd are forgotten.
Second Reading: I Peter 2:2-10 — Christ is the cornerstone, and we are living stones, a royal priesthood, God’s own people, called to proclaim God’s mighty acts in Christ, including our own deliverance from darkness to light.
Gospel: John 4:1-14 — Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. If we see Jesus, we see God; if we follow in his way, we participate in the works of God.
Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Mission Field Is Always Everywhere
Doctrinal Focus: Christ’s Lordship Is Made Known Everywhere
Ministry Focus: Preparing for Ministry in All of Your Missional Contexts
First Reading: Acts 17:22-31 — Paul learns, understands, and rhetorically repurposes the cultural assumptions and icons of Athens in an address at the marketplace. God and God’s reign are at work already in and through the constructs of Athenian (and every!) culture—but it takes a Christian on mission to see that and help those there see it, too.
Second Reading: I Peter 3:13-22 — Always be ready to offer an explanation for the hope that is in you, wherever you are, in whatever context you find yourself. For some clues about the contexts where we may all find ourselves, see http://www.membermission.org.
Gospel: John 14:15-21 — Always and everywhere the Holy Spirit is moving and available to us as we seek to love Christ and follow in his mission and way, keeping his commandments.
Seventh Sunday of Easter: Active Waiting
Doctrinal Focus: The Holy Spirit Leads Us
Ministry Focus: How to Wait Upon and Follow the Holy Spirit
First Reading: Acts 1:6-14 — We move as Christians at Christ’s command and the Spirit’s prompting, motivated by the love of God. Here we see what the group of about 120 disciples did as they waited for the Spirit’s next move after the ascension of our Lord: praying diligently, becoming of one spirit.
Second Reading: I Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 — More elements to expect in our active waiting: suffering, endurance, resisting evil, and expecting God to strengthen us for service in and through it all.
Gospel: John 17:1-11 — Jesus was waiting for his betrayer to arrive; and as he was waiting, offered this prayer—that we would have everything we needed as his disciples to continue and multiply his ministry: God’s direction, God’s protection, and unity in mission among ourselves.
Ascension Sunday—Christ Reigns Over All
Doctrinal Focus: The Ascension of Christ
Ministry Focus: Preparing for the Power of the Holy Spirit
Final Sunday in Eastertide--The Day of Pentecost: Channels of the Spirit
Doctrinal Focus: The Gifts of the Spirit
Ministry Focus: Commissioning to Use the Spirit’s Gifts in Church and World
First Reading: Numbers 11:24-30 — The Spirit raises up leaders inside and outside “the tent.” Moses responds: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put the Spirit on them!”
Acts 2: 1-21 — The Holy Spirit falls upon the 120 gathered in a room in Jerusalem, and they proclaim the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the languages of all the people gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost.
Second Lesson: Acts 2:1-21 OR I Corinthians 12: 3b-13 — The Spirit is poured out upon all the baptized, endowing them with many different gifts in many different ways so the body, though of many members, may be one in its head, Christ Jesus.
Gospel: John 7:37-39 — Jesus’ proclamation and invitation at the Feast of Sukkot (“booths,” or “tabernacles,” five days after Yom Kippur): Come to me, and rivers of living water will flow from you! Following Jesus means becoming a channel of the Spirit in the world.