Planning Worship for Eastertide, Year C
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, and so the work of Eastertide, 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 50 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 50 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: Your OWN Identity in Christ
Doctrinal Focus: Jesus is Lord—both universally and personally.
Ministry Focus: God calls you into ministry starting with where you are.
First Reading: Acts 5:27-32
God's authority, and no human authority, directs your mission in Christ.
Second Reading: Revelation 1:4-8
Our collective identity as church is to be a kingdom of priests serving God.
Gospel: John 20:19-31
Jesus calls us and comes to us in the midst of our honest questions so we can claim our own identity in him, naming him "my Lord and my God."
Third Sunday of Easter: Christ Calls You BEYOND Yourself
Doctrinal Focus: Why we evangelize, worship and reach out
Ministry Focus: Expect to be stretched
First Reading: Acts 9:1-6 (7-20)
Jesus calls Saul to recognize his self-inflicted and stubborn spiritual blindness and opens the way for a new path and healing.
Second Reading: Revelation 5:11-14
In praise and worship we bless God with all we have and are.
Gospel: John 21:1-19
Jesus challenges disciples to cast their nets on the unfamiliar side of the boat, then calls Peter to love him the best way he can and feed his sheep.
Fourth Sunday of Easter: Your Works Testify to Jesus
Doctrinal Focus: Jesus is the Anointed One—Messiah, Deliverer, One with God
Ministry Focus: Cultivating courageous works of mercy
First Reading: Acts 9:36-43
Tabitha showed the power of the risen Christ through good works, acts of charity, and the clothing she made.
Disciples of Jesus are known for entering into Christ's suffering and the suffering of the world.
Jesus' own works in the name of the Father, and the works of his disciples in the name of Jesus, testify that Jesus is the anointed One, the Savior.
Fifth Sunday of Easter: "Having the Love of God Shed Abroad in Their Hearts"
Doctrinal Focus: Sanctification: Perfection in love in this life
Ministry Focus: Learning to love others as God loves
First Reading: Acts 11:1-18
Peter testifies to the saving work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of non-circumcised believers.
Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6
In the end, God, the Eternal, makes home among mortals, serving our greatest needs
Gospel: John 13:31-35
As Jesus faces the events leading to his execution, he calls his disciples to love one another as he has loved them.
Sixth Sunday of Easter: Guided by the Holy Spirit
Doctrinal Focus: The basic work of the Holy Spirit
Ministry Focus: Learning to live in the Spirit
First Reading: Acts 16:9-15
Paul responds to a vision to go to Philippi and finds opportunities for effective witness.
Second Reading: Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
In the Spirit, John sees the New Jerusalem—a new vision of how the world works in God's kingdom.
Gospel: John 14:23-29
The Holy Spirit guides disciples to understand, remember, and live out the teaching of Jesus.
Seventh Sunday of Easter: "No Religion but Social Religion, No Holiness but Social Holiness"
Doctrinal Focus: The church is the body of Christ, whose members watch over one another in love.
Ministry Focus: Pursuing the things that make for peace and build up the common life.
First Reading: Acts 16:16-34
As a witness to the saving power of God available even to captors, prisoners freed by an earthquake remain inside and the guard's household comes to faith.
Second Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
"Blessed are those who wash their robes," who enter into deep community with those who suffer around them.
Gospel: John 17:20-26
The unity of disciples of Jesus in the face of their diversity and any adversity that may surround them is the longing of Jesus' prayer that all may know God's love.
Final Sunday in Eastertide-- The Day of Pentecost: Continuing the Works of Christ in the Power of the Spirit
Doctrinal Focus: The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit
Ministry Focus: Commissioning into ministry in Christ's name and the Spirit's power
First Reading: Acts 2:1-21
The Holy Spirit empowers a bold witness for Jesus so that people of every nation where Judaism had spread could hear the proclamation of the meaning of the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus in their own language.
Second Reading: Romans 8:14-17
The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are free, adopted as God's own children, and heirs of God's promises as we suffer with Christ as his body on earth.
Gospel: John 14:8-17 (25-27)
In the coming Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, disciples of Jesus will continue the works of Jesus and even greater works than these.