Planning -Easter Day: The Second Service of Easter
- Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Easter Day: The Second Service of Easter
- Worship Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Peter proclaims to Cornelius the resurrection of Jesus and that God has appointed Jesus as judge of the living and the dead.
Psalm 118: (1-2), 14-24 (UMH 839).
God's love is victorious! A fitting response to the first reading. Sing at least the response today (response 2). If also chanting, use Tone 1 in B-flat major.
I Corinthians 15:1-11.
Paul declares the things of first importance: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells Phillip and Andrew that the time for his glorification; i.e., his execution is drawing near and that those who serve him will be found with him wherever he leads or goes. God ratifies the message with a sound from heaven, which Jesus interprets as a sign that the present spiritual regime's days are about to come to an end.
OR Mark 16:1-8
Mark's account of women who went to embalm the body of Jesus, an empty tomb, a young man in dazzling garments, the announcement of the raising of Jesus, and a commissioning to tell the others. They tell no one (at the time) because of their fear.
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The Easter season begins at sunset on the eve of Easter and extends for fifty days (The Great Fifty Days) through the Day of Pentecost. We take an extended period of time in these days to of rejoice in and live out the "paschal mystery."
What is the "paschal mystery"? It's ancient Christian shorthand for the story of Christ our Passover sacrificed and raised for us and our incorporation into these mighty acts of salvation through baptism. As Paul notes in today's reading from Romans, this lies at the heart of the faith, teaching, and worship life of the church.
Liturgically and technically speaking, the service held in the morning of Easter Day is the second service of Easter. The Easter Vigil is the first. The Revised Common Lectionary follows ancient Christian practice in offering readings for a third service for this day as well, one that might be celebrated in the late afternoon or evening. The Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-29) is the featured gospel of this service.
The surrounding culture tends to observe Easter much like it does Christmas. We celebrate for a day or perhaps a weekend, then we put it all away. (Watch for clearance sales of "Easter" items beginning the Monday after Easter Day; or in some places, even on Easter Sunday!) And just as Christmas is often overtaken or surrounded by images of the winter solstice, both in the culture and even in some of our hymnody, Easter is overtaken and surrounded by images drawn from the spring equinox (birds hatching, grass greening, mother rabbits surrounded by their spring brood).
But Easter is for Christians all around the world and is not the equivalent of a spring equinox festival. For one thing, for most of the world's Christians living in the Southern hemisphere now, Easter happens at fall, not spring!
But more than this, Easter for Christians is not a day, but a season. We have just spent the days of Lent preparing newcomers to the faith to live the way of Jesus and be baptized. During Eastertide, we reaffirm together what it means to serve a Risen Lord in the power of the Spirit, and prepare the newly baptized to understand our theology and use the gifts of the Spirit in ministry in the world. See "Worship Planning for Eastertide, Year B" for a planning guide to use the Eastertide lectionary texts to plan worship that supports the missional purpose of this season.
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On this "Day of Days" and throughout this season, prepare to pull out all the stops to convey and celebrate the mystery of the Resurrection. Many congregations will fill their worship spaces with lilies or other fragrant, white flowers today. Some may use incense as a sign of our praise and prayers joining with the praise and prayers of all the saints on earth and in heaven. Baptismal candidates or those newly baptized may be invited to wear white robes throughout the season as a sign of the new life they have received. If you are offering baptism, use plenty of water (see more below on this); and if you are receiving persons by profession of faith or confirmation today, use plenty of oil as well. Consider grinding incense into the oil to create a fragrance that will last as a reminder of the work of the Spirit in baptism and receiving professing members. Trumpets and other bold instruments may become part of the musical ensemble today, and perhaps for the entire season as well. And it would be hoped that the bread you use for Holy Communion today, as well as the juice or wine, is of the very finest quality. This is the feast of victory for our God! (See UMH 638.)
The reading from Acts today is sheer proclamation. Let the text be read well so that it can be heard well. Cornelius had already heard some things about Jesus that were "in the air," so to speak. But what he had heard was not enough, and perhaps not entirely accurate. Peter's role was to help Cornelius know with confidence what most needed to be known about Jesus.
There were two key elements in Peter's proclamation. First, God raised Jesus from the dead and ordained him as judge of the living and the dead. Second, Peter and his colleagues were eyewitnesses of these things and commissioned by Christ to proclaim this in all the world.
The church in the power of the Risen Jesus does the same things today. We proclaim the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus as Judge of the living and the dead. And we are sent to make this proclamation in all the world. How has Christ called your congregation to be witnesses of these things where you are?
As you and your worship planning team think about how to illustrate this text with artwork, dance, or projected imagery, ask yourselves what is "in the air" about Jesus in your community and culture that has any accuracy about it. Then ask what it is that you have been given by God to proclaim that isn't in the culture, including -- but perhaps not limited to -- the reality of the resurrection of Jesus and his coming again as judge of the living and the dead.
I Corinthians 15 addresses the reality that some of the earliest Christians questioned or rejected the necessity or even the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul rejects that rejection. Resurrection is not an "add-on" to the gospel or the faith of Christians. It is "of first importance" (I Corinthians 1:3). The resurrection of Jesus cannot be separated out or taken away if the gospel we have received is still to remain gospel.
The language and its tone through the chapter are somewhat contentious. But in the verses selected for today, what we have is simply Paul's retelling of the matters of first importance, followed by his account of the many appearances of Jesus to others, including himself, after his resurrection.
In your worship planning team, think about the tone you need to take with the possibly larger than normal number of worshipers who may gathering with you today. Do you need to address their doubts about resurrection with reason and logic, or even strong assertions? (Perhaps you do!) Or do you need to have them enter into this text's sweeping movement of ever more appearances and tellings of the Risen Lord? (Perhaps this would work better where you are.) This is for you and your team to decide.
If you choose the latter, consider how to create a visual and kinetic experience of being surrounded by witnesses who would add their Amens and Alleluias to the declaration that Jesus Christ is risen. Here is one suggestion: First, take brief pauses after each witness or group of witnesses to the resurrection is named. Second, during this pause, either project images of these witnesses on a screen or a wall (adding new projections in other places after each section) or unveil artwork depicting these persons at a different place in the worship space. Third, at the end of the reading, invite all those present who consider themselves to be witnesses to the resurrection to stand. By the end of the reading, the screen or the room will be filled with images of witnesses and what may be a large number of people standing as living witnesses.
The United Methodist version of the Revised Common Lectionary gives us two choices for this morning -- John and Mark. In John, the empty tomb is verified as a fact, but its meaning and implications are left up to each person for the time being. Peter sees and goes home. The beloved disciple (perhaps John?) sees and believes (something!), but the very next line leaves it unclear whether he believes that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Mary Magdalene leaves weeping, and later believes when one she thinks is a gardener calls her by name and then sends her to tell the others of his accomplished resurrection and soon-to-be-accomplished ascension.
How do people in your congregation and community respond to the empty tomb, even on a day like today when Christians most strongly affirm the empty tomb and a resurrected Savior? Are they observant but skeptical, like Peter? Believing in something but not sure what, like John? Or have they encountered the risen Lord calling them by name and sending them, like Mary? Consider using images of each of these apostles as they are introduced in the text.
And don't stop with what they thought before their encounters with the Risen Lord. This text does not stop there. It concludes where we are called to conclude: with one of those who have seen the Lord telling others the good news. (See illustration above).
If you use John, be sure to remind folks during the invitation that at the Lord's Table, the Risen Christ invites all who love him and earnestly repent of their sin, and he calls us, like he called Mary, by name.
In Mark, the women who come are sent to tell others by the dazzlingly bright young man they meet there. But at least at first, they are too awestruck to speak. We know that eventually they did speak (else we wouldn't be here!). But the oldest and most reliable manuscripts of Mark's gospel conclude with their awe at what they have seen and heard. It is an open invitation for us to do the same in worship today -- to abide for a while in the sheer awe of this news.
Which way will those who gather today most need to go? Do they need to move toward hearing Christ calling them by name and sending them to tell others? Or might they need simply to abide for a time in the wonder of it all before moving on to the "next thing" in worship?
As with so much of this holy week, the ritual and the Scriptures today may carry and move people far more deeply than any sermon could. Particularly if you and your team are leading toward Mark's gospel, think seriously about not offering a sermon, but rather offering a time of extended, awe-filled praise that all can enter. Think about choir or praise band leading the congregation in singing Easter hymns and choruses proclaiming and praising God for the resurrection. We often talk about helping people "let out" their needs, their hurts and pain to God in prayer. This is a day -- and a season!-- to help people let out their joyous praise to God for what God has done for each and all of us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Don't force the praise, but do invite and move people to praise that swells to the rafters and beyond.
And from such praise, move into joyous, confident prayer, and then to the Lord's Table.
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Embodying the Word: Holy Communion
The Scriptures and the day itself cry out for Holy Communion. No musical extravaganza and no sermon can possibly take the place or should displace the fullest celebration of the living presence of our Risen Lord in body and blood.
What more tangible way do we experience Christ coming to each of us, individually, than in Holy Communion? This is the body of Christ, given for you. This is the blood of Christ, poured out for you.
Holy Communion today should be as joyous and celebratory as possible. Christ is risen! Death is vanquished! Christ is risen! Sin's power is gone. Christ is risen! Hell is conquered. Christ is risen! New life has come! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
You just HAVE to stand and sing the Great Thanksgiving today. Pick a version your congregation knows, or create a new one based on a joyous tune your congregation knows. Knowing the tune is important so all can stand and sing and maybe even shout with joy.
Likewise, selecting a prayer with familiar words is important today, for newcomer and oldtimer alike. Use "The Great Thanksgiving for Easter Day or Season" (UMBOW 66-67), which includes the basic text of the Great Thanksgiving most often used and adds joyous proclamations of the meaning and power of Christ's resurrection. If you can, project the words, so the congregation can have their hands free to raise them in praise to God throughout the prayer.
Approach: This is the Sunday of Sundays. Expectations are high. Attendance will be high. The temptation is to blow the trumpet as loudly as you can for the whole service! Will the people go away having encountered Jesus risen? Or will people leave with the impression of a church trying too hard to impress? Do you shout "He is risen!" Or do you whisper it? Or do you say it the way you talk when you are breathless? Like a good musician, modulate the flow of energy in this service.
We recommend that you plan the worship for this day guided by the church's "Word and Table" ritual in The United Methodist Book of Worship:
- Pages 16-32 for a flexible outline.
- Pages 66-67 for a full text (based on as Word and Table II in The United Methodist Hymnal).
- Numbers 377-400 for specific acts of worship for Easter Day and the Great Fifty Days.
The New Handbook of the Christian Year by Hoyt L. Hickman and others offers specific guidance in planning the Easter Sunday service.
What you do in the service(s) will depend on who will be present and how you seek to address the dynamic balance of longtime worshipers/members and newcomers/infrequent guests. The temptation may be to "keep it light" in order not to expect too much of the new or infrequent attendees. But thinking pastorally, is that the best move? Hospitality to the stranger and a generous welcome are needed and essential to all Christian worship, but there need be no apology or condescension for the story and reality we celebrate on this day, nor for the rich and imaginative actions we use to tell it.
Baptism and the Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant: If your congregation has been journeying with candidates for baptism at Easter, make the sacrament of baptism, inclusive of the laying on of hands and Holy Communion, central to the Easter Day worship. If you will be holding an Easter Vigil service and if you will baptize candidates at that service, you may still want to consider reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant and Holy Communion in the service on Easter Day. Certainly, you will want to include in prayer the names of those newly baptized.
Here are resources to use for any baptisms, reaffirmations, confirmations or welcoming of new members, as of 2008 General Conference action:
Remember, Baptismal Covenant I is designed for a variety of purposes, including baptism, confirmation, and receiving new members. Baptismal Covenant II is designed for baptism for those who do not speak for themselves. Baptismal Covenant IV is designed for a congregational reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant, primarily in cases where no baptisms or confirmations are being offered and no new members are being received.
Baptismal Covenant Service III is no longer appropriate for people professing their faith, as it does not contain the vows of the baptismal covenant and professing membership recognized by the 2004 Discipline.
For step by step guidance in how to use Baptismal Covenant I, see "Voicing and Enacting the Baptismal Covenant."
Be sure to use plenty of water! See "Using Water in Baptism and Reaffirmation: How Much and By Whom?" for a more detailed discussion of how to use water in reaffirmation in ways that do not confuse it for baptism. Time: Imagine it! Fullness of proclamation, recollection of our baptism, and experience of the risen Christ in Holy Communion in an hour? You betcha! Keep to the essentials, and keep the flow of the service moving. What eats up time in worship are often secondary acts at the expense of the primary ones.
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Pre-Greeting/Prelude: Stages on the Way: Worship Resources for Lent, Holy Week and Easter, pages 190-192, "The three women" (Easter script 1)
- BOW 382
- "This is the Good News," Stages on the Way, page 181
Call to Worship: UMH 658, "This is the Day" (Psalm) Prayer:
- UMH 320, "Easter Vigil or Day" (Easter)
- Stages on the Way, page 186, "Jesus Christ, we greet you!" (John)
- Stages on the Way, page 193, "Glory be to you" (Easter)
- UMH 360, "Freedom in Christ"
- Stages on the Way, pages 194-195, "Christ has died, Christ has risen." This is a prayer action with symbolic action of inviting people to plant seeds as a sign of their desire to be part of the Kingdom's work. One possibility would be to include it as part of reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant .
Intercessory Prayer: BOW 399, Week 1 (Easter), followed by any of the forms on 395-397 (bidding prayers)
Baptism, Confirmation, Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant
Great Thanksgiving for Holy Communion on Easter Day:
- BOW 66-67
- A Contemporary Service of Holy Communion
- Church of England Eucharistic Prayers
- From New Zealand (The third prayer, based on the third century text, "Apostolic Tradition," may be particularly appropriate today.)
Resources for Youth Service or Sunrise Service:
- BOW 199, "Come! Come! Everybody Worship"
- BOW 203, "Tino tenda Jesu" ("Thank You Jesus")
- Stages on the Way, pages 182-183, "Lord God, early in the morning" (Easter Prayer 1)
- See above for other suggestions from Stages on the Way.
Resources for an Easter Evening: Stages on the Way, pages 196-207. These resources invite the use of candles and meditative engagement with Easter.
Resources from Worship & Song, Pew Edition
3088, "Easter Alleluia," would make a fantastic processional for Easter Sunday morning, with the choir singing the opening alleluia and the first verse, then alternating between high and low voices (choir and congregation) and singing the final verse all together. The tune is based on a Renaissance dance melody, and cries out for a "Renaissance style" accompaniment of drum and pipe.
3090, "The Easter Song," was made popular by Keith Green in the 1980s, but still holds its own as text and tune. Consider singing verse 1 before reading the gospel and verse 2 afterward, especially if you work from Mark today.