Planning -- The Resurrection of Our Lord: The Second Service of Easter
- Revised Common Lectionary Readings
- Worship Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
- Suggestions from Worship & Song
Peter proclaims to Cornelius and his household both what they know about Jesus from widespread reports and what he and the apostles personally witnessed and were commanded to tell: Jesus has been raised from the dead and God has appointed him as judge of the living and the dead.
Psalm 118: (1-2), 14-24 (UMH 839).
This psalm declares God's victory, 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.
Paul reminds the Christians in Colossae, "You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."
Peter and the beloved disciple verify Mary Magdalene's story that the tomb of Jesus is empty. Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Christ, and he sends her to announce his upcoming ascension to the other disciples.
Matthew's telling of the resurrection of Jesus connects the revelation of the event with an earthquake, and angel, and a commission from Jesus himself to Mary Magdalene and another Mary to tell the other disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
Also see Estudios Exegtico: Homilticos -- Spanish-language Revised Common Lectionary resources from Instituto Universitario ISEDET in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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You may be surprised to see today's service called "The Second Service of Easter." It is, in fact, the second of three. The Great Vigil is the first. This is the second. The third is a service for Easter evening with a focus on the story of Jesus and two travelers on the road to Emmaus. You may recall there is a similar pattern for Christmas, with services scheduled on Christmas Eve (the first), Christmas morning (the second), and Christmas evening (the third).
Easter Season begins at sunset on the eve of Easter and extends for fifty days ("The Great Fifty Days") through the Day of Pentecost. (Pentecost means "50" in Greek.)
Historically, Christians have used these 50 days to do two things:
(1) Teach the newly baptized or confirmed the meanings of the sacraments and symbols of our faith and
(2) Help them and the whole worshiping community enter a time of discerning, claiming and/or beginning the ministries for which the Spirit has called and gifted them.
On Pentecost, which culminates these 50 days, we commission all who are ready to begin their ministries and bless all who recommit to ongoing ministries in the name of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
See "The Progression of Eastertide Year A" for a planning guide to help your congregation worship and live out the 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). 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. 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.)
All of today's texts address the resurrection of Jesus, truly joyous news in which we rightly rejoice this day. But don't settle for helping everyone feel joyous about the resurrection!
Which of these texts will you emphasize today, and how? By all means read them all, but do not feel compelled to focus intently on all of them. There's just too much here. So take time in your worship planning team to pray, listen and discern which particular text or texts tell the story of the resurrection of Jesus in a way that best intersects the Spirit's work to "enliven the dry bones" where you are. Pick that as your center, or as Marcia McFee puts it, your "anchor text" or "anchor images," and create out from them.
Put another way, where will your worshiping community be most ready to respond this day? Are they waiting for the greeting from the Risen Lord? Are they wanting to take hold of his feet and worship (John)? Are they ready to get over their fear and go out and meet Christ in whatever Galilee they may find themselves (Matthew)? Are they ready to be called beyond a "me and Jesus feel-good" spirituality to engaged discipleship that takes on the powers that be and the divisions of the world? (Colossians.) Or is there more they need to hear and understand before they are ready to take their next steps (Acts)?
The reading from Acts today is sheer proclamation. Let the text be read well so that it can be heard well. The proclamation hast two parts. One is to confirm what Cornelius had already heard about Jesus from news in the air -- to start with what Cornelius already knows. The second is for Peter to announce his eyewitness testimony to what Cornelius may or may not have heard-- that God raised Jesus from the dead and ordained him as judge of the living and the dead.
This text is strong in itself. It may need simply to be read aloud well. If your worshiping community can respond well to strong reading, do that. Other things may be more distracting than useful for some.
But if your worshiping community can receive the Scriptures better through what they see or what they do more than what they hear, consider how you may accompany the reading of this text with artwork, dance, or projected imagery, even musical accompaniment.
However you need to "perform" this text today, keep in mind the two-fold nature of what Peter proclaimed: first, what was "in the air" about Jesus, and second, what Peter (or in this case, we as disciples of Jesus) know that others -- and today there may be more others than usual present -- may not. Start with what everyone present would know. Then add what they may not, or if they thought they did, may need to see in a new way. For Peter, that was the fact of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the promise that God had made him judge of the living and the dead. What would that be where you are?
Colossians moves us directly from the proclamation of the resurrection to our calling and sending into God's mission. "If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."
While the text goes on to tell us to focus not on "things on the earth," we may be prone to misunderstand Paul's point. The text contrasts "things above" with "things on earth." The key word is "things." Here, it means arrangements, ordering of priorities, or the way "things" go. Don't get trapped as you are living out your mission as disciples of the Risen One, here and how, into thinking that "the powers that be" are the real way "things are." The Risen One is Lord; he establishes what reality is. Live in light of the reality of God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven and Jesus, crucified and risen, as its king.
If this will be your "anchor text," strongly consider extending the reading for today to verse 17. Why? If you end at verse 4, you may be tempted to preach mere comfort about being in Christ. But that was not Paul's point in this chapter. His point was that we are in Christ in order to live fully as his body in the world. This isn't about "me and Jesus" at all. It's about Christ fully inhabiting us and sending us into his mission in the world. That's why we have to get rid of any "earthy things," the "way things are" mentality or practices. That's why we are called to focus on "things above, where Christ is." It's not to make us feel at peace (though it will also do that!). It's to make sure Christ's mission continues through us.
If we do live in Christ, minds focused and bodies directed by "things that are above," there is honesty, trust and forgiveness we will freely offer to all. And all means all, because in Christ all social distinctions forged by the "powers that be" are overcome. "There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free: Christ is all in all!" (Colossians 3:11). Whatever you do, Paul says, wherever you are -- that is, not just "in church" -- "do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17).
The Revised Common Lectionary gives us two choices for the gospel this morning: John and Matthew. If you have celebrated the Great Vigil last night or earlier this morning, plan to use John.
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, but the very next line leaves it unclear whether he believes that Jesus has been raised from the dead or simply that the tomb is empty. Mary Magdalene leaves weeping but believes when one she thinks is a gardener calls her by name and then sends her to tell the others of his resurrection and upcoming ascension. Three different people, three different responses to what they see.
How do people in your worshiping 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 remember that Christ invites all who love him and earnestly repent of their sin to his table, and he calls and sends us each by name.
In Matthew, the women who went to anoint the body of Jesus for burial feel an earthquake and discover an angel has moved the stone sealing the entrance to the tomb. This angel's appearance terrifies the guard, but the angel tells the women not to be afraid, that Christ has risen and is going ahead of them into Galilee.
The angel's commission is not the only one these women receive. They are soon greeted by Jesus himself, who likewise tells them not to be afraid but to go tell the others to meet him in Galilee.
That is the flow of resurrection as Matthew tells it. Christ greets us. We worship. Christ sends us into mission in his name and resurrection power to meet him there, wherever there may be.
If you focus on Matthew today, how will you order worship to embody this flow -- greeting from the Risen Christ, full-bodied worship, and sending to whatever our Galilees may be?
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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 sung version your congregation already knows, or create a new one based on a joyous tune they know or can very easily catch on to. Remember there may be many visitors there who may know few tunes! Don't let that stop you from singingjust be wise in what you select. Knowing or easily learning 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 in our denomination 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.
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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, but as any musician or composer will tell you -- and your congregation will tell you if they don't -- this isn't the best idea. We experience the power of music primarily through contrasts, not sustained highs. Like a good musician, modulate the flow of 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. 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 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.
If you schedule baptisms or confirmation on this day, refer to the revised Baptismal Covenants, available on the Discipleship Ministries website. Baptismal Covenant Services I and IV are appropriate for youth confirmation. Baptismal Covenant Service IV is appropriate for congregational reaffirmation of the baptismal covenant as well. Be sure to use plenty of water! For step by step guidance in leading these services, see "Voicing and Enacting the Baptismal Covenant." Also see "Using Water in Baptism and Reaffirmation."
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.You do not need to rush any of the essentials -- congregational singing, praying, reading and boldly proclaiming the Scriptures and sacraments. What eats up time in worship are often secondary acts at the expense of the primary ones (such as announcements and "special" music) and the often false belief that people come primarily to hear a lengthy sermon!
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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 (1 Corinthians).
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: UMH 33-54
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: www.liturgy.co.nz/html/ordinarytmliturgy.html#euchpr
(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.
Worship & Song is a new collection of musical and worship resources from The United Methodist Publishing House with the assistance of staff from Discipleship Ministries. It is available in multiple kinds of editions, both print and electronic, and online at the hwww.worshipandsong.com. As we did for The Faith We Sing when it was first released, we will provide suggestions for music and worship resources from this collection as relevant for the season or Scriptures.
Opening Hymns for Easter
3088, "Easter Alleluia"
3090, "The Easter Song"
Acts 10 3154, "Draw the Circle Wide"
3189, "There Is a Higher Throne"
3032, "Across the Lands"
3090, "The Easter Song"
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