Planning - Second Sunday of Easter
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Christians living in Jerusalem show clear signs of the Risen Christ among them by sharing all things, bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus, and caring for all who are in need.
Psalm 133 (UMH 850).
A meditative psalm that celebrates the unity of those who share spiritual life together. Though the psalm was originally designed to celebrate the unity of a group of pilgrims heading toward the temple in Jerusalem, it quickly came to be used to express the unity of the whole people of God around the earth. As an alternate response, consider using "Ubi Caritas," 2179, in The Faith We Sing. For singing the entire psalm, consider Tone 4 in E minor.
1 John 1:12:2.
More signs of the presence of the risen Lord in our midst: honest confession, assurance of God's forgiveness, and lives where sin's power is being overcome.
To help Thomas believe, Jesus showed Thomas the scars in his hands and side and invited Thomas to touch them.
Back to top.
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."
Easter for Christians is not a day, but a season. Think of these weeks as a continuous series of services, each building on the previous, all leading to a crescendo of celebration at Pentecost. During these weeks, 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.
The General Conference of The United Methodist Church begins next week, April 24- May 4, in Tampa, Florida. We hope you will encourage your congregation to join in daily prayer for and with their delegates and leaders. See 50 Days of Prayer for General Conference for resources available in multiple languages and by multiple means to help you join United Methodists around the world in daily prayer.
Next Sunday, April 22, is both Festival of God's Creation (Earth Sunday) and Native American Ministries Sunday (a Sunday with offering). Remember, it is also still Eastertide! So, as you plan worship, plan with Eastertide and its texts in mind first, and find ways to relate the programmatic and offering emphases to the Scriptures for the day.
Back to top.
Atmospherics: "Resurrection IRL (In Real Life)"
"IRL" has become a kind of text and Internet shorthand for distinguishing between "virtual" relationships or actions and face-to-face relationships (not primarily mediated by something like Skype or FaceTime). In virtual relationships, you may be able to communicate with the other person by many means, but the person is not bodily present in the same general space at the time. To be sure, some argue that "virtual relationships" are in fact real relationships, and some of these would even note there is evidence that some people may be more forthcoming and so "real" about themselves in a chat room or via email or instant messaging or Facebook than they might be if you were speaking to them face to face. Folks making this case may object to the phrase "IRL," and might suggest something like IP (in person) or F2F (face to face) as substitutes.
While I respect these arguments, it seems to me that the reality we experience is not limited to "honest communication" through words. That is at best a very thin slice of how we humans are wired to communicate and connect with one another. Most of our communication is much "thicker" and non-verbal. And, lest one were to suggest that webcams have filled in the non-verbal gap sufficiently, much of our non-verbal communication is not mediated by sight or sound, either, but through senses of movement, touch, and even smell. It is in the interaction of all these "input channels" that we actually experience our deepest communication. Anything less becomes less real than "IRL."
Still, we must admit many of us now find ourselves in a cultural context where the "virtual" and the "real" (F2F) are increasingly blurred. For some people, virtual worlds are primary reality in their lives. They may feel closer to the people they know through Facebook, Twitter, gaming or texting than the friends and family with whom they may be physically present at the time. How one manages these virtual relationships (or real relationships mediated or extended through virtual means) can become a primary focus of one's "real" life.
So far, though, and despite the advances made in primates at Miguel Nicolelis's lab at Duke, virtual relationships cannot bring us something today's gospel lesson from John recounts -- real touch in real time. The Risen Jesus invites Thomas to experience directly, through touch, what the other disciples had already seen the week before: the scars remaining on hands, feet, and side from his execution. Touching the scars, in real life and in real time, would prove to Thomas that Jesus was truly dead, and truly risen, IRL (in real life).
In the West and in the Global South through Western missionaries, Christians have made much of Thomas as the "doubter" who is challenged by Jesus to "believe." That may not be entirely a misreading of the text, but it does miss the reading supplied by much early Christian art (including the iconography pictured above) and the ongoing lives and witness of thousands of congregations in and around India who trace their roots to Thomas's missionary work and witness. For the early Christian artists and iconographers, this story wasn't about his own doubt, but about the touch (in real life) that conveyed the truth that Jesus was risen -- in real life! It wasn't about Thomas's skepticism, but his confession, a confession that drove him to all the way from Palestine to India, "My Lord and my God."
That's what today's readings are about -- the reality and real life effects of the resurrection of Jesus -- IRL!
So, two possible strategies to think about as you plan worship around this central text for today.
- From Virtual to Real -- Play with this theme in a variety of ways. Project images of artwork in the beginning of worship, then replace the images with the real thing later on. Use "virtual instruments" (keyboards, iPads, etc) to accompany worship early on; then move more and more toward "unplugged" acoustic instrumentation, especially as you celebrate Communion. Use lots of social media to invite people to this service, and give time early on for some virtual interactions "in real time" in response to a question you post on Twitter with a hashtag of your choosing, posting the results on a screen. Later, as a response to the sermon or perhaps as part of the peace, give people an opportunity to discuss that question with a person actually present in the worship space.
- Realall the way through. Go entirely unplugged. No projection. No electricity (if you can do that safely). Acoustic instruments only. Do you have a large "altar Bible" that you never "really use" in worship? Do all of your readings from it today! Invite people to experience real oil flowing on their heads or foreheads during the Psalm. Sing a capella when you can. Use homemade bread and home madegrape juice (or wine, if that is an option for you) at Communion.
The first reading from Acts addresses the real life effects of the Risen Jesus really present in and among the Christians in Jerusalem. They shared everything they had. They couldn't (and didn't!) stop telling people about the resurrection. And they made sure that no one among them had any basic needs (food, water, shelter, care if sick, etc.) that were not met. There was simply nothing like this happening anywhere else in the culture. Here was real, embodied, mutual love, power, and care that was undeniable and unmatchable -- giving real witness, in real time, that the Lord they declared in their words (virtual?) may actually be alive and active in their midst.
The reading from I John can be confusing if read aloud in a straight translation. Though I will rarely commend this, and it may seem out of place in a service that is all about "real life," consider reading this text instead from a paraphrase such as The Message.
However you choose to read it, keep two things in mind. First, it would appear that verses 1-4 are a kind of introduction to establish the credibility of the writer and the purpose of the writing not part of the argument as such. The "meat" of the text begins in verse 5. So you may wish to start your reading at verse 5 as well.
Second, consider how you might want to play with the light and darkness images that abound in this text. This may be done with lighting, with projected images, or other theatrical or dramatic means.
The gospel reading is set at night, twice. Both appearances of Jesus are illuminated only by oil lamps. Think about how the reading/proclamation/presentation of this text might be enhanced by an experience of subdued lightingor lighting only by candles.
Back to top.
The Sunday after Easter in many congregations may be a "low Sunday" -- low in attendance (compared to the previous Sunday) and, perhaps from exhaustion, in part, low in energy and mood. While attendance issues may be beyond your control, energy and enthusiasm needn't be. Worship planning is as much about building and sustaining the worship energy of the congregation and worship leaders as it is about the specific elements you perform in the liturgy. Do what it takes in terms of planning, self-care, and rejuvenation for yourself, your staff, and your congregation to experience Eastertide as a crescendo that leads to Pentecost, a day of high celebration of more baptisms, confirmations, and commissioning of people into their ministries.
Holy Communion? Again? What better way do we have by which we can know that we are encountering our Risen Lord than by offering thanksgiving and receiving his very body and blood? Indeed, we are blessed without seeing . . . but not without sure and certain knowledge of the presence of our Lord with us as we gather at his Table.
Back to top.
Greeting: BOW 390 (Acts)
Opening Prayer: BOW 392 (1 John)
Litany: UMH 556, Litany for Christian Unity (Acts, Psalm)
Litany: BOW 495, A Litany for the Church and for the World (Acts, Psalm)
Canticle: UMH 205, "Canticle of Light and Darkness" (1 John); see S-1, p. 383.
Prayer: UMH 639, Bread and Justice (Acts, Psalm)
Prayer: BOW 503, For the Church (Acts, John)
Prayer: BOW 518, For Others (Acts)
Prayer of Intercession: BOW 399, Week 2 (Easter)
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession: BOW 396 (John)
Great Thanksgiving for Easter Season: BOW 66
Blessing: BOW 560 (John)
Benediction: BOW 190, "Benediction" (John)
Litany of Thanksgiving: "The Easter Victory" (no. 31) in The Wideness of God's Mercy, p. 89. This Scripture-based litany might work well if you follow the basic pattern of worship (see UMH, p. 2) and are not celebrating Holy Communion as the final prayer before sending the people forth. Use it when the offering is brought to the front. If you are using some projected graphic of the Resurrection, you might have it on the screen during this litany. You could have several people involved in leading, each reading from his/her place one of the sections of the litany to which all respond, "Thanks be to God ..."
Back to top.