Planning - The Third Sunday of Easter
- Revised Common Lectionary Readings
- Worship Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
- Suggestions from Worship & Song
Acts 2:14a, 36-41.
The message of the resurrection of the crucified one compels a response: "What shall we do?" Repent, and be baptized -- then the life of the risen Christ will come to you.
Psalm response: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 (UMH 837).
"Then I called on the name of the LORD: 'O LORD, I pray, save my life!'" Sing Response 1 with cantor or congregation singing the Psalm to Tone 3 in F major.
1 Peter 1:17-23.
Those baptized into the Risen One are exiles who live in reverent fear, hope because the blood of Christ ransoms us and love one another, and others, from the heart.
The road to Emmaus. Jesus reminds two dispirited followers of all they have seen and heard, its grounding in Scripture, and what next steps they can take to live this way now. They "get it" only when he breaks the bread. (Hint: Today has to include Holy Communion!).
For Leccionario Comn Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes (pdf), click here.
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Christian Calendar. Today is the third Sunday of Easter. We have journeyed 15 days of 50 into this season of celebrating resurrection and discerning and claiming the Spirit's gifts and callings for our lives.
Today, May 8, is a day of many possible emphases. It is the third Sunday of Easter, Mother's Day (US)/Festival of the Christian Home (Worldwide) and Native American Ministries Sunday (one of six Special Sundays with offering in the United Methodist Church, with many additional resources on the Discipleship Ministries website). Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (Korean resources on umc.org) and Christian Home Month continue
Remember in your planning these principles:
- The primary celebration for Sunday is always the Lord's Day, and in particular for this day, the continuation of Eastertide -- the season of celebration, formation, and calling for ministry in the name of our Risen Lord. Let these larger purposes for this day in this season and the Scriptures for this day provide the basic framework that guides you in how you celebrate or recognize the others.
- Mother's Day is important, but should not take center stage during worship. Remember mothers during the intercessions, invite mothers to be readers and other worship leaders today, and consider offering a celebration for mothers after worship.
- Native American Ministries Sunday is an invitation to be in partnership with Native Americans in ministry. Begin planning now (if you haven't already) for how this service will reflect ministry WITH rather than ABOUT Native Americans in your community and the larger connection of The United Methodist Church. See the Native American worship resources available on our website, and select those that seem most appropriate to the Scriptures or biblical theme for this day.
- Asian Pacific American Heritage month may be an opportunity to learn hymns that are familiar to Christians of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. Dean McIntyre's article will give you some helpful starting places with The United Methodist Hymnal and The Faith We Sing.
- Christian Home Month is primarily about strengthening daily devotional life and other programming for families. The resource guide (pdf) also includes some worship resources.
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The theme uniting this week's texts is "Live What You Have Heard." It's not enough to hear and believe rationally, to accept the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a kind of historical or even theological (philosophical) proposition. The Risen One himself calls us to follow him, to live as he has taught us.
Those who heard Peter's sermon at Pentecost in our reading from Acts 2 got the point immediately. "What must we do?" they asked, with apparent urgency. Their question was not, "How shall we understand this?" Neither was it, "What does this have to do with us?" It was "What must we do?"" The fact of the resurrection of the Crucified One demands a response with our lives. And Peter had a clear answer: "Repent and be baptized."
Repent and be baptized.
Repentance is more than saying we're sorry or feeling bad. Repentance is not apology. The Hebrew verb translated "repent" is "shuv" (prounounced shoov). It's primary meaning is a physical act of turning, of changing direction. Its wider meaning involves "re-turning," coming back to God.
Baptism is the public ritual acknowledgment of our own spiritual death, and the gracious initiative of God to birth us anew. The first baptismal question, "Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins?" gets at this. We acknowledge the path we are on is broken, and no amount of repair we might attempt can ever make it right. We renounce it, we reject it, we turn and walk a different way. We acknowledge with these who would become some of our earliest brothers and sisters that our path is the same as theirs had been and leads to the same end: we will be murderers, co-conspirators with murderers, or supporters of murderers of the innocent, killing the Son of God. The path we are on can lead only to death. We turn from it and will walk it no longer.
God offers us new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ whom we and all who have shared our path have crucified. God offers us a new path on which to walk, the way of the Crucified and Risen One. We are baptized, cleansed, born anew by water and Spirit to walk in this new path, this way of eternal life. And we are filled with the Spirit from that moment forward to make that path our own, more and more, as we learn how to live out the deliverance we have been freely given in Christ.
What are the signs of the powers of death at work in your midst? What are the concrete things those newly baptized have just turned from? Use images and soundscapes to remind your worshping community of these concrete, real things they've turned from.
What are the signs of the way of the Risen One, the way of God's kingdom happening in your midst? Use images and soundscapes to remind your worshiping community of these real things and practices they have now turned toward, and the life, power and joy known in the turning, the being born anew, and the walking in what the Spirit is doing all around them.
We continue to hear the baptismal sermon from I Peter today. Last week was foundations -- the declaration of the resurrection. This week is ethics -- how we live in response to what God has done for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Last week's words were bold theology. This week's are no less bold -- but bold challenges about how we will live as a result.
As those born anew in the Risen Christ, we live in exile (verse 17). What images or stories speak of exile in your congregation and community? We have been set apart from the world system into which we were born by the flesh. We now live as those so set apart, as exiles. We do that not from arrogance, but reverent fear, remembering that it was nothing less than the blood of Jesus that ransomed us from the futile ways we had been taught for generations. "His oath, his covenant, his blood/Support me in the whelming flood" ("My Hope Is Built," UMH 368, vs. 3).
The language of ransom here may be unfamiliar or unexplained for many in your worshiping community. It's a word that seems to travel in Christian language with other "r" words, such as redemption and reconciliation; but it isn't a synonym of either. Ransom in current use is what is paid to a kidnapper to gain the safe release of the one taken. Ransom in the biblical world has that kind of meaning, but only as a special case of a larger social reality: slavery. One pays the ransom for another to set the other free from bondage to another.
Note what the "master" is in Peter's sermon. It is "the futile ways you inherited from your ancestors." We are not ransomed from Satan, as the fourth century theologian Gregory of Nyssa would later suggest in a catechetical lecture that became the basis for a whole theory of how God saved us through the death of Jesus. It is not "God's justice," or even "God's majesty offended," as Anselm of Canterbury would use even later to describe why God had to become human and die for us (Cur Deus Homo). In Peter's sermon, it's about us. It's about the "futile practices" human cultures have created over time. In the incarnation, life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has ransomed us from ourselves.
There has always been a fairly high rate of recidivism, of prisoners offending again and returning to prison after they complete their sentence and are set free. The latest in-depth study of this phenomenon in the U.S. found an overall recidivism rate of 67.5 percent for adult offenders within three years of release. For many, this is because prison had become their life. It's how they know how to live. They no longer know how to live "outside." So they act out in ways that ensure they can return "inside."
God intends no such recidivism rate for those God has ransomed from our futile ways with the blood of Jesus. God has indeed ransomed us from those ways, and empowers us by the Spirit and with the church to be encultured into and learn and live the ways of the kingdom of God announced by and embodied in Jesus.
And what is the sign of staying free? Peter proclaims it is "genuine mutual love," which they had come to be able to express through "obedience to the truth" (1:22). That phrase implies that these newly baptized had received instruction not only in doctrine about Jesus, but in how to live in his way (and perhaps primarily that!) during some time of preparation prior to baptism. This instruction was not didactic (here are the guidelines, learn what they are), but eminently practical (this is how to live in the way of Jesus, and we'll watch over you and help you catch on). Lent served that role of intensive final preparation beginning in the second century, though in some cases we know that the total time of preparation could be three years or longer and focused primarily, as this verse implies, on how to live as those ransomed by God.
What's the spiritual recidivism rate where you are? What percentage of folks learn obedience to the truth so that when the ransom is applied they do not fall back into their futile ways? What is happening through your congregation or other groups folks connect with to increase the obedience and genuine mutual love from the heart and decrease spiritual recidivism? Who has a testimony of not returning to spiritual prison? Who has a testimony of what they do to help others learn obedience to the truth and genuine mutual love?
And where are those who have learned genuine mutual love?
Spend some time in your worship planning committee identifying these folks, then speak with them or invite them to come speak with you about ways their stories and their learnings can inform the reading or other focus around this text today.
And be sure to remember visuals -- whether projected or physical objects or art -- that help bring this message home.
Luke gives us the story of the two unnamed followers of Jesus walking away from Jerusalem toward Emmaus. They have given up. The execution of Jesus left them stunned, wondering what to do next. So they've headed home, it seems, to try to find some way to resume life in the "real world."
Are there disillusioned Christ-followers in your congregation and community? Where have they seen Christ crucified, even in the congregation and wondered if they (or if the church, not just your congregation) are living a delusion?
Jesus reminds them just how grounded and real what they had seen and heard in their time with him was and how it lies at the heart of the Scriptures themselves, law, prophets and writings.
How ready are you as a congregation or in some other form of gathering -- such as a small group or even as individuals -- to come alongside disillusioned ones and show them God's truth about Christ revealed in Scripture, cover to cover? Who shows the way on this? How do they do it? How might more be encouraged to do likewise?
Of course a scriptural exegesis alone won't work when we're talking to people for whom Scripture has no particular authority. They'll have to see the truth of the Resurrection revealed in the life of your worshiping community -- how you live in response to the truth that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. When they come to trust you, then maybe they'll come to trust the Scriptures as they see what you do cohering with the Scriptures, or at least striving to do so.
So who are the people in your congregation and community -- maybe not even part of our denomination -- but people you and others know who are making the resurrection of Christ real in the world around them? What stories do these people tell? What images do they draw on? How are they such authentic witnesses, Scripture lived out?
But don't settle today for just stories from others. Be sure today people encounter Jesus exactly as the disillusioned ones encountered him and came to know who he was -- at the breaking of the bread, at the Lord's Table.
I've been blessed to have gathered stories and testimonies of laypeople throughout the United Methodist Church in one on one interviews for a video project we've now launched called Living into the Mystery. The questions are simple ones: "When you receive the bread and cup, the body and blood of Christ, what's happening in your heart?" "What is it about celebrating Holy Communion with these particular people of your congregation that makes a difference in your life?" "How does celebrating Holy Communion -- with thanksgiving you offer and Christ himself you receive -- help you to follow Jesus wherever you go and whatever you do?"
The responses are amazing, powerful, moving. They speak of absolutely knowing forgiveness and readiness to move into whatever is coming next. They speak of being set free from having to respond with retaliation. They speak of God saving and cleansing them and keeping them saved, safe and clean wherever they go. They speak of the power of serving and being served and translating that into business relationships. They speak of a glowing light that enters them and abides as they receive Christ anew -- a light they're then able to share with others.
If you were to ask these three questions where you are, what answers might you find? Which of the images might you draw on -- images that help people make that connection between encountering the Risen One and actually following in his way?
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- Mood: It is still Easter-- a time for singing, saying, and dancing "Alleluia! Christ is risen!" The Word of God as witness and proclamation. What is the connection between "our hearts burning within us" and sharing the good news as invitation to enter the life of the community (life within the baptismal covenant) and life in the Spirit (Acts 2:38)?
- Service structure: However you and your local church(es) normally structure Sunday worship, the gospel reading for today contains the basic pattern-- the primal structure -- of Christian worship. See The United Methodist Book of Worship, pages 13-14, for a wonderful introduction to "The Basic Pattern of Worship." See especially the next to the last full paragraph that directly ties to the Luke reading for today. Consider making this a "Word and Table" Sunday; and use this material in the bulletin, in the sermon, or in children's time. People want to see and know the connections between the Bible and the way they worship. "The Basic Pattern of Worship" tells that story! Give strong consideration to making this a Communion Sunday -- the Luke text cries out for it.
- Acts reading: Talk about Igniting Ministries and ReThinking Church! The Acts reading has all the ingredients: a resurrection people, inquiring people, a powerful sermon proclaiming the risen Lord, a message that strikes to the heart, and an invitation and a way to respond. Wow! Peter and the disciples baptized, and 3000 people were added to the company of disciples. What can you and your leadership do to welcome that kind of vigor and robustness to worship in your setting? What would need to be changed? What will it look and sound like? It may not be Pentecost Sunday, but every Sunday ought to be a little Pentecost, as well as a little Easter.
- Baptism: Not only are the Sundays of Easter appropriate days for baptism, they are wonderful days for preaching to the baptized -- both to the newly baptized and to those living in the baptismal covenant for a long time. Note that the Acts and 1 Peter readings are full of baptism and baptismal imagery. See Creative Preaching on the Sacraments by Lester Ruth and Craig Satterlee (Disciplehsip Resources, 2001) for help with this approach to preaching.)
- Living resources: As you plan, think about the people in your church and community and consider how you can invite them to participate in worship. For example, are there Native Americans, Asian Americans, or mothers who can lead in prayer or offer music that enriches your celebration? Are there ecumenical representatives who could bring greetings or lead in prayers for the unity of the church?
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- 425 (Native American Awareness Sunday)
- BOW 389
- BOW 392 or 394
- UMH 321
Prayer for Illumination
- See Season of Ash and Fire, page 72.
Concerns and Prayers
- BOW 395, 396, 397
- See Season of Ash and Fire, pages 72-73.
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Kenya and Tanzania.
Invitation, Confession and Pardon
- UMH 7-8
The Great Thanksgiving for Easter Day or Season:
- BOW 66-67
Dismissal with Blessing/Benediction:
- BOW 559
- BOW 562
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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.
I Peter 1:17-23
3100, "Jesus Paid It All"
A familiar gospel song making its first appearance in a United Methodist denominational collection.
3086, "Day of Arising"
A familiar Gaelic tune (BUNESSAN) accompanies a text by a contemporary Lutheran hymn writer that retells the Emmaus story and invites Christ to be present with us in the same ways today.