The Third Sunday of Easter
The Supper at Emmaus. From the Cathedral of the Annunciation (Melkite) in Jerusalem.
Public Domain. The Greek text above the table, “Emmaus: The Breaking of the Bread.”
As you look at this, imagine the “halo” with the words “The One Who Is” suddenly appearing as Jesus breaks the bread.
Next to it, “Jesus Heals the Blind Man”
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Acts 2:14a, 36-41.
Peter declares God had made the risen Jesus both Lord and Christ. The people respond, "What must we do?" "Repent and be baptized."
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.
How to live as the baptized: in reverent fear of God, and with deep affection for one another 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" (and recognize him) only when he breaks the bread. (Hint: Today has to include Holy Communion!).
Back to top.
Easter is a season, not a one-day event. The Great Fifty Days reach from Easter Day up to and including the Day of Pentecost.
The discipling purpose of Easter Season historically is twofold. The first purpose is doctrinal. Easter Season was (and is) a season to for “mystagog,” teaching the “mysteries of the faith” (core doctrinal matters) to the newly baptized and reminding the rest of these core teachings. Second, it is a time to help the newly baptized, and indeed all the baptized, discern, claim or reclaim their spiritual gifts and their calling to ministry in Christ’s name and the Spirit’s power. Easter Season culminates with Pentecost, where we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (doctrine) and commission persons into their ministries (ministry).
Every Sunday, and the days between them, has both a doctrinal focus and ministry focus. These helps for this season will help you and your team plan worship and other formational opportunities around both.
Today is also Native American Ministries Sunday, one of six “Special Sundays” (Sundays with denomination-wide special offerings) throughout the year. Funds for this special offering help support Native American Ministries within your annual conference, the work of GBGM to support rural and urban Native American congregations, ministries and communities, and scholarships for Native American United Methodists attending United Methodist and other University Senate approved seminaries. Native American Ministries Sunday is an invitation to be in partnership in ministry with Native Americans. 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.
Today is also the first Sunday in Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
And Christian Family Week begins Monday, May 5, as lead up to Festival of the Christian Home and Mothers Day next Sunday.
That’s at least two additional emphases beyond the Scriptures, plus a special offering to keep track of today. And of course Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Christian Home Month continue throughout the whole month of May.
Our Book of Worship is clear about such occasions. “Such Special Sundays should never take precedence over the particular day in the Christian Year. The Special Sundays are placed on the calendar in the context of the Christian Year, which is designed to make clear the calling of the Church as the people of God” (UMBOW 422, emphasis added).
So as you plan for today, and days like today with many competing “agendas,” here are your priorities.
1. Start with the purpose of the season. For Easter Season, those priorities are around the mystagogy. For more information see “Keeping Easter Season in Year A.”
2. Do primary planning with the Scriptures for the day that support the seasonal priority.
3. Determine how emphases of a denomination-wide Special Sunday with offering or other appointed Special Sunday may best fit within the seasonal and Scriptural priorities.
4. Incorporate other denominational or programmatic elements (Christian Home Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month) around these, to the degree the overall result is coherent. Often, these “special months” may be given better and more appropriate attention in other areas of a congregation’s program ministry (education, music, outreach efforts) than in worship per se.
April 20-June 8: Easter Season
May 5-11 Christian Family Week
May 17-18 Change the World Weekend
May 24 Aldersgate Day
May 26 Memorial Day (USA)
May 29 Ascension of the Lord
June 8 Pentecost
June 15 Trinity Sunday, Father's Day and Peace with Justice Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
June 19 Juneteenth
July 4 Independence Day (USA)
Back to School Resources
Back to top.
Atmospherics: Live What You Have Seen and Heard
The theme uniting this week's texts is "Live What You Have Seen and 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. The doctrinal focus for this week is “The Mystery of Messiah Made Known in the Breaking of the Bread.” It’s a good week to focus on how the gospel reading in particular illuminates what happens in “this holy mystery” of Holy Communion. The ministry focus is “Living as the Changed People You Are.”
Back to top.
Doctrinal Focus: The Mystery of Messiah Made Known in the Breaking of the Bread
The gospel reading from Luke is familiar to many. Two unnamed disciples of Jesus, utterly stunned and disillusioned by the crucifixion of Jesus and not convinced by stories by some of the women of their number that they had seen a vision of an angel telling of his resurrection, were heading toward a village called Emmaus. On the way, they encountered a stranger who seemed aware of their pain, but oblivious to its cause. So they filled him in. Then he filled them in with an account of the Scriptures that could make sense of all that had happened, and even the reported resurrection. It was getting late, so they invited the intriguing stranger to dinner and to stay the night.
At table, he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it them. Immediately, they recognized him, and at that very moment, he vanished. He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
And so generations of Christians have had the risen Lord made known to them at the breaking of the bread we call Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. Indeed, so Christian worship has been constructed, as our Book of Worship reminds (p. 14), from the earliest centuries on. We enter with all our uncertainties and disillusionments from the week that is past. We hear the Scriptures opened up to us. We gather around a table together, take bread, bless it, and break it. And in its sharing, Christ is made known to us. At his vanishing, these disciples also vanished, sent into the world to proclaim what and whom they had found. And so are we sent from the Lord’s table to live as we have prayed.
In Your Planning Team
The reason we worship as we do, as well as the meaning of what we do when we celebrate Holy Communion, may be opaque to the recently baptized as well as many long-time attenders of your congregation. Today is a day to lift the veil a bit on both.
As you consider how you may do so, let me point you to a video project I had the opportunity to be part of a few years ago, one that speaks directly to the theme of this day: how we experience the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread, and what happens when we do.
The project is called, Living into the Mystery. The questions were 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 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.
Consider watching this video together in your planning team to prime your conversation as you plan worship centered on this doctrinal focus for this day. And then ask yourselves the same questions those interviewed in the video were asked:
"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 help you to follow Jesus wherever you go and whatever you do?"
See what images, ideas, and directions emerge as you answer these questions in your planning meeting. And consider how this video, and these questions, might also guide the way you plan worship, preaching, and the celebration of the Lord’s Table on this day.
Back to top.
Ministry Focus: Living as the Changed People You Are
Peter’s sermon continues.
Last week he addressed the bewildered who wondered why there were over 100 people preaching in the streets in languages most of them couldn’t possibly know. Peter reminded them of the ministry and execution of Jesus, then said, “This Jesus God raised up, and all of us are witnesses” (Acts 2:32, NRSV). These people preaching like this, they’re all witnesses of the resurrection of their miracle-working master. Okay, if that’s the case, if they believe he is raised, that might explain this behavior.
But what Peter says next turns the tables. Starting in verse 33, Peter claims this raised man is more than prophet or miracle worker. He ascended into heaven, and is exalted at the right hand of God. And this preaching isn’t just human enthusiasm, it is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from the risen, ascended Jesus. And then the kicker: “Therefore, let the whole house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (verse 36, NRSV).
Now Peter’s proclamation isn’t just about a strange but local phenomenon. Now it’s about God, the allegation that they had executed the Messiah and God raised him from the dead. Now it’s personal. And now it demands a personal response.
Those who heard Peter's sermon at Pentecost in our reading from Acts 2 understood that immediately. "What must we do?" they asked. 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.” 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). Its 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 misleading, 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 become 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 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 continue to turn from old allegiances and habits and learn how to live out the deliverance we have been freely given in Christ.
The three-year catechumenate in the early church, capped by the 40 days of Lent for those who were in their final stages of preparation, focused on teaching candidates the practices they would need to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, to live out the vows of the baptismal covenant. But early Christians understood this grounding in practices over three years, as important as it was, did not and could not replace what the outpouring of the Spirit would do and enable beginning with their baptisms. It simply made them more amenable for what would come next.
Put another way, the catechumenate gave candidates an apprenticeship in Christian discipleship and some basic tools and training in using them while they watched their trainers use power tools they were not yet authorized to use. With baptism, they now had the power tools, and the power was switched on. It was time to put their training into practice and live as fully as they could as disciples themselves.
Our excerpt from the baptismal sermon called I Peter today points to what it’s like to live with power tools and the power switched on.
As those born anew in the Risen Christ, we live in exile (verse 17). We have been set apart from the world system into which we were born by the flesh. 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—like 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 this 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 I Peter, we are ransomed from 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 so returning to prison after they complete their sentence and are set free. The latest in-depth study of this phenomenon in the US found an overall recidivism rate of 67.5% for adult offenders within three years of release. In 2007 alone, 54.4% of those on placed on parole from state or federal prisons failed parole within only one year (see Table 7 in the linked document). 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, no spiritual infant mortality, 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.
In Your Planning Team
Acts points to the degree of change God provides for us—through repentance and baptism.
I Peter addresses what life for the baptized should look like once the power is switched on, once we are “ransomed from our futile ways,” which is also to say, once we are set free from our slavery to sinful ways by the Spirit.
Discuss where your congregation most needs to focus in worship today if worship will be primarily about this week’s ministry focus: Repentance? (Acts) Baptism? (Acts and I Peter) Life post-ransom? (I Peter) Or ways to reduce recidivism? (I Peter and my article on early Methodism and Covenant Discipleship Groups, “End Spiritual Infant Mortality”). Pick just one for your worship focus, then design other processes (small-group discussions, email or social media reminders, education groups, mission groups, planning groups) to address the others.
Whichever one of these you decide is most important for your worship focus, first share your own stories around it (like, how repentance happened/happens for you, or what has helped you stay faithful), then consider who else in the congregation or wider community may have a story to tell about this issue that others need to hear, and send members of your planning team to record the story (and permission to share it) or invite the person to share it as a live testimony in worship.
Then select hymns, songs, and artwork/graphics that best illustrate the focus as expressed in the Scriptures and the stories that will be shared by some means in worship.
Back to top.
Embodying the Word: Creed/Confession for Easter 3
In the English-speaking world, the use of creeds has seen a resurgence during the past decade across the spectrum from traditional to contemporary to emergent worshiping communities. More and more Christians are seeing the value of boldly proclaiming their faith during worship using words Christians have shared for decades or centuries. During this past decade, there has also been an explosion in the writing and use of new confessions of faith—whether sung or spoken.
If your congregation has fallen away from using creeds in worship, or simply never adopted the practice, the Easter Season is a good time to reclaim or start. Week after week, the Scriptures boldly declare the resurrection of Jesus. Why shouldn’t the body of Christ respond with an equally bold declaration?
The key is to declare the creeds boldly. No mere reading. No muttering. The creeds and confessions of faith are poetic, prophetic acclamations for the whole worshiping community to proclaim aloud.
When do you use the creed? Our basic service order (Word and Table I, UMH 7) indicates they are a response to the word read and proclaimed. In some earlier forms of Methodist Sunday worship, built more on Morning Prayer than a Lord’s Day Order, or modeled more on Reformed than Anglican models, the confession of faith happens at the beginning of worship, a way for the congregation to begin worship by idenitifying who and whose we are. Here in Easter Season, either placement can work, but after the word is read and proclaimed may make more sense.
Recommended Confessions for the Third Sunday of Easter:
The World Methodist Social Affirmation UMH 886 (Acts, I Peter)
A Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada, UMH 883 (Luke)
“In defiance of corruption” Worship & Song Worship Resources 77 (Acts, I Peter)
“We are children of God” W&S WR 82 (I Peter)
Back to top.
- 425 (Native American Awareness Sunday)
- BOW 389
- BOW 392 or 394
- UMH 321
Concerns and Prayers
- BOW 395, 396, 397
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda
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
Resources from Worship&Song, Pew Edition
I Peter 1:17-23 3100 “Jesus Paid It All”
A familiar gospel song making its first appearance in a United Methodist denominational collection.
Luke 24:13-35 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.
Back to top.