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Please be sure to check out my “Special Resources” page for all Holy Week special services, including Easter Vigil and Easter “SonRise” Service.
Long before Rob Bell wrote his latest book, I remember hearing a preacher proclaim “Love Wins!” on Easter Sunday. And indeed, love has won. Death does not have the final word, for love is eternal. We have observed Lent, remembering where we have gone wrong, where we have needed repentance, and calling out for justice for those whose voices have been silenced, seeking ways of restoration and healing. Easter is the ultimate reconciliation: violence and death are replaced by love and life, forever.
There are several choices for readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for Easter Sunday:
Jeremiah 31:1-6 is a song of restoration. After going through the horrors of the exile, it seems impossible to envision a time of renewal and restoration, and yet the prophet Jeremiah proclaims “Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant and shall enjoy the fruit” (vs. 5). Jeremiah’s song is not only about the restoration of the people but the reuniting of the kingdom. It is a song of reconciliation. What has divided the people will no longer exist. Even into the book of Revelation, the song is sung: “Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.” The earthly boundaries that have separated the people from their God are gone. The political triumphs of the Assyrians and the Babylonians that forced the people into exile and destroyed the temple of worship are no longer remembered. God and the people will dwell together in unity. A perfect song to sing on Easter Sunday as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and the reconciliation and restoration of humanity’s relationship with God.
Acts 10:34-43, an alternate reading, is Peter’s proclamation that Christ has died and now lives for everyone. This passage takes place long after that day the women found the tomb empty, but is an appropriate reading for this day. Peter has, through the witness of Cornelius and the help of a vision from the Lord, recognized that the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for the world and proclaims that Christ has been ordained by God as the judge of the living and the dead. Jesus is no longer only the Jewish Messiah, but the anointed one for the whole world, and that the whole world is invited into the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 may sound familiar, and that’s because on Palm Sunday the Psalm reading was also vs. 1-2 and 19-29. Again, it is a song of triumph, a song of deliverance, but this particular reading includes the verses, “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord. The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death” (vs. 17-18). Even when we turn away from God, new life is still not only a possibility but a reality–God freely offers again and again the chance to start over, to be renewed and restored.
Colossians 3:1-4 is a call to seek the new life in Christ. If we have been raised with Christ, we need to seek the way of Christ, and not the way of the world. When we turn back to God, as symbolic in our baptism, we have died and are risen with Christ. We have new life in Christ. “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” What beautiful words–“Christ who is your life is revealed.” As believers, Christ is our life. We live for Christ, and Christ’s call is to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, the greatest commandments. This is our life. Christ is our life. The world’s ways of greed and selfishness, of putting ourselves first over others–in other words, sin–no longer have hold on us if Christ is our life. On Easter, we recognize that Jesus has died to the world but lives again, and that we, too, have this new life in Christ, a life of wholeness and reconciliation and healing, where we live for others.
There are two Gospel suggestions: Matthew 28:1-10, and John 20:1-18. Matthew’s version is not much different from Mark and Luke, being one of the Synoptics. It is a little more supernatural in that the women do not find the stone rolled away but actually witness an earthquake happening, an angel coming down from heaven and rolling away the stone and sitting on it. The women then actually see Jesus as they run away from the tomb, and Jesus tells them to tell the other disciples that he has risen.
In John’s Gospel, however, we have a longer version where Mary is alone by the tomb, weeping, believing that someone has taken Jesus’ body away. The Synoptic version seem to move quickly–the women come to anoint the body but almost immediately they discover the tomb is empty and that Christ has risen. John builds the story differently, and it moves more slowly. Mary is still grieving. The disciples (except for the beloved disciple that John mentions and no one else) are just confused and don’t know what’s going on. Jesus comes to Mary, but she confuses him with the gardener. It is only when Jesus speaks her name that she finally recognizes him, and then she goes and tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” It is reminiscent to me of the Samaritan woman at the well, who goes into the town and tells everyone about this man she has seen, and she goes with such confidence–so goes Mary. And Mary is told to tell the disciples what Jesus has said: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Jesus in John’s Gospel continues to be teaching the disciples about this Abba God–this Heavenly Parent, this God of all Creation who is also personal in relationship. The Synoptics tell that the women go on and tell the disciples, but in John’s Gospel, it is Mary who gives her testimony: “I have seen the Lord.” Just like the woman at the well. Our call is to share our personal story of how Christ has given us new life, how we have seen Christ in our life, how our life has been changed, been renewed, by Christ.
So there are two ways we can tell the story: we can go and tell the story that the tomb is empty and that Christ has risen! Or, we can also go and tell the story that, as Colossians says, “Christ is our life.” We can share our story, the way the Samaritan woman did, the way that Mary and Martha did, the way that Mary Magdalene told the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” Where have you seen the resurrected Christ in your life? Where do you experience the resurrection in your life? Go and tell the Good News!
Call to Worship:
Leader: The tomb is empty!
People: Christ Is Risen!
Leader: The soldiers have returned home.
People: Christ Is Risen!
Leader: The anger of the crowds is gone.
People: Christ Is Risen!
Leader: The time of grieving has ended.
People: Christ Is Risen!
Leader: Violence, fear, and death have disappeared!
People: Christ Is Risen!
Leader: Come, let us go to the house of the Lord!
People: Christ Is Risen! Christ Is Risen Indeed!
Prayer of Confession:
Loving God, we confess that at times we do not share in the joy of the resurrection but are caught in the worries of the world. We confess that we do not always live in the spirit of new life but remain discontent, grumbling and anxious. Forgive us for not sharing in the Good News. Forgive us when we find it more comfortable to worry and complain than to risk the joy and encouragement of new life in Christ. Call us back to Your ways, O God, to seek hope and reconciliation, restoration and peace. In the name of the Risen Christ, we pray. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
Christ is Risen! The stone is rolled away, the tomb found empty. Mary calls out, “I have seen the Lord!” We have seen Christ, too, in every helping hand, in every heartfelt gift, in every choice to restore life in this world. We are called to this new life, a life of forgiveness and reconciliation. You are forgiven; accept your forgiveness and know that God loves you and desires great joy for your life. Walk forward on this journey of faith, knowing your brothers and sisters are with you. Amen.
Holy God, we come to You on this day celebrating the Resurrection, the new life You have given us through Your Son, Jesus the Christ. We are called to living this new life in covenant with one another. We are called to love one another, to forgive one another. We pray always for Your kingdom, Your reign to come, and Your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. As we celebrate eternal life today, help us to know that this life begins now. New life is given to us now. Call us into Your ways of kingdom-building here on earth through love, peace, reconciliation and healing. In the name of the Risen Christ, we pray. Amen.
Other Worship Suggestions:
If you have children remaining in the worship service today, I find having activity packets (coloring and activity pages pertaining to Easter, along with some washable crayons) helpful for all children. I suggested at the beginning of Lent an activity of “putting away the Alleluia’s” until Easter–you can open the box on Easter Sunday and unfurl the Alleluia banners to decorate the Communion table or chancel. Another idea, if you did not make a box before Lent, is to have a box full of brightly colored ribbons or streamers. Open the box and let the children pull the end of the ribbons or streamers out, to demonstrate life coming out of the dark tomb. Pull the ribbons or streamers down the aisle(s) of the sanctuary, or drape them across the pews, to help the children celebrate.
Streamers or ribbons are also a good decorating idea if you are not having real flowers. While I love Easter lilies and tulips, allergies are a real concern for many congregations. Ribbons and streamers can be tastefully draped around the pulpit and chancel to help bring the bright colors of the season into vision for worship.