17 April, Easter Sunday

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The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Rev Rosie Frew, Minister of Bowden and Melrose Parish Church and Convener of the Church of Scotland's Faith Nurture Forum, for her thoughts on Easter Sunday.

Weekly Worship, based on the Revised Common Lectionary, is for everyone – in any capacity – who is involved in creating and leading worship.

It provides liturgical material that can be used for worship in all settings. Our writers are asked to share their approaches to creating and delivering this material to equip leaders with a greater confidence and ability to reflect on their own worship practice and experience and encourage them to consider how this material might be adapted for their own context.

We would encourage continual reflection on the changing patterns of worship and spiritual practice that are emerging from disruption and how this might help identify pathways towards development and worship renewal.

We may not all be gathered in the same building, but at this time, when we need each other so much, we are invited to worship together, from where we are – knowing that God can hear us all and can blend even distant voices into one song of worship.

Introduction

Can we, who know the story so well, still be surprised by Easter's incredible joy? I love these words of challenge from a prayer by Clifford Wilton.

For many in our congregations it's very easy to go from the excitement of the Palm Sunday welcome to the gladness and familiarity of Easter Sunday celebration without truly engaging with what happens in between. It's important that we encourage and enable engagement. It's important that we set Easter Sunday in context.

In Holy Week we journey with Christ and His disciples. In the events of each day of this busy week we experience a wide range of emotions – highs and lows, love and tenderness, betrayal and denial, hatred and violence. On the Friday, Good Friday, as the body of Jesus is taken down from the cross and laid in the garden tomb, we are spent, emotionally exhausted.

As we gather for Easter Sunday worship, as it was for Mary and the other women, all is still dark as we approach the garden…

Can we, who know the story so well, still be surprised by Easter's incredible joy? This day of transformation in the garden.

Isaiah 65:17-25

"Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating"

In this the fourth in the final series of prophecies in Isaiah, comes a promise of a new creation – new heavens and a new earth, and a new Jerusalem. Verses 20-25 elaborate on why this is to be the cause of such joy and celebration.

The mention of creating "new heavens and a new earth" takes us back to the beginning of the Book of Genesis (Gen 1:1) where, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". We will hear of the new Jerusalem again at the end of the New Testament, in Revelation 21:1-4. The resurrection of Jesus is the fulfilment of this promise of "new heavens and a new earth".

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

"This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes."

Psalm 118 was a processional psalm, sung during the Passover festival on the ritual journey through the gates of Jerusalem and up to the temple. Words that Jesus most likely recited in the hours before His betrayal and death.

The portion of the Psalm which is our reading for Easter morning, has three familiar verses:

  • Verse 1: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!
  • Verse 22: The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone (quoted in Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10-11; Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11; and 1 Peter 2:7).
  • Verse 24: This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

These three familiar verses set the tone for Easter morning.

1 Corinthians 15:19-26

"If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."

The events of Easter Sunday lie at the heart of our faith. The resurrection of Christ is pivotal, Christianity stands or falls on it. These verses always remind me of the words of CS Lewis:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Acts 10:34-43

"I truly understand that God shows no partiality."

This passage is part of a much longer story about Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. Through this encounter Peter comes to believe that God has shown him that he should not consider anyone unclean. Our passage begins, "I truly understand that God shows no partiality". This is a major turning point in the Book of Acts and the history of the Church. Here is new creation. Peter then proceeds to tell Cornelius and his household the story of Jesus, His life, death and resurrection. A wonderful testimony for Easter Sunday.

John 20:1-18

"I have seen the Lord"

It was Jewish custom to visit the grave of a loved one for three days after burial. Mary visited as soon as the Sabbath restrictions were over. This is a story that needs no elaboration. It speaks for itself. It truly is a story of transformation in the garden from grief, through encounter, to joy: "I have seen the Lord."

Luke 24:1-12

"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen."

This is a short passage, to the point and scant on detail. When the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross there was a rush to get Him buried before the Sabbath began. Early on the Sunday morning the women visit the grave. They bring spices to anoint the body of Jesus, to show proper respect for the dead. The stone rolled away and the empty tomb were the first indications that something had happened. An encounter with angelic messengers and a reminder of the words of Jesus caused further wonder. Whilst their report to the disciples was dismissed as nonsense, Peter's interest was piqued…

Sermon ideas

I always think of Easter Sunday as a day of transformation in the garden.

Use a ‘turn around' sad/happy face:

Turnaround sad happy face

The disciples and friends of Jesus were very sad…. Reasons why? (You could tie this in with ‘why do we call it Good Friday and not Bad Friday?')

On a screen or on large cards put words like lies, hate, dead, end, defeat, sorrow, bad. Expand on these.

On Easter Sunday everything was turned around (turn words around and then face around)

Alive, joy, victory, love, truth, start, good…

What began as the saddest of days was completely turned around, transformed, to the most joyful of days.

  • Develop this theme of transformation in the garden… perhaps make use of the words and imagery of poetry and hymns
  • Springtime in our gardens – a time of transformation from the cold, dark deadness of winter to the warmth and joyful colour of spring buds and flowers
  • Easter Sunday in the Garden of Gethsemane – a day of transformation. Unpack the story from either Luke or John, refer back to the Friday and Saturday for the full tale of transformation
  • Easter Sunday for us – a day to know Easter's incredible joy… and love, hope, promise
  • Can we, who know the story so well, still be surprised by Easter's incredible joy? Not just as a story from long ago but something true and real in our own hearts today… We've all known something of the experiences of the friends and disciples of Jesus – fear, bereavement, sorrow, pain, hopelessness, despair… This can be a day of transformation for us too as we reflect on what God in Christ has done for us and promised us
  • The cross – a place of transformation…

Incorporate an activity

Many congregations erect crosses either in their grounds or in the sanctuary. Many transform them with spring flowers on Easter Sunday. Build on this idea, incorporate it into worship. Easter Sunday transforms the cross from an ugly instrument of torture to a beautiful symbol of Christian faith and hope.

Lead into a prayer

May the joy of this day change our lives,
And may the transforming love
Which brought Jesus back from the dead
Be abroad in our world and in our lives
To the glory of your great and wonderful name. (Clifford Wilton)

Lord, draw us to Your Cross which brings forgiveness:
That we may be cleansed.

Lord, draw us to Your Cross which brings healing:
That we may be whole.

Lord, draw us to Your Cross which brings hope:
That we may have faith.

Lord, draw us to Your Cross which brings love:
That we may have compassion.

Lord, draw us to Your Cross which brings light:
That we may have vision.

Lord, draw us to Your Cross which brings life:
That we may live for You. Amen. (Source unknown)

Because You are a risen Lord
we dare to believe
in life beyond death,
life which is the fulfilment
of the deepest longings of the heart.

Because You are a risen Lord
we dare to believe
that past failures
need not weigh us down;
that You free us from their burden
just as You freed Your disciples
from the burden of their failures
at that first Easter.

Because You are a risen Lord
we dare to ask for renewed strength
to live our lives
with You
and for You
starting now!

Because You are a risen Lord
we dare to believe
that in You we may find
the only life that really matters;
the only life that endures.
Lord, live in us
and we shall truly live. (Edmund Banyard)

Prayers

Call to worship

It was early dawn,
still dark when the women approached the garden
In their grief and emptiness they had to go there
Taking the spices they had prepared
They had to do what had been denied them on the Friday
One final act of love

Dawn was breaking,
The sun was on the rise,
Small signs of change
The stone rolled away
The body gone
And then two men beside them
They were startled, perplexed
Who are you?
What's happening?

As the sun rose
‘He is not here, but has risen.'
Light was shining
And they remembered His words
And they ran to tell the disciples
The Lord is risen
He is risen indeed

Prayers of approach

Prayer from the Wild Goose Worship Group

Lord God,
Early in the morning,
When the world was young,
You made life in all its beauty and terror;
You gave birth to all that we know.
Hallowed be your name.

Early in the morning,
When the world least expected it,
A new born child crying in a cradle
Announced that you had come among us,
That you were one of us.
Hallowed be your name.

Early in the morning,
Surrounded by respectable liars,
Religious leaders, anxious statesmen
And silent friends,
You accepted the penalty for doing good, for being God:
You shouldered and suffered the cross.
Hallowed be your name.

Early in the morning,
A voice in a guarded graveyard
And footsteps in the dew
Proved that you had risen,
that you had come back
To those and for those
Who had forgotten, denied and destroyed you.
Hallowed be your name.

Early this Easter morning,
In the multi coloured company
Of your church on earth and in heaven,
We celebrate your creation,
your life,
your death and resurrection,
your interest in us.

Hallowed be your name,
Amen.

Can we, who know the story so well, still be surprised by Easter's incredible joy?

From Common Order

Lord God
Open our ears to hear afresh the story of Easter
Open our minds to understand Your sacrificial love
Open our hearts to know Your forgiveness
Open our lips to sing Your praises
Open our lives to the wonder and joy of Easter.

Jesus Christ, we greet you!
Your hands still have holes in them,
Your feet are wet from the dew;
and with the memory of our names
undimmed by three days of death
You meet us,
risen from the grave.

We fail to understand how;
we puzzle at the reason why.

But You have come:
not to answer our questions,
but to show us Your face.
You are alive,
and the world can rejoice again.
Hallelujah!
Amen

Prayer of confession

Prayer by A G Bullivant, Words for Worship

Forgive us daily, Lord, the sins which crucify you anew.
Forgive the hatred of the crowd which chose Barabbas,
and the hate so often lying in our hearts.
Forgive the selfishness and ambition of Caiaphas,
and the pride and vanity of all men and women.
Forgive the weakness of Pilate,
and our inability to resist temptation.
Forgive the brutalities of the soldiers,
and the cruelties of our world.
Forgive the hard-heartedness and sneers of those who passed
by, and forgive us when we sneer at holy things, or pass
by suffering, or ignore unhappiness.
Take all these sins from the world, crucified Saviour; bear
them away in your dying body, let evil die and be
conquered for ever, cast out by your undying love. Amen.

Collect (from the Book of Common Order)

Lord of life and power,
through the mighty resurrection of Your Son,
You have overcome death
and opened the gate of everlasting life.
Grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to You in Jesus Christ,
may reign with Him in glory,
who with You and the Holy Spirit is alive,
one God, now and for ever.

Prayer of thanksgiving and intercession

Prayer by Richard Hughes, Prayers for the People

Lord Jesus Christ, risen from death
We praise you for changed lives and new hopes at Easter.
You came to Mary in the garden
And turned her tears into joy.

For your love and your mercy:
We give you thanks, O Lord.

You came to the disciples in the upper room
And turned their fear into courage.
For your love and your mercy:
We give you thanks, O Lord.

You came to the disciples by the lakeside
And turned their failure into faith.
For your love and your mercy:
We give you thanks, O Lord.

You came to the travellers on the Emmaus Road
And turned their despair into hope.
For your love and your mercy:
We give you thanks, O Lord.

You come to us in our unworthiness and shame
And turn our weakness into triumph.
For your love and your mercy:
We give you thanks, O Lord.

Lord Jesus
Wherever there are tears
Or fear, or failure,
Or despair, or weakness:
Come, reveal to us
Your love, your mercy,
And your risen power;
For the glory of your name.
Alleluia. Amen

Benediction

May Easter's incredible joy fill you
And may the blessing of God almighty,
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
Be among you and remain with you.

Musical suggestions

Our online music resource is on the Church of Scotland website; you can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship. You will also find playlists for this week and liturgical seasons and themes on the Weekly Worship and Inspire Me tabs.

You can find further musical suggestions for this week in a range of styles on the Songs for Sunday blog from Trinity College Glasgow.

  • CH4 194 – "This is the day"
  • CH4 407 – "Comes Mary to the grave"
  • CH4 408 – "At dawn the women made their way"
  • CH4 410 – "Jesus Christ is risen today"
  • CH4 411 – "Christ the Lord is risen today"
  • CH4 412 – "The strife is o'er, the battle done"
  • CH4 413 – "The day of resurrection!"
  • CH4 415 – "This joyful Eastertide"
  • CH4 416 – "Christ is alive! Let Christians sing"
  • CH4 417 – "Now the green blade riseth"
  • CH4 419 – "Thine be the glory"
  • CH4 424 – "Blest be the everlasting God"
  • CH4 425 – "The Saviour died but rose again"
  • CH4 426 – "All heaven declares the glory of the risen Lord"
  • JP 75 – "He is Lord"
  • JP 274 – "What a wonderful Saviour is Jesus"
  • MP 30 – "Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord"
  • MP 278 – "I know that my Redeemer lives"
  • MP 402 – "Led like a lamb to the slaughter"
  • MP 795 – "You laid aside your majesty"
  • Suggested hymns for Easter can be found on the Church of Scotland website

Reflecting on our worship practice

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the way we worship has changed and we need to reflect on the changing or newly established patterns that emerged and continue to emerge as a result of the disruption.

We can facilitate worship for all by exploring imaginative approaches to inclusion, participation and our use of technologies in ways that suit our contexts. This is not an exhaustive list, but some things we could consider are:

  • Framing various parts of the worship service in accessible language to help worshippers understand the character and purpose of each part. This is essential for creating worship for all (intergenerational worship) that reflects your community of faith.
  • Holding spaces for reflection and encouraging prayer to be articulated in verbal and non-verbal ways, individually and in online breakout rooms
  • In online formats the effective use of the chat function and microphone settings encourages active participation in prayer, e.g. saying the Lord's Prayer together unmuted, in a moment of ‘holy chaos'
  • While singing in our congregations is still restricted, we can worship corporately by using antiphonal psalm readings, creeds and participative prayers
  • Using music and the arts as part of the worship encourages the use of imagination in place of sung or spoken words
  • Use of silence, sensory and kinaesthetic practices allow for experience and expression beyond regular audio and visual mediums.

The following questions might help you develop a habit of reflecting on how we create and deliver content and its effectiveness and impact, and then applying what we learn to develop our practice.

  • How inclusive was the worship?
    Could the worship delivery and content be described as worship for all/ intergenerational? Was it sensitive to different "Spiritual Styles"?
  • How was the balance between passive and active participation?
  • How were people empowered to connect with or encounter God?
    What helped this? What hindered this?
  • How cohesive was the worship?
    Did it function well as a whole?
    How effective was each of the individual elements in fulfilling its purpose?
  • How balanced was the worship?
    What themes/topics/doctrines/areas of Christian life were included?
  • How did the worship connect with your context/contemporary issues?
    Was it relevant in the everyday lives of those attending and in the wider parish/ community?
    How well did the worship connect with local and national issues?
    How well did the worship connect with world events/issues?
  • What have I learned that can help me next time I plan and deliver worship?

Up-to-date information for churches around COVID-19 can be found in our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) advice for churches section.

You can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship in our online hymnary.

You can find an introduction to spiritual styles in our worship resources section

You are free to download, project, print and circulate multiple copies of any of this material for use in worship services, bible studies, parish magazines, etc., but reproduction for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Please note that the views expressed in these materials are those of the individual writer and not necessarily the official view of the Church of Scotland, which can be laid down only by the General Assembly.