Journey into Assurance: Ideas for the Easter season based on 1 John

FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER

Theme: Assurance of Life in Christ

Scripture: 1 John 1:1-4

The period between Easter and Pentecost is a time of celebrating the new life in Christ, of contemplating exactly what it means to be "alive with Christ" (Col. 2:13), and of growing in the assurance that such life is ours now and always.

The letters of John, written to early Christians, focus on the reality of life in Christ ("eternal life") and provide tests by which all believers may be sure that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Such assurance, John says, is founded on the eternal personhood (divine and human) of Jesus Christ and the character of God.

From the prologue of John's first letter (1 John 1:1-4) we learn that Jesus Christ, who is "the eternal life" (v.2), is real. He is truly divine ("he was with the Father" v.2) and truly human ("he has appeared to us" v.2). John repeatedly refers to his own experience with Jesus Christ—"we have heard and seen, looked at, and touched him" (vv. 1-2). Christ is real! And he is life—life eternal. Thus, life in him and with him is also real and present.

How can we experience such a life? The answer lies in who God is rather than in what we do. John leads us on the road to assurance of salvation by asserting three basic attributes of God: God is light (1:5); God is faithful and just (1:9); and God is love (3:8,16).

Service Suggestions

Prelude: "The Strife is O'er," Held [in Preludes on Easter Hymns, Concordia 97-5330]

Anthem: (based on 1 John 1 :l-2:2): "The Joy of Us All," Ziegenhals, [SATB,Hope]

Call to Worship (John 10:27-28):

My sheep listen to my voice.

Blessed Jesus, we are gathered to hear you.

I give them eternal life.

Glorious Lord, give us such life.

Opening Hymn: "Hark, the Glad Sound'." [PsH 335, RL 251]

Greeting from God

Call to Confession: "Just As I Am" [HB 272, PsH 263, RL 468, TH 431]

Assurance of Pardon

God's Word for Life: John 20:19-31

Response: "These Things Did Thomas Count as Real" [PsH 394] or "O Sons and Daughters" [HB 206, PsH 393, RL 318]

A Message to Children

Hymn for Illumination: "Blessed Jesus at Your Word" [PsH 280, TH 220]

Scripture Reading: John 1:1-5,14-16,1 John 1:1-4

Message: Jesus Christ Is Real

Prayer

Response:

Hymn: "Praise the Savior Now and Ever" [PsH 400] or Anthem: "We Have Seen the Lord," Wetzler [SATB, Augsburg]

Intercessory Prayer

Offering

Offertory: "Jesus, Priceless Treasure," Cruger [in 21 Chorale Preludes, Marburg, Augsburg 1195-06]

Confession of Faith (John 1:1-4; 1 John 1:1-2; 5:1,11-12, 20)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.

And the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

Jesus is God.

Through him all things were made.

Jesus is God; he gives life.

In him was life.

Jesus is God; he is the life.

This we proclaim concerning the Word of life: the life appeared.

Jesus is human.

John testifies: "We have heard him; we have seen him; we have looked at him, and our hands have touched him." Jesus is real! Jesus is the Christ!

He, the life, appeared; we have seen him and testify to him. And we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life.

Hymn: "Beautiful Savior" [PsH 461:1,4]

Benediction

Moment of Reflection

Postlude: "Ye Sons and Daughters of the King," Dandrien [H.W. Gray,6B172]

Alternate Anthems

"Christ Is Risen," Wetzler [SATB, Augsburg 11-1305]
"Jesus, Name Above All Names," C. Jennings [SATB, Curtis 7900]
"The Strife Is O'er," Vulpius [SATB, Oxford 42-219]

Children's Bulletin

Present several stories, puzzles, and pictures explaining the meaning of the word assurance. For example, include a letter a child has written home from camp, assuring his parents that he is fine and having a good time. Or picture a ticket to an upcoming baseball or basketball game and explain that the ticket assures a person of admission and a seat. Leave space to allow the children to draw or describe in words some "assurance" examples of their own.

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EASTER

Theme: Assurance of Light: God Is Light

Scripture: John 1:1-5,1 John 1:5-7

Because God is light, he dispels darkness and illuminates those who look to him. Thus, we can know the truth, come to the light, and walk in truth and light (1 John 1:7). We can see our estranged sinful state apart from Christ and find our way back to God. As the light of God shines into our lives, hope dawns. A new day begins. By the light of God's truth, we begin the journey to assurance.

Service Suggestions

Prelude: "Lift High the Cross," Nicholson [Concordia, 97-5442]

Call to Worship (from Psalm 36:5,9):

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens

your faithfulness to the skies.

For with you is the fountain of life;

In your light we see light.

Opening Hymn: "O Worship the King" [HB 26, PsH 428, RL 2, TH 13]

Prayer of Confession and Assurance (Psalm 25:l-3a, 4-15):

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame.

Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths;

guide me in your truth and teach me,

for you are God my Savior,

and my hope is in you all day long.

Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.

All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
for those who keep the demands of his covenant.

For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.

No one whose hope is in God will ever be put to shame.

Response: "Sing Praise to the Lord" [PsH 466]

A Message to Children: (See below)

Hymn for Illumination: "Send Out Your Light" [PsH 165]

Scripture Reading: John 1:1-5; John 3:18-21; 1 John 1:5-7, 2:3-6

Message: Walking in the Light

Hymn of Response: "When We Walk with the Lord" [PsH 548, TH 700]

Offering

Offertory: "Christ Is the World's True Light," Haan [in O Worship The King 4570-42, Broadman Press]

Responsive Prayer of Dismissal:

Lord of light, etch in our hearts and minds the words

In your light we see light.

Lord of light, send out your light.

Send out your light to us.

Lord of light,send out your light through us.

Send out your light and your truth to us and through us.

Hymn: "Lead Me, Guide Me" [PsH 544]

Postlude: "Thy Strong Word Did Cleave the Darkness," Manz [in Ten Chorale Improvisations VIII, Concordia, 97-5342]

Suggested Anthems

"The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation," Allitsen [Shawnee Press A-5049]
"Then Shall the Righteous Shine Forth in Their Heavenly Father's Realm," Handel [from the Elijah]

Children's Message

Today try to give the children a visual image of Jesus as the light of the world. The following is based on the "Liturgy of Light," in Collette DeNooyer's Children in Worship curriculum.

Invite the older children to the front and give each a white candle. While the children are making their way to the front, have the congregation sing verse 3 of "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" [HB 280, PsH 488, TH 221].

Use a flashlight and a candle, discussing how we use each to decrease darkness and to help us find our way. Read John 8:12, and light a large white "Christ candle" displayed prominently in the front of the sanctuary. As you explain that believers can share in Christ's light, light a second, smaller candle from the Christ candle. Then allow each child who has a candle to come forward and invite them to share in the light; as the children light their candles from yours, point out how the light is growing.

Distribute candles to people sitting in the front pew. Explain that when we tell others about Jesus, we are sharing our light with them. Then invite the children to light these front-row candles from their own candles. Keep the candles burning as children and congregation sing "This Little Light of Mine."

THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EASTER

Theme: Assurance of Forgiveness and Deliverance from Deception: God is Faithful and Righteous

Scripture: 1 John 1:8-2:17

Because God is faithful and just—faithful in keeping promises and just or impartial in showing mercy—all those who truly seek God can experience forgiveness. We can know that when we confess our sins, God will forgive us and restore us to fellowship (friendship) with him and his people (1 John 1:9).

Renewed fellowship with God and the people of God brings us back to the purpose of our creation. Now we are not only on the path of life but we also have new life and can live it in grateful obedience (1 John 2:3-6).

Service Suggestions

Prelude: "Jesus, Priceless Treasure," Walther [in Church Organist's Golden Treasury, Vol. II, Presser]

Call to Worship (from Psalm 89:5,8):

The heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.

O Lord God Almighty, who is like you?
You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you.

Opening Hymn: "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" [PsH 556, RL 155, TH 27]

Prayer of Confession:

God of mercy: you sent Jesus to seek and save the lost.
Judge us with love, and lift the burden of our sins.
We confess that we are twisted by pride.
We see ourselves as pure when we are stained, and great when
we are small.
We have failed in love, forgotten to be just, and have turned
away from your truth.
Have mercy, O God, and forgive our sin, for the sake of Jesus
your Son, our Savior. Amen.

Hymn: "How Blest Are They Whose Trespass" [HB 281, PsH 32, RL 97, TH 462]

God's Word for Life: James 1:16-27

A Message for Children: (See below)

Hymn for Illumination: "Breathe on Me, Breath of God" [HB 235, PsH 420]

Scripture Reading: 1 John 1:8-2:17; 1 John 1:8,10

Message: Deliverance from Deception

Hymn of Response: "Stand Up, Stand Upforfesus" [HB 349, PsH 559, TH 619]

Offering

Offertory: "Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense," Petrich [in Music for Worship 11-9295 Augsburg]

Hymn of Dismissal: "Abide with Us, Our Savior" [PsH 565]

Words of Encouragement: Colossians 2:6-15

Closing Hymn: "Lift High the Cross" [PH 373:3-4, RL 415]

Benediction

Postlude: "Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow," Post [in Triptych for Organ, 11-835 Augsburg]

Suggested Anthems

"The Lord My Faithful Shepherd Is," Bach-Jennings [SATB, Augsburg 11-1538]
"My Shepherd Will Supply My Need," Thomson [SATB, H.W. Gray 2046]
"Pax Dei" (Peace of God), Coombs [SSATB, H.W. Gray GCMR 831]
"Turn Ye, Turn Ye," Charles Ives [SATB, Mercury]

Children's Bulletin

Have children draw a picture or make a list of things they have done wrong during the past week—things they are sorry for.

Children's Message

Invite the children forward, asking them to take their lists or pictures of things they have done wrong during the week. Explain that when we say we're sorry for the things we do wrong, Jesus forgives us. Invite the children to pray silently with you, asking Jesus to forgive them for the things they have done wrong during this week. Then give each of them a chance to crumple up their papers and throw them in a waste basket. Assure each of them as they do, "Yes, Jesus forgives you!"

Conclude by having the children sing one of the following songs along with the congregation: "Oh, How Good Is Christ the Lord" [PH 401] or "Jesus Loves Me" [HB 465, PH 571, RL 457, TH 633].

FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER

Theme: Assurance of Belonging

Scripture: 1 John 2:28-3:3

Because God is love, he adopts us and we become "children of God" (1 John 3:1-2). We become valuable because we are loved. (We are not loved because we are valuable.) As God's children, we belong to God. We become legitimate. Such status removes shame and builds confidence (2:28). Our position is as sure and enduring as the love of God.

And now, John says, "this is the message" to all those who know the love of God: demonstrate such love to others. As a true child of God, reflect the likeness of your Creator and Redeemer. Love as Christ loves. Become more and more like him. As you experience Christ's love in and through you, you will steadily grow in the confidence "that you belong to the truth" (3:19-24). "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers" (3:14).

Service Suggestions

Prelude: "A Meditation on Brother James' Air," Darke, Haan [Oxford Press].

Introit: "Jesus, Priceless Treasure" [HB 414, PsH 572, RL 448, TH 550]

Call to Worship:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Thanks be to God!

Greeting from God

Hymn: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" [HB 399, PsH 568, RL 464, TH 460]

Confession of Faith:

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own,
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free
from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 1

Hymn: "I Know Not Why God's Wondrous Grace" [PsH 495, TH 712] or Anthem: "My Song Is Love Unknown" Schalk [Concordia]

A Message to Children: (see below)

Hymn for Illumination: "My Lord, I Did Not Choose You" [PH 496]

Scripture Reading: 1 John 2:28-3:3

Message: Assurance of Belonging: the Comfort and the Challenge

Prayer: Selections from John 17

Hymn of Response: "How Vast the Benefits Divine" [PH 497, TH 95]

Offering

Offertory: "I Love the Lord," De Korne [Composers Workshop: Calvin College]

Doxology: "To God Be the Glory" [PH 632]

Postlude: "If You But Trust in God to Guide You," Bach [Orgelbuchlein-Presser]

Alternate Anthems

"Be Thou Near Me, Lord," Morgan [SATB, Kjos Pub. 5114]
"If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee," Lindh [SATB, Concordia 98-2081]

Children's Message

Use paper cutouts of children holding hands to demonstrate our unity in Christ. Refer to the banner and talk about how we are all part of the same family—the family of God. Call the children to the front and invite them to join hands across the front of the sanctuary. Then ask the children on the ends to join hands with those sitting in the front pew. Finally have the entire congregation join hands in the pews and sing together either "How Great Is the Love of the Father" [PsH 231] or "Children of the Heavenly Father" [PsH 440, RL 585].

FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER

Theme: Assurance of the Spirit's Power

Scripture: 1 John 3:24; 5:6-15

Think back on the themes we have focused on in the past few weeks. How is all this imparted to and worked in us? How does the light of God that illumines, the mercy of God that forgives, and the love of God that motivates become ours to have and to live? How does eternal life, the resurrected life in Christ, become the comfort and the dynamic of our lives?

Throughout John's first letter, the answer is clear and emphatic: "You have an anointing from the Holy One" (2:20; see also 2:27, 3:24, 4:4). And the climax of it all is found in the testimony of God, through the Spirit (cf. 5:6-12). "It is the Spirit who testifies because the Spirit is the truth" (5:6). The Spirit is the source, the enabler, and the guarantor of life—the person who sets us on the road of life, walks with us daily, and grants us assurance every step of the way.

How does the Spirit become ours? We ask God for such a gift. And "this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him" (5:14-15).

This resurrected, Spirit-filled life, cultivated by prayer, is life invaded by grace, plugged into Christ, constantly being transformed into Christ-likeness. The evidence of such life, John says, is found in a community of love. The Holy Spirit is absent when believers are in conflict. He is present when God's people serve one another in love and act in the best interests of others—in other words, build one another up.

Service Suggestions

Prelude: "Beautiful Savior," Johnson [Gray GSTC 935]

Children's Processional: (See Below)

Introit: "The Kingdom of God," Jennings [SATB, AMSI439]

Call to Worship (Psalm 104:24, 30, 31, 33):

How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works.

I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Hymn of Confession: "Spirit of God, Who Dwells Within My Heart" [HB 236, PsH 419, RL 445]

God's Word for Life: John 15:1-8

Anthem: "A Vineyard Grows," Scott (SATB, MSM-50-9010)

Scripture Reading: Litany of the Work of the Spirit (selections from 1 John)

You have an anointing from the Holy One. His anointing teaches you about all things.

This is what he promised us—even eternal life.

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.

This is what he promised us—even eternal life.

As his anointing teaches you about all things, and as that anointing is real, remain in him. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.

And this is how we know that he lives in us: we know it by the Spirit he gave us.

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus is come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.

We have an anointing from the Holy One. His anointing teaches us about all things.

It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

This is what he promised us: he who has the Son has life!

Message: Assurance of Empowerment

Hymn of Response: "For Your Gift of God the Spirit" [PsH 416, RL 382]

Offering

Offertory: "Holy Spirit, Ever Dwelling," Held [in Hymn Preludes for Pentecost Concordia, 97-5512]

Doxology: "Blessed Assurance" [HB 139, PsH 490, RL 453] (stanza 1 and refrain)

Postlude: "Heavenly Father, Hear Our Prayer," Cherwien [in Interpretations, Book II, Summa Prod.]

Children's Processional

Wearing white shirts or blouses and red sashes tied around their waists, the children process down the center aisle, singing "We Are One In The Spirit."

Have the children line up across the front of the sanctuary and perform a liturgical dance, choreographed to the song "Wind, Wind" (Fresh Sounds, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).

SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER

Theme: Assurance of Victory

Scripture: Psalm 98,1 John 5

Because we know the reality of the person and work of Jesus Christ, see the light of truth in him, and experience the fullness of forgiveness and the certainty of God's love in us and through us—we can join in a feast of victory. Victory in Christ is sure. Through the umbilical cord of faith which connects us to Christ (1 John 5:4-5) we find power for victory over persecution, idolatrous ideas, sinful living, and even death itself. In Christ we become what God intended us to be—an obedient, loving, and joyful people. And we celebrate God's salvation today with the full assurance that, when life's race is done, we will stand in the winner's circle with Christ.

Our celebration of the Lord's Supper this morning is not only a memorial of Christ's sacrifice for sin, but also a celebration of his Easter victory and of our participation in that victory.

Therefore, let us keep the feast.

Service Suggestions

Prelude: "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" [Hopson in Praise to the Lord, SMP KK389; Walther, in Ten Chorale Preludes, Peters 4448; Manz, in Ten Choral Improvisations, Set II, Concordia]

Choral Call to Worship: "With Songs of Rejoicing," Bach [SATB, Fischer CM 8086]

Opening Hymn: "Sing, Sing a New Song to the Lord God" [PsH 98]

Call to Repentance: 1 John 1:5-2:2

Hymn of Confession: "O Jesus, We Adore You" [HB 200, PsH 472, TH 193]

God's Word for Life: John 15:9-17

Anthem: "If You Love Me, Keep My Commandments," Tallis [SATB, Boosey & Hawkes 5524]

Scripture Reading: (Repeat the Confession of Faith from the first Sunday).

Message: "A Feast of Victory"

Hymn of Response: "Christ Is Alive! Let Christians Sing" [PsH 413]

Offering

Offertory: "Praise and Thanksgiving," Wood [in Wood Works for Organ, SMP K357]

Doxology with participation by children [see below]

Hymns of Communion: "I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord" [PsH 311, RL 534]

"Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" [HB 21, RL 521]
"Praise the Lord, Rise Up Rejoicing" [PsH 313]

Concluding Hymn: "Praise the Savior, Now and Ever" [PsH 400, TH 174] or "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven" [HB 31, PsH 475, RL 144, TH 70]

Postlude: "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven," Haan [in Festival Hymn Preludes, SMP 357]

Alternate Anthem

"The Sure Foundation," Young [SATB-Congregation, Unicorn Music]

Ideas for Children

Invite the children to come forward, and distribute rhythm instruments (triangle, tambourine, blocks, bells, etc.) to them. If you run short of instruments, ask some of the children to clap their hands to the singing.

Ask the children to play their instruments as the congregation joins them in singing "Clap Your Hands" [PsH 166] and "Praise The Lord With The Sound Of Trumpet" [PsH 569].

Hymns were selected from the following hymnals: The Hymn-book (HB), Psalter Hymnal (PsH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), and Trinity Hymnal (TH).

Excerpt

BANNER

We've heard so many positive comments about the Advent candle banner that appeared in RW 13. That banner, like the one described below, was "progressive": a new section was added each week of the season.

Pictured to the left is a complete six-part banner for the Easter season. On the next few pages (accompanying the weekly service plans) are enlarged diagrams for tracing.

These banners have a casual feel that should appeal to children as well as adults. Each of the smaller banners attempts to summarize the main thought of the message that week, and because each successive banner is left hanging, the worshipers have a visual overview of the series. A true visual aid.

The construction method and the color scheme need not be fussy. I would suggest using a spray adhesive (lots!) to attach pieces of felt to the background material. Hanging the banners will vary from church to church but to spare putting too many holes in the walls, I'd suggest using nails to hang only the first banner and attaching the other banners in a rope-ladder fashion to the rod of the banner above it. The colors used should be bright and not too sophisticated. When choosing colors, be sure to provide enough contrast to make the shapes distinctive, as there is a lot going on.

When you take these down in favor of a Pentecost banner (Need and idea? See RW 14), don't forget about these banners. They are general enough to be used independently throughout the year.

-Dean R. Heetderks

Nelle A. Vander Ark is a freelance speaker and writer, a liturgist for Fuller Avenue Christian Reformed Church, and a retired teacher of English and Bible at Reformed Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.