Whom do you seek? A sunrise communion service for a small congregation

This Easter sunrise service is intended for a relatively small intimate group. It draws loosely from the Easter Vigil tradition, and through experience and participation tries to develop an awareness of and an appreciation for some historic Easter traditions. The music is simple, familial; and minimal, so neither an accompanist nor a hymnal is necessary. The sermon consists primarily of quotations from Scripture, minimizing the minister's work during an already very busy week. The italicized instructions are only for the information of the worship leader.

In preparation for this service, the worshipers gather in the foyer of the sanctuary. The doors to the sanctuary are closed until everyone has arrived and has received a bulletin and a candle. The service begins as the group enters the darkened sanctuary, singing verse 2 of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? " Just like the believers on the first Easter, the group is ledbyafeiu women carrying lighted incense, signifying the spices brought to anoint the body of Jesus.

As the group sings, they walk in a slow procession around the sanctuary. When they arrive in the chancel, the group gathers in a circle around the communion table. The table is bare except for a large, white, burning candle. The women place their incense in a receptacle; the incense can be either extinguished or left burning for the duration of the service The leader stands at the head of the circle, behind the table, and begins the responsive litanies.

This Easter sunrise service was celebrated in April 1993 at Owasco Reformed Church, Owasco, New York. It was submitted by Stephen and Sophie Mathonnet-VanderweU, former copastors of that congregation.


Going to the Tomb
Processional (sung; repeat several times)

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

At the Tomb

Whom do you seek?

We are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified on Friday. They have taken away our Lord, and we do not know where they have laid him.

Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen. Go and tell his disciples.

Word of Jesus' Resurrection Spreads

[The leader of group whispers "He is risen" to the person next to him/her, and in a similar manner the word spreads around the circle of worshipers.]

He is risen. He is risen. He is risen___

The Light of the Resurrection

Sisters and brothers in Christ, on this most holy morning, we gather with the whole company of God's people in heaven and on earth to share in Christ's victory over death.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The light of Christ.

Thanks be to God!

[The leader lights a small candle from the large candle on the communion table. The leader then passes me flame on to the others gathered around the tabled.]

The Glory of the Risen Christ

[When everyone's candle is lit, the group says the following traditional Easter response three times, louder each time. Tiien the congregation sings a familiar Easter hymn.]

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen, indeed!

Christ the Lord is risen today! Alleluia!

All creation, join to say: Alleluia!

Raise your joys and triumphs high; Alleluia!

Sing, O heavens, and earth, reply: Alleluia!

Easter Prayer

[After the prayer, all candles are extinguished except for the large candle on the table. The worshipers are then asked to be seated, being encouraged to sit togetJier and near the front.]

Scripture Lessons

From the Old Testament: Job 19:23-27
From the Psalms: Psalm 103, sung or read responsively
From the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 15:12-14,20-22,53-57
From the Gospels: Matthew 28:1-10

Encountering the Risen Lord

[During this portion of the service, five preselected members from the congregation stand at various times and challenge or ask Questions of the leader. The leaders answers are primarily a collection of interwoven Scripture verses.]

On the first Easter, the angel told the women mat Jesus would go ahead of them to Galilee. They were to go tell the disciples that they would see Jesus there.

Reader 1: Yes, but what about us? Where do we see Jesus?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
[Leader reads John 20:24-29.]

Reader 2: But Lord, sometimes we need to see to believe. Where can we see you?
You will see me in the least of these.
[Leader reads Matthew 25:35-40.]

Reader 3: Sometimes Lord, we need guidance. We need your wisdom and advice. How will we know your leading then?
I will not leave you orphaned.
[Leader reads John 14:16-18,26-27]

Reader 4: Thank you, Lord, for sending us your Holy Spirit. But how will the world know? How will they see Christ?

You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one spirit.
[1 Corinthians 12:12-13, NRSV]

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
[Acts 1:8, NRSV]

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
[John 14:12, NRSV]

Reader 5: Thank you, Lord, for bringing us into your body, the church. What a wonderful task you have entrusted to us, to embody you in the world. But we need your strength to do this—our eyes need to be opened. How will we know you?
You will know me in the breaking of bread.
[Leader reads Luke 24:15-28.]

The Sacrament of the Lords Supper

[The people at Emmaus recognized Jesus in Hie breaking of bread, and the worshipers are invited to do likewise. The group is asked to stand around the communion table. As they come forward, an assigned person also brings the elements forward. For this service, try to vary the way in which you usually celebrate the sacrament.]

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

For it is holy and right to do so.

[The minister leads in prayer, after which the whole congregation says:]

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts! Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!

Most righteous God, we remember in this supper the perfect sacrifice offered once by our Lord Jesus Christ for the sin of the whole world.

Your death, Lord Jesus, we proclaim! Your resurrection we celebrate! Your coming in glory we await!

Send your Holy Spirit upon us, we pray that the bread that we break and tlie cup that we bless may be to us the communion of the body and blood of Christ. Grant that, being joined to Christ in communion, we may be joined to each other in the unity of faith.

Come, Holy Spirit!

As this grain has been gathered from many fields into one loaf, and these grapes from many hills into one cup, grant, O Lord, that your whole church may soon be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

The Doxology


Easter Greetings

[Encourage the group to warmly greet one another around the table, using the traditional Easter greeting.]

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed!

Stephen Mathonnet-VanderWell is a pastor in the Reformed Church in America and is currently doing graduate work at Boston College, Boston, Massachusetts.


Reformed Worship 30 © December 1993 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.