Our Living Guarantee: Service planning for six weeks of Easter

It's easy to gear ourselves up for a big Easter celebration. We're more than happy to sing the joyous songs and fill the sanctuary with flowers on that glorious Sunday, rejoicing in our Savior's even more glorious life beyond death.

But what happens when it's over? What compels us to keep celebrating during the forty days of the Easter season and during all the other weeks and months of the church year? What makes the resurrection part of our everyday reality instead of a past event and a future promise?

The Heidelberg Catechism offers a memorable answer to those questions: the knowlege that "Christ's resurrection is a guarantee of our own glorious resurrection," (Q&A 45, italics mine). As people who believe in eternal life in the new creation, we can act with boldness, knowing that nothing in this life "can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39).

Passages selected in the Revised Common Lectionary present us with stories that can help us focus on that guarantee throughout the Easter season. They are stories from the Acts of the Apostles, living with the confidence that guarantee gives, along with glimpses from the Revelation to John of what has been promised. After setting the stage for the new creation with Isaiah and John on Easter morning, the Acts and Revelation readings—occasionally expanded— form the framework for our full season of celebration.

The notes for each Sunday worship service that follows include suggestions for elements that can be fitted into your congregation's usual order of worship to tie this extended Easter celebration together, such as gathering sentences, prayers of confession, hymns, anthems, an affirmation of faith, and possibilities for children and youth to participate in worship. There are also suggested lections and sermon starters.

The selections from Songs for LIFE, listed among the possibilities for children and youth participation, could be taught in the Christian education program as preparation for worship and then included in various places in the liturgy. Other pieces that may be sung as children's choir anthems are included among the anthem suggestions.

EASTER SUNDAY
LIVING THE GUARANTEE OF BEGINNING ANEW
Isaiah 65:17-25; John 20:1-18

Gathering Sentences (adapted from 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, The Message by Eugene H. Peterson)

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.

Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ.

Grace to you and peace from the One who is and who was and who is to come, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, and ruler of the rulers of earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom—priests to his God and Father—to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever!

Prayer of Confession

Note: The prayer of confession is based on Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 45; part of the prayer (in italics) will change each week to reflect the Scripture theme. The entire prayer is printed only once in these sermon planning notes.

Almighty God, who raised up your Son, Jesus, overcoming death that we might also share in his righteousness, we confess that we have not lived as people already raised to new life. We have forgotten the guarantee of our own glorious resurrection. We have been so caught up in the shadows of old, corrupt creation around us, that we fail to see the light of your glorious New Creation in our midst.

Merciful God, forgive our sins and make us bolder disciples. Help us to be courageous and daring, rather than compromising and shallow. Help us to live as people anticipating life and victory, rather than shrinking from death and despair. Resurrect us to your new life once again, dear God, in the name of Jesus Christ, living by your side and in our hearts. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Note: The Assurance of Pardon remains the same throughout the Easter season.

Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.

Anyone in Christ is a new creation: the past is gone; the new has come.

Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.

In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!

Suggested Hymns

This is a day to sing as many as you can manage. These are especially appropriate:

"Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" PsH 388, PH 123, RL 312, SFL 172, TH 273, TWC 234
"Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain" PsH 389, PH 114, 115, RL 315, 316, TH 265, 266
"Because You Live, O Christ" PH 105
"Christ Is Risen! Shout Hosanna!" PH 104
"He Is Lord" PsH 633, TWC 97

Ways to Involve Children and Youth
  • Use "Alabare" (SFL 193) as a processional or recessional (on every Sunday of Easter, if you wish), with children singing the refrain, and everyone the verses.
  • Invite children to put butterflies on the first banner (see box on p. 27). Talk to them about how a butterfly looks almost dead when it's in the cocoon (try to have a real cocoon handy!), and yet there is a glorious new life inside it. Explain that we'll be using butterflies to remind us of Easter: Jesus was truly dead inside the tomb, but God had already prepared a glorious new life for him.
  • Have some children pantomime the Easter story while it is read (this takes some rehearsal).

Sermon Starter

This is a good day to let the gospel speak for itself as much as possible and to limit your preaching to a brief, memorable reflection. Note that John begins the story of the resurrection at dawn on the first day of the week, the same time that creation begins in Genesis. This is to be the beginning of the new creation, which Isaiah promises will be filled with joy, equality, and peace. John begins the story "while it was still dark," however, and notes that John and Peter leave the tomb believing, but not yet understanding. Only Mary puts all the pieces together, because she sticks around through the painful moments, waiting to find the joy.

Living out the guarantee of the resurrection means that we can live through the pain to the new life that follows. It also means that we—all of us—get a fresh start.

Affirmation of Faith (adapted from Romans 8:31, 35, 37-39, NRSV)

Note: To be used on all six Sundays. If you prefer to sing the affirmation, see "If God Is for Us" by John Foley, Sf, first published in Earthen Vessels; now available from Oregon Catholic Press. A children's, youth, or intergener-ational choir could sing the verses, with everyone joining in on the refrain.

What, then, shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through the One who loves us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Anthems

"He Rose!" Spiritual, arr. Ronald A. Nelson (Selah 422-401), unison or two-part
"Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" by John Rutter (Oxford Easy Anthem series), SATB
"Run, O Run to Jerusalem" by David Music (Selah 405-522), SAB
"He's Alive," SFL 174

Note: If you are celebrating the Lord's Supper on Easter Sunday (or at others times during the Easter season), consider using the Kyrie and Sanctus settings by Kathleen HartBrumm (see pp. 31-32) for choir, congregation, guitar, and obbligato (this pait could be transposed for any solo wind instrument). The choir part could be sung by adults, children, or both; the echo character of the songs makes them easy for the congregation to learn.

EASTER 2

LIVING THE GUARANTEE OF A FIRM FOUNDATION
Acts 5:12-42; Revelation 1:4-8

Gathering Sentences (adapted from Psalm 118:14-16, 22-25, Psalms by Eugene H. Peterson)

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Yahweh's my strength and also my song, and now God is my salvation. Hear the shouts, hear the triumph songs in the camp of the saved?

"The hand of Jehovah is raised in victory! The hand of Jehovah has turned the tide!"

Thank you for responding to me; you've truly become my salvation! The stone the masons discarded as flawed is now the capstone.

This is the Lord's work. We rub our eyes—we can hardly believe it! This is the very day the LORD acted—let's celebrate and be festive.

Salvation now, Yahweh. Salvation now!

Oh yes, Yahweh—a free and full life!

May all the best from God and Christ be yours.

Grace be with you.

Prayer of Confession

Note: The complete prayer is printed on page 24. Insert the following in place of the italicized section.

We have been timid in proclaiming your new creation, more ready to believe the bad news of the world than the good news of your Word.

Suggested Hymns

"Because You Live, O Christ" PH 105
"The Day of Resurrection" psH 390, PH 118, RL 317, TH 267, TWC 247
"People, Clap Your Hands" PsH 47, PH 194
"Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation" PsH 416, 417, RL 392, TH 342, 343, TWC 699
"The Church's One Foundation" PsH 502, PH 442, RL 394, TH 347, TWC 689
"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" PsH 469, PH 260, RL 179, TH 92, TWC 43

Ways to Involve Children and Youth
  • Have some children and/or young people do a dramatic reading or even act out Acts 5:12-26 and/or 27-42. See The Dramatized New Testament, ed. Michael Perry (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993).
  • Invite children to add butterflies to the appropriate banner (see box).

Sermon Starter

The passage from Acts is much longer than the one suggested by the Revised Common Lectionaiy for this week. While the shorter reading may be used, the longer passage gives insight into why the activities of the Christian congregation in Jerusalem so upset the Jewish officials, and how the apostles boldly kept preaching even under persecution.

The Revelation reading reminds us that God is first and last, Alpha and Omega, and that Jesus has not only saved us but set us aside as a chosen people to participate in the redemption of creation. The apostles were able to stand firm in the face of the Pharisees' inquiry because they absolutely knew the gospel to be true and were, in fact, living it out every day. Such a foundation can also help us stand firm against the more subtle and much more insidious ressures of modern society. If you have a flair for the dramatic, you might try giving this sermon from the point of view of Gamaliel, the Jewish teacher who defended the apostles.

Suggested Anthems

"From the Rising of the Sun" by Robert J. Powell (Choristers Guild, CGA 463), unison
"Witnesses: Jesus Is Risen" by Ronald A. Nelson (CGA 534), unison
"How Firm a Foundation" arr. Alfred V. Fedak (Selah 425-828), SATB and congregation

EASTER 3
LIVING THE GUARANTEE OF A BETTER VISION

Acts 9:1-20; Revelation 5:11-14

Gathering Sentences (adapted from Psalm 30:4-8, 11-12, Psalms by Eugene H. Peterson)

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

All you saints, sing your hearts out to Yahweh!

Thank God face to face!

God gets angry once in a while, but across a lifetime there is only love. The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.

When things were going great, I crowed, "I've got it made. I'm Yahweh's favorite. God made me king of the mountain."

Then you looked the other way and I fell to pieces.

I called out to you, O Lord; I laid my case before you.

You did it: you changed my wild lament into a whirling dance; you ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers.

Im about to burst into song; I cannot keep quiet about you.

Jehovah, my God, I cannot thank you enough.

May all the best from God and Christ be yours.

Grace be with you.

Prayer of Confession

Note: The complete prayer is printed on page 24. Insert the following in place of the italicized section.

We have been so focused on the world's path, the path to what we think we should do, that we cannot see your better path, the path to what we might become.

Suggested Hymns

"Because You Live, O Christ"PH 105
"Amazing Grace—How Sweet the Sound" PsH 462, PH 280, RL 456, SFL 209, TH 460, TWC 502
"Alleluia! Sing to Jesus" PsH 406, PH 144, RL 346
"At the Name of Jesus" PsH 467, PH 148, RL 336, TH 163, TWC 266
"Lift High the Cross!" PsH 373, PH 371, RL 415, SFL 171, TH 263, TWC 229
"Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" PsH 388, PH 123, RL 312, TH 277, TWC 234

Ways to Involve Children and Youth
  • Invite them to add butterflies to the appropriate banner.
  • During your church education time, teach the children both the words and the signs for "Send

Me, Lord," (SFL, Leader's Edition, 252). Have them sing and sign the song as part of your service.

  • Get a camera with a flash, and flash the light in the children's eyes. Ask them what it was like, and especially about that moment when they couldn't see. Wonder together about the light that Saul saw on the road to Damascus.

Sermon Starter

The reading from Acts relates the familiar story of Saul's conversion on the Damascus road. Saul's perspective is probably the most dramatic one from which to tell the story of how we can become so wrapped up in doing what seems to be right (as Saul did in trying to stop the spread of Christianity) that we miss the better possibility Christ lays before us.

The Revelation passage, with its image of saints from all times and places gathered singing in joy, holds out one of those better possibilities we sometimes fail to see. Often, as in Paul's case, it takes a traumatic event to make us recognize what we have been missing. Assure the congregation that Jesus never gives up on us, just as he never gave up on Paul.

Suggested Anthems

"Let the Whole Creation Cry" by Robert Leaf (Augsburg 11-1618), SA
"Followers of the Lamb" arr. Dorothy Christopherson (CGA 672), unison with instruments
"Rejoice, the Lord is King" set by George Frederic Handel, Rejoice in the Lord 597, SATB
"Amazing Grace" arr. David Ashley White (Selah 420-733), SATB with C instrument

EASTER 4
LIVING THE GUARANTEE OF EVERLASTING NURTURE

Acts 9:32-43; Revelation 7:9-17

Gathering Sentences (adapted from Psalm 23, Psalms by Eugene H. Peterson)

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The LORD is my shepherd. I don't need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows. You find me quiet pools to drink from.

True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through a valley dark as death, I'm not afraid when you walk by my side. Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies.

You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.

I'm back home in the house of my LORD forever.

May all the best from God and Christ be yours.

Grace be with you.

Prayer of Confession

Note: The complete prayer is printed on page 24. Insert the following in place of the italicized section.

We too easily forget that you are always caring for us, and so, in our fear, we too often put our own interests over the good of all.

Hymn Suggestions

"Because You Live, O Christ" PH 105
"Come, Christians,Join to Sing" PH 150, RL 357, TH 302, TWC 108
"Blessing and Honor and Glory and Power" PH 147, RL 602, TH 300, TWC 257
"O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing" PH 466, RL 262, 263, TH 602, TH 164, TWC 130
"What Wondrous Love Is This" PsH 379, PH 85, SFL 169, TH 261, TWC 212
"My Shepherd Will Supply My Need" PsH 550, PH 172
"Precious Lord, Take My Hand" PsH 493, PH 404, TWC 638

Ways to Involve Children and Youth
  • Have children cut out paper hands and pass them out to the congregation. At the offertory, invite each member of the congregation (including children) to write on their "hand" one way they provide nurture or care for others. Let the children collect the hands and place them on a large posterboard with the title "Christ's Nurturing Hands" (have double-sided tape handy).
  • Invite children to add butterflies to the banners.
  • Try a choral reading of Revelation 7:9-17
  • Have children learn and sing "He's Got the Whole World" (PsH 457, SFL 198, TWC 518).

Sermon Starter

The fourth Sunday of Easter, with Psalm 23 and the "I am the good shepherd" passage from John, is always the "shepherd Sunday" in the Revised Common Lectionary. The shift to the Acts and Revelation readings moves us away from the explicitly pastoral imagery, while reinforcing the guarantee that God always cares for us with the promise in Revelation that "God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes."

From the Acts story, we recognize that Jesus and his resurrection power are still with us, alive in the Christian community. Imagine how Aeneas—or maybe even Tabitha—would relate the events in Lydda and Joppa. (What would it be like to wake up from the dead, looking at Peter, who might have been just a little surprised that he was able to perform such a miracle?) Everyone knows about going through great tribulations such as illness, grief, and unemployment, but the point is that we get through them. That is the guarantee of our own glorious resurrection at work. Knowing that God will get us safely through whatever may come frees us to see one another through. We are Christ to one another just as Peter was Christ to Aeneas and Tabitha.

Suggested Anthems

"God of Great and God of Small" by Natalie Sleeth (Carl Fischer CM7808), unison
"To the Glory of Our King" by Robert Leaf (CGA 173), unison
"The God of Love My Shepherd Is" by Roy Hopp (Selah 418-617), SATB

EASTER 5
LIVING THE GUARANTEE OF PLENTY FOR ALL

Act 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6

Gathering Sentences (adapted from Psalm 148:1-5, 13-14, Psalms by Eugene H. Peterson)

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah from heaven, praise God from the mountaintops.

Hallelujah from all God's angels and all God's warriors.

Praise God, sun and moon and morning stars.

Praise God, high heaven and heavenly rain clouds.

Praise, O let them praise the name of Yahweh—

God spoke the word, and there they were!

Let them praise the name of Yahweh—it's the only name worth praising.

God's radiance exceeds anything in earth and sky.

God has built a monument—God's very own people!

May all the best from God and Christ be yours.

Grace be with you.

Prayer of Confession

Note: The complete prayer is printed on page 24. Insert the following in place of the italicized section.

We lose sight of the abundance of your love for us, and we hoard the gifts you give us, and cut ourselves off from receiving anything else.

Hymn Suggestions

"Because You Live, O Christ" PH 105
"We Are Your People" PH 436, RL 419
"Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me" PH 366, RL 454, TWC 556
"Lord, You Give the Great Commission" PsH 523, PH 429, TWC 715
"Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" PsH 568, PH 376, RL 464, TH 529, TWC 558
"Blest Be the Tie That Binds" PsH 315, PH 438, RL 407, 408, TH 359, TWC 708

Ways to Involve Children and Youth
  • Invite the children to add butterflies to the banners as appropriate.
  • Have children learn "Sing Alleluia" (SFL 68) and sing it as part of your liturgy.
  • Gather children around the baptismal font and pour some water over their hands. Talk about how, when we are baptized, the Holy Spirit works through the water to make us part of God's family, and how there is always room for more people in the family of God—God never runs out of love for us. Point out how this is why God can promise the water of life to anyone who is thirsty.

Sermon Starter

Since the fifth Sunday of Easter falls on Mothers' Day this year, youcould recall the old Smothers Brothers' "Mom likes you best" routine;or, for those who don't remember the sixties, just talk about siblingrivalry—all those times that we, as children, suspected our parents offavoring a brother or sister over us. Then make the transition to theJerusalem Christians, who were at first so upset with Peter forbaptizing Gentiles. It was bad enough that Paul was doing this sort ofthing; now Peter was betraying them too! If all the world were allowedto share in God's love, the Jerusalem Christians would no longer feelspecial.

The point of the message is that God loves all of us and has enough for all to share in the new creation. That's why everyone who is thirsty will be invited to share the water of life in the new Jerusalem. It is human nature to think of everything—including love—as having finite qualities (which is where sibling rivalry comes from). But God always has more to give. Can't we dare to share more freely too?

Suggested Anthems

"Come to the Water" by John Foley, SJ, first published in Wood Hath Hope (available from Oregon Catholic Press)
"Prayer for Today" by Margaret Tucker (CGA 358), unison with flute
"Servants of Peace" music by K. Lee Scott (Selah 425-822), SATB, congregation, optional brass

EASTER 6
LIVING THE GUARANTEE OF ULTIMATE VICTORY

Acts 16:9-34; Revelation 21:10, 22-27

Gathering Sentences (adapted from Psalm 67:1-6, Psalms by Eugene H. Peterson)

Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

God, mark us with grace and blessing! Smile on us! The whole country will see how you work, all the godless nations will see how you save.

Let people thank and enjoy you, O God! Let all people thank and enjoy you!

Let all far-flung people become happy and shout their happiness because you judge them fair and square.

Let people thank and enjoy you, O God! Let all people thank and enjoy you!

Earth, display your exuberance! You mark us with blessing, O God, our God.

Let people thank and enjoy you, O God! Let all people thank and enjoy you!

May all the best from God and Christ be yours.

Grace be with you.

Prayer of Confession

Note: The complete prayer is printed on page 24. Insert the following in place of the italicized section.

We have forgotten that, no matter what happens, the pnal victory is yours, and we resign ourselves too easily to the powers of this world.

Hymn Suggestions

"Because You Live, O Christ" PH 105
"Thine Is the Glory Risen, Conquering Son" TWC 251
"Lift High the Cross" PsH 373, PH 371, RL 415, SFL 171, TH 263, TWC 229
"Christ for the World! We Sing" RL 422, TH 447, TWC 743
"Come, We That Love the Lord" RL 575, 576, TH 700, TWC 596
"Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!" PsH 406, PH 144, RL 346, TWC 263
"From All That Dwell Below the Skies" PH 229, RL 126, TH 7
"People, Clap Your Hands" PsH 47, PH 194

Ways to Involve Children and Youth
  • Have children sing "Believe in the Lord" (SFL 223) as part of the service.
  • Have a group read the text "After Darkness, Light" (The Hymns and Ballads of Fred Pratt Green, 36)
  • Act out all or part of the Acts passage.

Sermon Starter

The Acts reading is extended to include the entire story of Paul and Silas's visit to Macedonia. The passage focuses on the ups and downs of the journey, Sanctus and how God helps these ministers overcome adversity and their own missteps as well. The Revelation story holds out the promise that the New Creation's promise will reach the whole world, despite all that might go wrong. Christians are not called to be perfect every time; Christians are simply called to keep plugging away, to never give up. In light of God's promise and call to us, how concerned can we truly be with momentary setbacks? How quick should we be to compromise with the secular world? In telling the story, imagine the jailer's perspective, or the woman whose spirit was cast out.

Suggested Anthems

"Alleluia, Come Let Us Sing" by John Bertalot (CGA 679), two-part
"Sing Praise to God" by Robert Leaf (CGA 712), unison
"Let the People Praise You, O God" by William Matthias (Oxford), SATB

James Hart Brumm (JHartBrumm@aol.com) is pastor and teacher of Blooming Grove Reformed Church (RCA) in DeFreestville, New York. He is editor of Liturgy Among the Thorns: Essays on Worship in the Reformed Church in America (Eerdmans, 2008). A new collection of his hymns, Rhythms of Praises, has recently been published by Wayne Leupold Editions.
 

Kathleen Hart Brumm (khbising2@aol.com) is pastor of First Reformed Church, Athens, New York.