Not Yet: Making the most of anticipation and celebration in Easter

4/10 Planning Meeting

The team helped me make sense of the cryptic note I’d made on our order of worship for last year’s service: “Too big, too fast.” They remembered how the beginning especially felt like forced celebration. All those “Alleluia”s and “He is risen”s and a long set of exuberant songs to start things up. But the night was cloudy and dreary, and the team was tuckered out from helping to lead the “pull out the stops” services in their home churches that morning.

“Let the text shape the service,” Jill said, quoting me. (You gotta love it when that happens!) “It starts quiet. It’s dark, it’s night, and the women are tired and confused, going to the tomb. To the one who was crucified. Let’s start there.”

We thought through the objections: We’re not confused—we know it’s Easter, we know Jesus is risen. But we saw immediately the power of the “not yet”—how dramatic it is to know something’s coming, but to not get there. Not yet. To delay, to defer, to anticipate. Like what I’m always telling them when it feels like a song is peaking too soon: Not yet! Not yet! We’ll have nowhere to go!

And looking over Neal’s notes, his sermon is going to fit this pattern exactly! So we worked through the service, the first part anticipating the Word of Easter joy, and the second part responding to it with increasing waves of celebration.

4/11 Office Talk

We still can’t decide which Easter hymn to use. We all want a hymn—something that connects us with Christians from ages past—but the thought of trying to give a musical freshening to “Up from the Grave He Arose” or “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is unpalatable to everyone. Besides, we will have sung them as well as we’re able that morning.

­ To do: Look at other familiar Easter hymns—something that could start an “Alleluia” section, but not get “too big too fast.”

4/12

I’ve got it! I remembered puzzling over this same thing a couple years ago with Aaron. Then we found, but didn’t use, a version of the chant o filii et filliea “updated” by Marty Haugen in Gather. It would be perfect! It’s got about eight stanzas, but we can pick and choose the right ones that don’t get into the Thomas story.

4/12 Rehearsal notes

Not yet, not yet, not yet, not yet.
Work on smooth transitions.
Not yet.
Rehearse all the songs in order to get the “flow” of the service.
Not yet.
Can we go back and forth between “Lamb of Glory” and “Alleluia, He Is Coming”? Same key, same pulse—can we build one chorus into the other, back and forth, waves of joy?
Not yet.
YET!

4/15 After the service

Beginnings and endings are soooooo important. At the sound check, Nathan suggested we bring the lights down just a touch before the service. It worked great to pull students together into some quietness. Then Nate capitalized on it by pausing during his “prelude,” and offering a quiet, intimate, focusing prayer. It was just right—so unexpected, so full of gentle anticipation.

And that last song—Wow! Even as it offers the last wave of celebration and joy, it’s a song of eschatalogical anticipation. It’s the culmination of what we’ve been looking toward all night, but is in its own right a song anticipating the song we will sing together when we enter new life forever.

 

Excerpt

Service Outline

Quiet musical prelude
“Lamb of God” (Renew 214)
Focusing our minds on Jesus as the one slain for our sake, and our complicity in his death.
“Agnus Dei” (PsH 257)
A plea for mercy from the just-sung-about Lamb of God. Followed by brief silence.

Silence
“Alleluia, He Is Coming,” st. 1-3 (Worship Songs of the Vineyard, Vol. 4, p. 10)
I saw my Lord “coming,” “weeping,” and “dying” but not rising. Not yet.

Prayer for Illumination

Brief, spoken prayer that the one we believe is “a-coming” may now come into our hearts.

Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10
Sermon: “Afraid of Easter”

Songs
“Lamb of Glory” (More Songs for Praise & Worship 27)
Back to the “lamb” image, but now in adoration and love.
“Alleluia, He Is Coming,” st. 4
Now—another wave of joy: He is risen! He is here!

Prayer of Joy
Brief, exclamatory.

Easter Hymn (see note below)
One that makes use of “Alleluia”—but also starts slower, or lower—one that has some ceiling room.

“Alleluia, Alleluia!” (Celtic; SNC 148)
Building on the “Alleluia”—rising in intensity and exuberance: another wave.

Easter Responses
Leader guides the students through traditional Easter responses, given now with life and power: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“Morning Sun” (Trinity Hymnal 287)
“Mourning into Dancing” (Maranatha! Praise Chorus Book 3 298)
Increasingly upbeat songs of praise and joy in new life.
Selected verses from Psalm 30
Read by two students—back and forth, slow, then faster in the verses of celebration, then slowly again into “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”
“Alleluia, for the Lord God Almighty Reigns” (SNC 39)
All that anticipation is heading toward this moment—singing, with the saints, the hymn from Revelation 19.

Benediction (SNC 288)

Ron Rienstra is associate professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary and co-author of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry (Baker Academic, 2009).