Signs of Hope and Joy
Easter Sunday is usually the day churches are as full as they ever get. So it’s a great opportunity to express the good news of Christ’s resurrection in a powerful way. This dramatic Easter presentation has a strong scriptural foundation and it engages worshipers in a creative, participatory manner. You can and should adapt it to suit your sanctuary and congregation, using, for example, more or fewer volunteers or different symbols. We’ve used this format both as a sunrise/Sonrise service and at the regular worship hour.
Easter is the celebration of the pivotal moment in history, a world-changing event: God raising Jesus from the dead, victor over death and sin. It forever proclaims our faith that the risen Christ continues to live in us and through us and among us. Such good news deserves a unique worship service. Please consider the following outline as encouragement to develop your own creative and joy-filled Easter worship.
Introducing the Service
This Easter the Word of God will come to us through a dramatic presentation and celebration of God’s gifts. Today we reverse what we did on Maundy Thursday when we celebrated Jesus’ last supper and anticipated his crucifixion and death.
In many churches, the Lord’s Supper table is stripped on the Thursday of Holy Week. If there is a cross on the table, it’s taken away. The candles and Bible are removed, along with any cloths, and the baptismal font is closed. The table is left empty, just as Jesus’ life seemed empty of hope as he suffered for us on the cross.
This Easter Sunday, we will return signs of hope and joy to our sanctuary as we celebrate God’s good gifts and as joy pours back into the world and back into our hearts with Christ’s resurrection.
The Gift of Creation: Light
The first gift we celebrate is the gift of creation. Listen to the mystery and wonder of the first creation account in Genesis 1, which is echoed in Christ’s resurrection and new life.
[Lined up at the rear of the sanctuary are three candle bearers. Behind them are those who will be carrying in the symbols for the rest of the segments. The sanctuary is darkened, the front of the church bare. A drum slowly begins to sound. Narrator speaks from offstage, making sure to leave enough time between phrases for drum beats.]
Narrator: The earth was formless [drum] and empty [drum]. Darkness was over the surface of the deep [drum] and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters [drum]
(Gen. 1:2-3). And God said, “Let there be light!”
[Cymbals crash, trumpet sounds. All lights and spots turned on simultaneously.]
Narrator: The body lay in darkness [drum]. Jesus Christ, crucified [drum], dead [drum], buried [drum], in darkness [drum]. Listen! I tell you a mystery [drum]. The trumpet will sound [trumpet], the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. Death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:51-54). Christ is risen!
Congregational Hymn: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” CH 367, PH 113, PsH 388, SFL 172, SWM 132, TH 273/277, WR 288
[During the singing, the candle bearers go down the aisle and place their candles on the table. After lighting the candles, they exit.]
The Gift of Baptism: Water
[During the last verse of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” two water bearers carrying pitchers and two people carrying bowls come forward. The bowl carriers place their bowls on small tables at floor level before lectern and pulpit, respectively. Two readers then rise to read from pulpit and lectern. Each water bearer pours a small amount of water from pitcher to bowl as the reader on his or her side reads.]
Reader 1: Before the world had shape or form, God’s Spirit moved over the face of the waters.
Reader 2: In Noah’s time the earth was washed with the waters of the flood, and God set a rainbow of hope and promise in the sky.
Reader 1: Through the saving waters of the Red Sea, the people of God were led from slavery to freedom.
Reader 2: Through the waters of the Jordan, God’s people entered the Promised Land.
Reader 1: Our Savior, Jesus Christ, was nurtured in the water of the blessed womb of Mary.
Reader 2: Jesus was immersed in the waters of the Jordan and lifted to a ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing.
Reader 1: Jesus of Nazareth became living water to those who followed him.
Reader 2: In the upper room, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and invited them to a life of service.
Reader 1: The great commission is to baptize all nations by water and the Holy Spirit.
—Adapted from The United Church of Christ Book of Worship, 1986 edition, page 141. Local Church Ministries, Worship and Education Team. Used by permission.
Reader 2: Please join me in prayer.
Lord God, you have called us by name and promised your love. We seek your continued blessing, growing continually in your grace. Remind us of the promises of our baptism. Renew our faith, that we may be your disciples, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Reader 1: Those of you who have been baptized are invited to come forward, dip a finger into one of the bowls and touch it to your forehead as a reminder of your baptism. If you have not been baptized but desire to grow in your walk with God, you are encouraged to come forward and touch the water as a testimony of your growing faith. If you are unable to come forward but would like to participate, please raise your hand and a bowl will be brought to you.
[Readers go forward first. After all worshipers have had the opportunity to remember their baptism, the water pitcher bearers exit.]
The Gift of New Life: Flowers
Narrator: Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these (Matt. 6:26-29).
Flowers are the symbol of God’s gift of new life. They speak of unparalleled beauty, regenerative power that cannot be extinguished, and bounty borne on the wings of the wind. Let us rejoice in life and the beauty of the lilies, in their aromas and colors.
Sung Response: “All Things Bright and Beautiful” PH 267, PsH 435, SFL 90, TH 120 or “For the Beauty of the Earth” CH 793/182, PH 473, PsH 432, SFL 90, SWM 54, TH 116, WR 40
[During the singing, flower bearers bring flowers forward and place them on stands, then exit.]
Narrator: Let us pray. Gracious God, we are in awe of the mystery and majesty of creation. The seeds hidden in the earth grow and flourish. The seeds of faith grow within us, nourished by your Spirit. We give thanks for your gift of life and the gift of faith. Amen.
The Gift of God’s Presence: The Bible
Narrator: These flowers will be here for a season, as our lives are also here for a season. But season in and season out, within the community of Christ’s church faithful followers gather to hear the words of Scripture. In a letter to the churches of Asia Minor, Peter writes: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God; for ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever’” (1 Pet. 1:23-25).
The Scriptures are central to our community of faith. We place them in a central place as our way of saying that the living God is in our midst. God calls and strengthens us through the Word.
Sung Response: “O Word of God Incarnate” CH 414, PH 327, PsH 279, TH 140, WR 670 or “I Love to Tell the Story” PsH 530, TH 478
[During the singing, the Bible is carried in and placed on the table.]
The Gift of Reconciliation: The Cross
Narrator: The Word of God testifies that Christ died on the cross in order to save us from our sins. For “just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:14-17).
Hymn: “Where You There?” CH 315, PH 102, PsH 377, SFL 167, TH 260, WR 283 or “The Power of the Cross” SNT 105
[During the singing a cross bearer leads eight young people in robes down the aisle. The cross bearer brings the cross forward and sets it in a stand. The young people form a cross across the front and center aisle. Once they are in position, the cross bearer steps aside, signaling the young people to kneel in the sign of a cross. Cross bearer exits.]
Narrator: Then Jesus told his disciples: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26).
“[Christ] died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:15-17).
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:7-9).
[After the Narrator’s readings, the young people stand, turn to face the congregation, and distribute small crosses to worshipers while the Narrator continues.]
The Gift of Celebration: Easter Banners
Narrator: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:1-6).
Hymns: Any appropriate Easter hymns
[During the singing, banner bearers bring in and hang Easter banners, then exit. One church, instead of using banners, had three young people decorate the free-standing cross with cut flowers. The cross had been strapped beforehand with brown ribbon to secure the flowers. As the cross was decorated, the choir sang a joyous anthem.]
Narrator: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms”(1 Pet. 4:10). Let us bring our offerings to the table of the Lord!
Hymn of Response: “All Creatures of Our God and King,” (stanza 5) CH 63, TH 115, WR 23
Let all things their creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise him, Alleluia!
Praise, Praise the Father, Praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, three in one.
O praise him, O praise Him, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
Narrator: Please join me in prayer. Thank you, God, for resurrection. We rejoice in Christ as the firstfruits of all that you make available to us. As you offered Christ to the world, so we offer ourselves. May we, along with our gifts, testify to the good news of your forgiving love and empowering acceptance. Amen.
The Gift of Community: Bread
[A large loaf of bread is carried down the aisle and placed on the table. Alternately, this entire section could be replaced with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper.]
Narrator: Luke’s gospel tells us of a time following the resurrection when Christ was with two of the disciples. “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:28-31).
We invite those who are able to come forward and to form a circle.
[The bread is broken and the two halves passed around the circle as a symbol of our community in the Body of Christ. Be sure to include any people with disabilities who remain in their pews.]
Narrator: We are the body of Christ for the world. Christ is the Bread of life. Let us join hands and silently offer a prayer, first for the neighbor on our right and then for the neighbor on our left, concluding with The Lord’s Prayer.
[This could be expanded to include prayers for the world, the nation, the community, and the church.]
Closing Hymn: “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” CH 426, PsH 315, RL 407/408, TH 359, WR 393 or “I Serve a Risen Savior” CH 368, PsH 405, WR 302
Narrator: On this Easter Sunday, we remember that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “House of Bread.” He taught, suffered and died, and rose again in Jerusalem, which means “City of Peace.” May we so live in the name and power of the risen Christ that we become bread and peace for a needy world. Amen.