Rev. Jack D. Cook, Pastor
Worship for Easter (A)
“Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb; lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom.
Let the church with gladness hymns of triumph sing, for the Lord now liveth;
death hath lost its sting...” Amen.
(Glory to God, 238, 2)
CALL TO WORSHIP
L: Christ is risen! Rejoice on this holy day!
P: Nothing could kill his love; no tomb could contain his Spirit.
L: Jesus is with us now! Rejoice on this holy day!
All: We worship the God of love and hope, who is the resurrection and the life.
NCH #233 Christ the Lord is Risen Today! Alleluia!
Risen and victorious Christ, surprise us this day with joy, as you surprised the women at your tomb on that first Easter morning. May we too experience in our own lives your glorious resurrection, and so become worthy instruments of your love and power, for the glory of your name, and for the hastening of your kingdom. In your name we pray Amen.
THE BLOSSOMING CROSS OF EASTER
“In the cross of Christ we glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time; all the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.” (PH, 157, 1)
Let us pray before the cross of Jesus...O God, bless this cross as its blossoms before our very eyes, and let it remind us always that just as you made the rose to bloom in the midst of winter, and the grave unable to hold our Lord, you promise as well that just as Christ rose from the dead, so too shall we; and that our Risen Christ will come again. In his name we pray Amen.
My friends, may the cross now blossom!
FIRST SCRIPTURE LESSON Acts 10: 34-43: “Peter’s summary of the gospel”
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen, Amen!
Risen Lord, you have broken free from the grip of death, and we rejoice in your resurrection gift. May this good news free us to worship, serve, and praise you even more. Release your blessings to us now. May your new life be felt in us and around us. May your love be shared by all. May your glory brighten our days. And may your grace forever fill our hearts.
Hear us too, O God, as we offer our confession. When we deny you; when the risks of discipleship are high, and we are nowhere to be found; when we, like Pilate, wash our hands of personal responsibility; when we cast our lot with the powerful oppressors and seek to buy freedom with silver; and when fear keeps us from witnessing to your truth, or prejudice keeps us from believing it, good God, forgive us! Tender God, help us to leave behind our foolish doubt, so that with true joy we may witness to your amazing deed in Jesus the Risen One.
O You who hear our cries, be known in your great mercy to us and to all for whom we pray. We pray for all people in need. Loving God, may the addicted, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the dying, the grieving, and all who know loneliness or despair be able to rise in faith to raise their heads and see that their redemption draws near. We pray for those who are anticipating
or recovering from surgery. We pray for those dear to us from whom we are separated this Easter, that their lives may be good and happy. We pray for all those with whom we used to celebrate Easter in past years, loved ones, fellow saints from whom we have been parted for a while by death. In your great love, may we one day be raised up with them into eternal life. And we pray too, as always, for those nearest and dearest to us.
And especially on this Easter that we shall never forget because we are surrounded by the signs and symbols of a world-wide pandemic, we pray for all those whose lives have been touched or even taken by this hideous disease. And we pray too for all those medical professionals, first responders, and other essential workers, many of whom walk through the very gates of death to keep us safe and even to save our lives. May they all be remembered with the saints in glory everlasting!
Risen and victorious Christ, surrounded by your resurrection promises that nothing, not even this plague, will ever separate us from your love, and that you will be with us forever and beyond, we respond to your deathless grace with our resurrection faith, and pray always and only in your name. Amen.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise God all creatures here below!
Praise God above you heavenly host!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
OFFERING PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Lord of creation, you have made the desert rejoice and blossom as the rose; the thirsty land has brought forth springs of water. Bless our lives with new life, new gifts, and new generosity. May we find in the little that we think we have, the true riches of your abundance. Multiply like the loaves and fishes these offerings we bring to you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
NCH #245 The Day of Resurrection
SECOND SCRIPTURE LESSON Matthew 28: 1-10: “The first Easter”
SERMON Resurrection Faith
“Because you live, O Christ, the garden of the world has come to flower, the shadows of the tomb are flooded with your resurrection power.” Amen. (NCH, 231, 1)
It’s more than fair to say, I think, that Mary Magdalene loved Jesus, in fact she loved him very much. As she watched him die on the cross, her heart was broken; she was utterly devastated. After all, the burial had been rushed; and she still needed to say goodbye. So she went to the tomb at dawn on Sunday.
As Mary walked to the garden with the spices she would have brought to anoint Jesus’ body, her arms were laden; but her heart was the heaviest of all. After all, she had led a tormented life, feeling guilt for the way she had to live, but unable to change, until Jesus believed in her. After all, he had turned her life around; he had transformed her; he had redeemed her. He had been her joy; and now that he was gone, what would she do? How could she go on living?
It had all seemed too good to be true, and maybe it was! His enemies had killed him. His disciples were in hiding. Only a few, mostly women like her, had dared to stand near the cross or come to the tomb. What would become of them now? Would life return to the drudgery and shame it was before he came? And what about that elusive kingdom of God about which he spoke so often? Was it just a beautiful dream, a child’s fairy tale? And even if it did come true, it just wouldn’t be the same without him!
Now we know, at least from Matthew’s account, that Mary never anointed Jesus’ body. As the silent, grieving women approached the tomb, their hearts sank further. Not only had he died, but it seemed now as though someone had stolen his body.
As they stared in shock and disbelief, something even more astounding happened—there was a great earthquake; and an angel of the Lord told them that Jesus was not dead. He had risen and was going to meet them in Galilee. As they ran to tell the other disciples, they met Jesus himself and fell at his feet in worship, adoration, and awe.
Can you, can I, can we possibly imagine how they must have felt? It’s a very long way from the valley of despair to the mountain of hope. Their tears of grief turned to tears of joy, as they hurried away. It turned out to be a beautiful morning indeed. It was, after all, resurrection morning!
Even so, I wonder if Mary might have looked back over her shoulder to see if Jesus was really there. And in the days that followed, she still had something to grieve. Jesus was risen! Hallelujah! But he would no longer walk the dusty roads of Galilee. No more would she be able to sit at his feet, or prepare him a meal, or embrace him. That physical, bodily Jesus was now a part of her history. Life would be different from what it was, and different too from her hopes and dreams for it. She had felt good about herself in his presence; now she needed to live as a new person in her own right.
Once, when the disciples were complaining about Jesus’ prophecy of his own death, he told them a parable about a seed. He reminded them that in order for a new plant to grow, its seed must be buried in the ground and die. But that’s not always easy to do or believe! Sometimes, we’re just so hungry that we’d rather eat our seed corn now, than trust that we can have more in the future by planting it. It’s all about what we call delayed gratification.
Mary, like all the disciples, had to let the dream of earthly, physical companionship with Jesus die, before she could experience the full joy of a spiritual relationship with him. In those days
that followed that first Easter, she began a whole new adventure with her friend and Lord. It was, after all, resurrection season!
My friends—and here’s the point of it all, in case you’ve been curious about when I was going to get to it—I'm wondering this morning about what it is that needs to die in you, in me, in us, so that we can live fully. What needs to be crucified, so that we can be resurrected? What pain will we have to endure, in order to be free of pain?
Some of us need to say goodbye to someone we once loved early and long. Some of us are clinging to a dream for our lives that just isn’t coming true and is making us treat ourselves and others as if this life were a bad dream. Some of us just can’t let go of those good old days, in the church, at work, in our families. For others of us, there are old, destructive patterns that die hard, if at all. Like the rich young man in the parable, we all have something to let go of and grieve.
And through it all, it’s crucially important to realize that this faith of ours which comes from the resurrection of Jesus—what we might call simply resurrection faith—is not one that makes everything turn out rosy in the end—bad things continue to happen to good people—but this resurrection faith of ours transforms these lost things in our lives. For example, instead of bringing back our loved ones, it enables us to live with them in a new kind of way.
Resurrection faith empowers us to rise from the ashes of defeat, older and wiser, to reclaim our lives. It finds us in the pit of despair and shines a ray of hope. And sometimes, that hope is just a faint glimmer in the distance, until we climb toward it and discover that it grows brighter and warmer.
Resurrection faith claims the promise of God to be near us and help us heal—as Matthew closes his gospel with these wonderful words of Jesus, “...and lo, I am with you always to the close of the age.”
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were willing to go to the garden tomb at the break of dawn to say goodbye. And for many of us, there remain tombs or graveyards that we need to visit, in order to pay our last respects to whom we’ve lost, to what we’ve lost, to what we’ve had or been in the past, and then go on with the rest of our lives, changed, transformed, redeemed—because, as I have often prayed on Easter mornings--“God, let us not grope in graveyards for life’s deepest meaning.” And as those two men say to the women in Luke’s account of the resurrection—"Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (24:5b)
My friends, you’ve heard me say before that I believe that we Christians are first and last a people of memory and of hope. We look backward; we look around; but, most importantly, we always look ahead. And I believe as well that this resurrection faith of ours is primarily about hope, this looking forward, this looking ahead; and that this is in fact the spiritual centerpiece of our lives, and the central message of this and every Easter morning, and the central message of our faith.
A truly great and wise person (and once again, I’ve forgotten who that might have been; but by now, you’ve probably figured out who it could have been)--a truly great and wise person once said that “It’s never too late to become who we might have been.” Did we all hear that? “It’s never too late to become who we might have been.” I believe that!
And that’s what Mary Magdalene learned from Jesus. And that’s what that whole cowering crew of disciples discovered that fateful Sunday. The joy they felt has echoed down to us, Easter morning after Easter morning, throughout the ages, to this very day. My prayer for us all is that we too will pass through this night of weeping in which we find ourselves and shout for joy even this very morning—that we too shall embrace for ourselves, and then share with others, this, our resurrection faith.
And especially in this night of weeping, in these truly extraordinary days in which we find ourselves, isolated from one another and the world, some of us cowering like those first disciples in our homes, terrified of sickness even unto death for our loved ones and maybe even ourselves, could there possibly be anything we could possibly need more than this hope of our resurrection faith?
As the old hymn puts it--”O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.” (PH, 399, 3)
My friends, armed with hope, armed with faith, let us trace the rainbow through this storm!
Let us pray...”Because you live, O Christ, the spirit bird of hope is freed for flying, our cages of despair no longer keep us closed and self-denying.” Amen. (NCH, 231, 2)
NCH #242 The Strife is O'er, the Battle Won!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The strife is o'er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun;
The three sad days have quickly sped;
He rises glorious from the dead;
All glory to our risen Head;
Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee;
From death's dread sting Thy servants free;
That we may live and sing to Thee;
“The stone has rolled away, and death cannot imprison! We shout this Easter day, for Jesus Christ has risen!” Amen. (NCH, 231, 3 adapted)
Go Now In peace