Come to life

An “all-in” service for Easter Sunday

So often we want to rush to the end of the story – to banish the darkness and celebrate the light and life of Christ shining radiantly beyond the confines of the empty tomb. This service is intended to make room for the sorrow of the women who went to tend to Jesus’ body to give way to the wonderful news that he is risen.

Lamenting in …

As little children we are often afraid of the dark and of the unseen things that might lurk there.

As adults, we are more comfortable with turning the lights out; more certain that in the morning the sun will rise and banish the nightmares away. Yet deep within us, many fears remain: fear of change, fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of anything terrible happening to the ones that we love, fear of being the one left behind – grief-stricken and alone …

… like the mother, the dear friend, the faithful disciples of Jesus who had stood as helpless witnesses to his suffering and death; who in the dismal light of early dawn and with great despair in their hearts travelled together to his tomb … . 

TiS 345 Were you there? (verses 1-5 only)

4/ 5 women walk into the church with  symbols which they place on a bare altar. 

  • One carries the Christ candle with five nails pressed into it in the shape of the cross. 
  • One carries a large stone to represent the cold, sealed tomb.
  • One carries a folded white table cloth to represent the folded grave clothes. 
  • One carries a perfume diffuser or incense stick to represent the spices that they brought for his body. 
  • The optional fifth brings a bright basket of eggs (two normal and two which have have had the insides blown out) to represent new life and be used in talking with the children – this symbol is not placed on the altar, but on the floor in front of it.  

As they lay their items on the altar, they pray:

1st: Lord, I weep with all who suffer,
                              with all who are persecuted,
  with all creatures who endure our cruelty.

2nd: Lord, I weep with those who are lonely,
                                 with those who have buried a beloved,
                                 with those for whom life is harder than death.

3rd: Lord, I weep with all who are oppressed,
                                 with all who are bound by their addiction,
                                 with all who are wrapped up in suspicion and hate.

4th: Lord, I weep where the land is burning,
                                 where war has erupted,
                                 where tempers run high.

5th: Lord, I weep with babies abandoned
in garbage bins and school bathrooms,
                              with children abused by the people they trust,
                              with young people bullied, and silenced, and shamed.

Together: Lord, I weep. I weep. I weep.                                                     
                                
 They join the congregation, sitting at the front of the church. 

Looking for life …

The transformation of the altar is enacted as the Gospel is read.

Luke 24:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 

The incense/diffuser is lit and placed to the side of the altar (on the rail, pulpit, a smaller table).

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

The stone is lifted and placed on the side of the altar, on the ground, opposite side to the basket.

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 

The nails are pulled out from the candle and placed next to the stone. The candle is lit and placed on the side with the incense.

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The table cloth is unfolded and draped over the altar. The candle is returned to the centre.

Alleluia! This is the Gospel of Christ.
Praise to our Lord! Alleluia!

Prayer:

Living One,
no tomb can keep You,
no door is closed to You,
no life is shut off from You.

Come lead us out of darkness into light,
out of doubt into faith,
out of death into life eternal.
Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.
Amen.

TiS 370 Christ the Lord is Risen Today

Opening up …

Children’s Address (or sermon starter)

As you look at our Easter table, do you notice anything strange about it? Something that maybe doesn’t really belong there? (As my basket is a giant yellow chick popping out of its shell, I’m sure that the kids will be quite quick to spot it).

Hmmmm … this looks a little out of place. Should we see what is in it? Invite the kids to take a peek – but don’t let them touch yet. Yes! Yes! It’s full of eggs! These must be Easter eggs!! Would you like to eat one? (Taking care to pick a heavy egg which obviously still has yolk inside it, offer it to one of the children who should recoil at the thought of eating a raw egg).

Depending on their responses say something like, So it’s not an Easter egg? It’s just a normal chicken egg!?! Well, if it’s just a normal chicken egg then there should be something inside it. 

Crack the egg open into a bowl. O yes, you’re quite right. That’s not an Easter egg at all. I wouldn’t want to eat that either – not unless it was scrambled, with a little bit of cheese and tomato sauce on top.

But did you know that are some old, old stories that tell us where that the first Easter eggs were actually chicken eggs to start with? 

My favourite is the story of Simon the Cyrene. Simon was a farmer. His wife had sent him into Jerusalem one day to sell his produce to all the city folk who were preparing for a special feast  that  evening.   Simon had eggs to sell, something that everyone would need for their Seder table.  But when he got to the marketplace, there were people everywhere, shouting and pushing and spitting. So Simon put his basket down and pushed his way to the front to see what was going on. There, on the road, surrounded by soldiers was a man struggling under the weight of a wooden cross. He looked weak, like he had been up all night and taken a really bad beating.

As Simon watched, the man fell to his knees with exhaustion. One of the soldiers kicked him in the side. Another yelled at him to stand up. Simon just couldn’t help himself. He rushed forward to help – and so the soldiers ordered him to carry the cross of Jesus all the way up a hill called Golgotha or Calvary. 

There Simon watched as the whole sky turned black and Jesus died, hanging on that cross between two criminals. His heart was sad, but as he turned back he suddenly remembered: he had left his basket of eggs behind! His wife was going to be soooo mad at him.  He rushed back to the marketplace, hoping, hoping, hoping – and yes! There they were! Right where he had left them!! Remarkably not a single egg was missing, but, even more remarkably, the eggs were no longer white but brightly coloured and glittering. What a surprise!

Not like these eggs. Break the second full egg into the bowl. When we break them, we know exactly what we’re going to get. And that can be a little bit boring, and very disappointing.

Maybe that’s what it was like for the women we read about in the Gospel story. They went to the tomb which had been sealed shut with a large stone – knowing that inside would be Jesus’ body. Where there’s a closed tomb or a covered grace, there’s always a dead body. That’s just the way it is.

Next, pick up one of the blown eggs without really drawing attention to it and break it in the same way as you did the others. It should crumble in your hand.

Wait a minute! That isn’t right! That shouldn’t happen!!

Repeat with the remaining egg. Note the children’s curiosity and exclamations.  

These eggs are empty. Just like the tomb was when the women got there. They expected to see a body. But that’s not what they found! Instead they met two angels who asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead.

And that’s what Easter is all about – surprises. The unexpected happening right in front of our eyes. An empty tomb, a living Lord, new possibilities.

The children can be engaged in an activity like decorating or hunting for these “signs of life” – edible ones this time. 

Old Testament Reading (if using): Isaiah 65:17-25

 “See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

“Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
They will not labour in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

Meditation/Reflection: Coming to Life

My focus is on “coming to life” in response to the angel’s question: why do you look for the living among the dead? The Isaiah passage points to the nature of the resurrection life that Christ makes possible: healing, delight, health, security, fruitfulness, meaningful work, reconciliation etc. The second half of the service consists of symbolic rituals/responses enacting this new life.    

Let us pray (words by Tess Ward – adapted):

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

As we leave the old
and step out into the new this day,
bring new life to our fingers
that we might touch the signs of Your life among us
and have faith.

The elements for Holy Communion are brought to the table
during the singing of:

TiS 373 Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life in the sacred meal we eat
that we might know You
in the breaking of our daily bread.

The elements are blessed and communion is shared.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life
to the work of our hands this day
that we might trust
the abundance of Your gifts. 

Thank offerings are brought to the altar or collected by stewards.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life
when You interrupt our selfish dreamings
and name those that need Your love and care
as our sisters and brothers. 

The names of the sick and hurting are spoken.

Living One,
we go to look
where we last found You
but that place is now
stony and dead,
for You who lead us forward
to new life are always
one step ahead.

Bring new life to our eyes
that we might see You beside us behind our closed doors
and set forth with hope and with wonder
to proclaim Your eternal life
and everlasting love for the whole wide world.

Closing hymn: TiS 380 Yours be the glory

Sending out …

Alleluia!
Go in joy and peace with the Living One
who leads us forward.

Alleluia!
In the name of Christ, we come to life!

Lenten letters

To my fellow pilgrims in this season of Lent

In the midst of the troubling news of the tragedy in Christchurch last week and heavy conversations with members of a farming community who are fast running out of water and feed as they wait and hope and pray for rain, it was particularly meaningful to celebrate the act of baptism and hear the familiar words: 

… for you Jesus Christ has come, has lived, has suffered;
for you, he has endured the agony of Gethsemane and the darkness of Calvary;
for you, he has uttered the cry, ‘It is accomplished!’
For you, he has triumphed over death;
for you, he prays at God’s right hand.
All for you, even before you were born.

Uniting in Worship

For me, Christ’s journey to the cross – much like God’s choice to come into our midst in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby – is a poignant reminder that God shares in our daily life, our suffering, and our death, and that, one day, we will share in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

In Luke’s Gospel this journey (beginning shortly after his transfiguration) takes ten chapters to tell as Jesus follows the pilgrim’s route through Samaria; stops over with Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany; and even eats in the home of a tax collector in Jericho. Though Jerusalem is his destination, he does not rush or brush people off or dismiss the daily needs of fellow pilgrims on the way as petty in the grand scheme of what he will soon accomplish.

He heals. He teaches. He encourages. He comforts. He visits.

He takes his time because the salvation of the world is not only about an eternal end goal but about us knowing the blessing of God being close to us in each and every day of life’s journey.

In Luke 13:1-9, as he tells a tale about a fruitless fig tree to those who are wondering about whether God is with them in light of the terrible time that they have had of late, I identify with the owner of the vineyard who just wants to cut it down and clear the space for something better. I recognise that I am hasty and full of judgement. I confess that I get frustrated with things that eat up my time or energy without actually accomplishing anything. I acknowledge that my sense of time always seems more urgent than the gardener who not only asks that the poor fig tree be given another year, but promises to nurture and feed it that it may bear fruit.   

The invitation of this week in Lent is threefold:

  • to slow down! Take some time out to walk, to wander, to visit with a friend, to be still, to be open to signs of God’s love with and within you.
  • to confess – our frustration, our impatience, our careless haste. 
  • to pray – for rain, for grace for the sinner and healing for the hurting, for the salvation of the world and for the part that God would have us play in it.

For us, Christ has endured much, accomplished much, and continues to pray much. May we, in turn, bear much fruit as we live in and with and through his great love for us.

Yours, in Christ,
Yvonne 

Costly choices

A reflection based on “beyond the lectionary” readings:

The decision to follow Jesus is one often made in response to a moving, tangible experience of God’s grace – without too much thought or concern about what may follow; but, if taken seriously, it is a choice that has serious and abiding implications, and sometimes complications, for our lives.

For me, the crucial moment came one Sunday during a youth church meeting. As I watched the crucifixion of Christ being dramatised, I was struck by the enormous realisation of what God’s love for me had cost Jesus as he suffered upon the cross, and I knew that I wanted to return such love with reverence and devotion.

Truthfully though, since making that heartfelt commitment to follow Jesus at the age of thirteen, there have been plenty of painful moments in my walk with God that have made me wonder: if I had known then of the valleys of dryness, of darkness, of death through which Christ would lead me, would I have made the same choice?

I certainly have not regularly responded with the humility and obedience of Job who, after losing all that he valued most – his security, his livelihood, his family – fell to the ground in worship and proclaimed:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    naked I’ll return to the womb of the earth.
God gives, God takes.
    God’s name be ever blessed.

Job 1:21-22 (The Message)

Job’s story is a constant reminder that it is easy to love God and to shun evil when all is right in the world, when we seem to be living the abundant life that Scripture promises, when the Good Shepherd leads us into green pastures and beside still waters instead of into the places of desolation and despair.

This is the very charge that Satan levelled against God; the accusation with which he mocks us this day: it is so simple, so natural to say that you love God when you’re hemmed in, protected; when the works of your hands are blessed and you lack nothing. But when things get tough, when you’ve sustained a great loss, when you don’t know how you’re going to make ends meet, you’ll turn your back on your beliefs and curse the One you claimed to love.

Jesus too, in our Gospel reading, criticises the crowd who follows him – an audience made up of those who have heard his testimony and believed that he is, indeed, the light of the world who they should follow in order to claim eternal life.

Yet even as they profess their faith in him, Jesus sees within their hearts the desire to continue living exactly as they had before. They want the benefits, the blessings, of the light of life without having to hold onto Jesus’ teachings and give up their sins or their spiritual pride. As descendants of Abraham they should be capable of great faith and obedience to God, yet ultimately they have no room for God’s word in their lives and may well end up as part of the crowd who shouts “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

In Paul’s second letter to the community in Corinth, we see a similar inconsistency between belief and action: Paul has been trying to collect money to support those Jews in Jerusalem who have been disowned by their families because of their conversion to Christianity but the Corinthians have been slow to see this matter as any concern of theirs and have not contributed meaningfully to the call.

Paul urges them to express their faith as generously as the Macedonian Christians who, in spite of a time of great trial and persecution, had exceeded all expectations and given beyond their capability because they so greatly desired to share in what it cost others to follow Christ.

Mary Flannery O’ Connor, a North American novelist, wrote:

What people don’t realise is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.

Each one of these passages urges us today to count the cost and still choose the cross:

  • If life has been so easy for such a long time that you find yourself merely going through the motions of faith because you think that you’re actually the one who has everything under control – choose the cross.
  • If you made a commitment to God so many years ago that you’ve forgotten the reasons behind it or the devotion that you once felt – choose the cross.
  • If things are such a broken mess; so painful, so chaotic that you’re questioning whether God ever loved you – choose the cross.
  • If you’ve lost everything – home, family, employment, faith – choose the cross.

Choose the cross not because of what you might gain – future blessings or eternal life or a fresh chance to start again with all your sins washed away.

Choose the cross because God chose you and has never forgotten, never forsaken, never been unfaithful to his promises and his plans.

Choose the cross knowing full well that it comes with a cost.

For Job, the cost was being willing to hold onto God’s faithfulness even in the midst of unimaginable anguish; to declare God’s praises and God’s presence even when others suggested that God had abandoned him or was punishing him.

For Jesus, the cost of true discipleship is allowing God’s Word to take such firm root in our lives that it displaces the shame, the pride, the lust, the anger, the greed, the laziness, the hatred – all the sin in which we have indulged and to which we have been enslaved for so long.

For Paul, the cost of the cross is intentionally taking upon ourselves and sharing in the burdens of someone else – though we may have trouble enough in our own lives and our resources may seem scarce.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who ultimately gave his life for his belief wrote:

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell that he has. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives the man the only true life.

As you choose the cross this day – and each day – in a hundred different choices and an infinite number of ways – may the true life of overflowing joy, costly grace, and rich generosity be yours.

 

Last lessons: Love

*Good Friday: John 18:1-19:42*

And again another passage of Scripture says,
“They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
19:37

Saving love is costly.

People humiliate us; they try to rob us of our dignity, to strip us bare; they make it their mission to alienate us, destroy us, outstrip us.

Yet love forgives.

Jesus prays for his enemies “for they know not what they do.”

So often we know precisely what we’re doing: we deliberately and knowingly deny, betray, turn away …

… yet through love we are forgiven.

And this love assures us of this: that when we recognize our need for conversion, for transformation; when we acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, we are saved from the power of sin and death in this life and claim the promise of newness, the promise of eternity, the promise of Paradise …

… not as some ethereal vision or distant dream. Even today, Jesus makes life more bearable, more beautiful, by connecting us through the cross to one another in a way that comforts and takes responsibility for our Christian brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our sons and daughters, and indeed, for the whole world.

Yet there are times so dark, so difficult that we wonder how we will survive, endure, let alone thrive on life’s abundance.

In the midst of the darkness, Christ cries out that he has carried out pain; that we are not alone. On the cross, love laments so that we can know that we will never be abandoned, never be forsaken.

In fact, in our fragile humanity, in our needs and our longings, God moves us beyond superficial, surface-level relationships to a spirituality that is drenched in the Living Waters of God’s Spirit.

We praise God today that God’s saving love sees what is started through to the end. In a world of half-done things and best intentions, we are moved by the knowledge that the One who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it.

God is not done with our lives until we find our final resting place in God’s heart; until our spirits rest completely and safely in God’s hands.

Are we ready to offer our lives, our hearts, our love, our all to God’s saving love today?