Lighting the Christ Candle
Resurrection starts in darkness with a cry of grief, an empty place in our hearts, a voice of promise silenced. Then like the tiny fingers of a newborn, hope begins to wrap itself around our hearts.
The stone is rolled away!
The impossible suddenly seems possible. The voice of promise begins to whisper again.
He is not here, He is risen!
New light shines in our darkness, new hope shines in our hearts, new faith shines in our lives. Hallelujah! Christ is Risen!
Hallelujah! The Light has returned.
Opening Hymn: Jesus Christ is Risen Today #155
Call to Worship:
Butterflies, spring bulbs, and newborn chicks.
All signs of new life in Spring.
A stone rolled away, folded grave cloths and an empty tomb.
All signs of new life at Easter.
Overwhelming joy, unquenchable hope, overflowing love.
All signs of new life in us.
We gather here this morning to celebrate and to give thanks for new life.
We gather here to celebrate Easter.
So as we gather, let us worship our Risen Lord.
God of Resurrection, we stand at the edge of our worship service this morning, anxious to plunge in and immerse ourselves in the music, stories, and promise of this Easter season. We come to share with one another our faith and our joy. We come to experience your peace, your grace, and your love, as we offer our thanks and praise for the gift of this holy day. As we gather here, remind us that the joy of Easter is not this one day, but the ongoing promise of life with you and within you now and always. Amen.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a vision of what the ideal reign, kingdom or dominion of God would look like. It is a vision of a time when all people will have all they need in abundance, when no one will go hungry, when all people will be honored and respected and when there will be no more sorrow, and death will be swallowed up in victory.
Psalm 118:1-4, 14-24
Psalm 118 is a psalm of praise and of victory.
In the Acts of the Apostles we read the story of Peter’s witness to the inclusivity of God’s love for all people, both Jew and gentile, seen in the resurrection of Jesus.
Mark’s story of Easter morning and of the resurrection of Jesus, was the first written. It is also the most challenging, because it ends not with joy and celebration, but with fear.
Hymn: The Day of Resurrection #164
The Ultimate Gift of Easter
The Easter Story, as it appears in Mark, tends to leave most of us feeling at least a little bit uncomfortable. “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
This is not the story we want to hear. We want to hear how the other women ran back to tell the disciples but Mary stayed behind, weeping. We want to hear how Jesus appeared to her and she mistook him for the gardener until he spoke. We want to hear how, late that evening, he appeared to his disciples, all except Thomas of course, and they believed. But Mark tells a different story. Instead, Mark’s gospel ends with the women running away in fear and saying nothing.
When we did our Lenten Planning sessions at the beginning of this year, I made the comment that, this Easter, the gospel reading was from Mark and that it was probably the most difficult of the Easter stories to deal with. One of the people there responded, “Oh, it’s my favorite Easter story. It’s so real.”
I’d never really thought of it in those terms, as being “real” but I have to admit that there has always been something about the Mark version that I did like. I like the fact that you can’t simply gloss over the story and celebrate the joy of those who first saw the risen Christ. According to Mark, there was no joyous celebration. There was fear and confusion. With Mark, you can’t take the Easter story for granted. I like the fact that Mark makes you stop and think.
So why would Mark end his story this way? Why doesn’t he go on to tell how, once the women calmed down, they went and told the disciples? Why doesn’t he add stories about Jesus appearing to others, affirming the resurrection? Why does he end with the women running away in terror and telling no one?
Perhaps Mark is pointing out the obvious; how difficult it really is to make the jump from Good Friday to Easter. The story of the resurrection is one that most of us were raised with from the time we were young children and we have simply always known that Jesus was raised from the dead. We have probably never really stopped to think about what it must have been like for those first disciples.
Perhaps Mark, more than any other gospel story, challenges us to place ourselves into the story and ask how we would have reacted if we had been there, with those women, that first Easter morning. If we had only the information that those first followers had, what would we have thought? What would we have believed?
It’s easy to see the whole picture now, when we know the rest of the story. It’s easy to see the crucifixion as only the first part of a story that ends in resurrection. But if we only had part of the story, the part about the crucifixion, could we dare to even imagine that resurrection was possible? If we look only at what is clear and obvious right now, how could we possibly ever imagine what could be?
It takes imagination, or perhaps a better world is vision, to be able to see beyond the here and now, beyond the present experience, to see the possibilities that are yet to be revealed. But where does imagination end and vision begin? How do we balance the possibilities of the future with the reality of what is happening right now? We don’t want to be naive and foolish for believing in something that is clearly impossible. We want to be realistic. And we don’t want to get our hopes built up in case things don’t work out. We want to imagine a better future, but we don’t want to let our imaginations run away with us.
And yet, our faith calls us to believe that sometimes, the impossible can actually be possible. The problem is determining when. We live in a world where science and logic encourage us to dismiss anything that cannot be explained or proven. Believing in the impossible, no matter how strong our faith may be, is extremely counter-cultural and can be very difficult. It can also open us up to the ridicule of those do not share our faith.
For the women who made their way to the tomb that first Easter morning, the stark reality was simple. Jesus was dead. They had seen him beaten and tortured and brutally killed. They had watched him die. They had watched as his body was wrapped in linen cloth and laid in a tomb. It was something they could not deny or explain away. Jesus was dead.
That is why the women were there so early that first Easter morning. They were going to anoint his body with the spices and perfumes, something they had not had the chance to do because sabbath rules had forbidden it. They had come to mourn a death they had not been able to properly honour.
As I thought about this, I couldn’t help but think of all those who have been unable to mourn the loss of a loved one the way they would have wanted to because of Covid. The rituals we have around death are important to us and not being able to perform those rituals can be devastating. And so perhaps we can understand why, as soon as it was allowed, the women went to the tomb. Perhaps by doing this, they could find some closure.
But when they arrived the stone was rolled back and the tomb was empty. The closure they had waited for would not happen. There was no body to anoint. Their sorrow, their fear and all the other emotions they must have been feeling were now compounded with confusion. Where was his body? Had someone stolen it? Without a body to anoint, how would they complete the mourning rituals? How would they move on?
And a figure all dressed in white telling them that Jesus was not there because he had risen, only added to their fear and confusion rather than easing it. They knew this was impossible and yet here was a complete stranger, not only asking them to believe the impossible, but instructing them to go and tell Peter and the other disciples.
It was too much. It was too much to expect them to believe that Jesus was alive and it was certainly too much to expect that the disciples would believe them if they did tell them all that they had seen and heard. So, the women ran away in fear and told no one. And this is where Mark’s gospel ends. Over the years, other verses have been added, but the earliest transcripts end here.
This is not what we want to hear as we gather to celebrater the resurrection on Easter Sunday. But the truth is that it is probably the most likely scenario. It is a very realistic, human reaction. And for this reason, I think it is also a very powerful ending.
If it had been left up to human courage and faith to spread the gospel, to spread the good news that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, then it is very unlikely that the Christian faith would exist today at all. But that is the amazing thing about faith. It doesn’t depend on us. It doesn’t depend on our human ability to understand. It doesn’t depend on our ability to explain. It doesn’t depend on science or logic. Faith is a Divine gift, which each one of us is offered. And it is up to us whether or not we accept.
It doesn’t mean ignoring logic or science. It doesn’t mean we have to be able to understand or explain it. It means accepting that there are some things beyond our ability to explain or understand. And however you view the Easter Story, it means ultimately accepting that there is more to life and to death then we can possibly imagine.
This is the ultimate gift of Easter. It is the promise that somehow, in ways we may never understand, there is a Divine Source, a Divine Energy, a Divine Mystery, through which resurrection, despite the impossibility of it, is possible. That is why we celebrate Easter. It is because our faith promises us that Christ was indeed raised from the dead, and that because of that promise, we can be assured that beyond death, there is more.
Perhaps this is why the ending of Mark’s gospel has become so powerful for me. The women were afraid, confused and uncertain of what to think. They reacted to the message of the resurrection in a very human way.
But we know the story doesn’t end there. Despite human logic, those women and the other disciples who first heard the message that Christ lives, were able to overcome human logic and fear, and accept the gift of faith. And that is a gift that has been passed on to us, throughout the generations.
That is why we are here today. That is why we can celebrate. That is what Easter is all about. Despite what anyone might say, we are here because we believe that somehow, despite everything, Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen indeed. Hallelujah and Amen.
Special Music: It Is Well With My Soul
We Offer Our Gifts
God calls us in many ways. One of the ways God calls us in in the call to share with others what we have been given. And so today we offer God the gifts of our time, our talents and our treasures as we present our offering. Today you are invited to place your offering on the offering plates at the back of the church or to make your offering to God in some other way, through other types of donations or through a commitment to use the talents and abilities that God has given you. And so as we think about what we have to offer this day, let us asks God’s blessing upon whatever we offer.
Let us pray; Loving God, as you bless the soil with warmth and new growth, bless the gifts we offer that they too, may grow and blossom in your love. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
And now let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds and our hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
You roll the stone away, O God, and light floods the dark corners of our lives. You roll the stone away, O God, and new life springs forth from death.
You roll the stone away, O God, and new hope is born out of hopelessness.
You roll the stone away, O God, and angels offer messages of resurrection.
You roll the stone away, O God, and the impossible suddenly becomes possible. Roll the stones away from our hearts, O God, and let your light shine in.
Roll away the stones of fear and renew our faith in your promise of undying love.
Roll away the stones of selfishness and teach us to share more equitably our own resources and the resources of our earth.
Roll away the stones of apathy and defeat, and help us to stand up to injustice, hatred and discrimination.
Roll away the stones of hopelessness, and plant within us the seeds of new vision, new hope and new life.
Roll the stones away from our hearts, O God, and speak your word of resurrection. Awaken in us new purpose and determination to go out into the world to be a people of resurrection, vision and hope. Roll the stones away from our hearts, O God, for only you can make this possible.
As you roll the stones away, O God, we rejoice and sing, knowing that through the resurrection of Easter, Christ lives with us and within us, now and always. Hallelujah! Amen.
Closing Hymn: This Joyful Eastertide #177
The stone is rolled away. All things are possible. And so, we go out from here today into the promise of new life. We go out into to promise of resurrection. We go out knowing that in all things, in life, in death and beyond, God is with us. And so we go with God. Amen.