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Tell Us a Resurrection Story

A clergy magazine once published a cartoon of a minister greeting people after a worship service. The sign in front of the church said, "Easter Sunday Schedule." While shaking hands with the pastor, a man said, "Preacher, you're in a rut. Every time I come to this church, you preach on the same subject." I chuckled as I thought about all the people who attend church only on Easter. But the cartoon also struck a nerve. When it came to Easter worship, my congregation and I were in a rut. The following ideas helped breathe new life into our tired Easter services. Perhaps they can help you avoid a rut this Easter Sunday.

Begin creatively. Start the service with a brief dramatic monologue. Have "Mary" tell her story about going to the cemetery and discovering the empty tomb. Immediately after Mary proclaims the angel's message, "He is not here, he is risen!" have the congregation stand and sing "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." If you have projection capabilities, consider beginning the service with the powerful video, Sunday's Coming (www.ignitermedia.com.)

Tell a resurrection story. Years ago Barbara Brown Taylor led a worship service at a nursing home. She asked the residents, "What story from the Bible do you want to hear today?" Things got quiet for a moment. Then an old woman's broken voice said, "Tell us a resurrection story." Every Easter you and I have the incredible opportunity of telling our people a "resurrection story." Here's the one I told last year.

In March 1994, the children's choir at Goshen UMC in Piedmont, Alabama, was singing for the Palm Sunday service. As they sang, a massive tornado hit the church, killing nineteen people and injuring eighty-six others. Among the dead was Pastor Kelly Clem's four-year-old daughter, Hannah. Over the next few days, Kelly performed one funeral after another, including one for her daughter. Toward the end of that awful week, Kelly began receiving phone calls from members of the congregation. Given the death of the pastor's daughter and the destruction of their sanctuary, they asked, "Reverend Clem, are we having Easter this year?"

After connecting the tornado story to the grief and despair the disciples felt after Jesus' crucifixion, I concluded the story. The day after the tornado, a reporter asked Reverend Clem if the disaster had shattered her faith. She replied: "It has not shattered my faith. I'm holding on to my faith. It's holding me. All of the people of Goshen are holding on to one another, along with the hope that they will be able to rebuild." Then Kelly said to the reporter, "Easter is coming."

That Sunday morning at the Easter sunrise service, two hundred people gathered in the front yard of the destroyed facilities at Goshen UMC. With a bandage on her head, her shoulder in a brace, and her heart breaking with grief, Rev. Kelly made her way to the makeshift pulpit. She opened her Bible, looked into the faces of her traumatized congregation, and then read these words from Romans 8, "Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

(For additional Easter preaching resources, see "But Some Doubted" and "Today's Empty Tombs" at our online store.)

Celebrate Communion. Joyfully celebrate the presence of the risen Lord by observing the sacrament of Holy Communion. As you invite your congregation to partake of the Lord's Supper, remind them of the Emmaus Road story, when the disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Tell them that through the mystery of Communion, the risen Christ is, in the words of the popular praise song, "in this very room." During Communion, have the congregation, choir, and/or soloists sing vibrant Easter songs.

Renew baptism vows. On this holiest day of the year, invite your congregation to renew their baptism vows. Explain that this sacred ritual is not a rebaptism but a tangible way for them to say yes to their baptism. As the congregation sings songs of renewal and commitment, invite people who want to reaffirm their faith to walk forward to the baptismal font. As they come, place your thumb into the baptismal water, make the sign of the cross on their forehead, and say, "Remember that you are baptized, and be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ."

 

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