A Traditional Easter (Pascha) Service

Themes: Christian Year, Easter, Scholar

The following service is a creative adaptation of the traditional pattern and texts for worship on Easter. It will be of particular help for those who plan more formal Easter worship. For Christians in nonliturgical churches, the commentary included with this service will provide a guide to thoughtful planning.

WE ENTER TO WORSHIP

Commentary: Every aspect of the congregation’s gathering on Easter should be marked by celebrative joy. The colors of white (purity) and gold (regality) should dominate the worship space. Images of the Easter event—the opening tomb, the lily, the butterfly, the herald’s trumpet, the empty cross, the chi rho—can be featured on banners, paraments, and printed liturgy covers. Lilies can adorn the worship space, adding their white brilliance and springtime odor to the worship space. Members of the congregation can be appointed to greet worshipers as they arrive with the joyous news of the Lord’s victory.

Gathering of the Congregation (with organ, piano, or instrumental prelude)

Commentary: If the service begins early on Easter morning, perhaps even before sunrise, the service can begin in quietness and darkness—the last shadow of Lent. Then the opening acclamation of Christ’s victory can shatter the silence as the rising sun and other lights break the darkness. Following this opening announcement, the Easter banners, paraments, and flowers can be brought in, perhaps by the children of the congregation or by various members of the congregation, while the congregation sings the first hymn. The Paschal candle can also be lit at this point. (See below).

If the service begins at a later time, or after an Easter Vigil service, then the festive mood should be present from the beginning. As the congregation gathers, instrumental, organ, or piano music, perhaps based on Easter hymns, can serve to call the people to worship. As another option, the gathering congregation may sing these same hymns as if they cannot hold back their exuberant praise. As more people arrive the song will naturally crescendo.

Acclamation

Leader(s):     The Lord is risen!

People:     The Lord is risen indeed!

Commentary: This joyous announcement should be done with vigor. Perhaps several people, stationed at various places within the worship space or at each entrance, can begin by exclaiming, “The Lord is risen,” followed the congregation, led the by choir or a speech choir responding with, “The Lord is risen indeed.” This final response can be repeated several times, each growing in vitality.

Hymn of Praise: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”

Commentary: The introduction to the hymn should follow the opening acclamation without pause. Other appropriate hymns include “The Day of Resurrection,” “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain,” and “Good Christians All, Rejoice and Sing.”

Greeting

Pastor:     Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of kings on earth.

People:     Alleluia, Amen!

Commentary: The reference in this text to Christ as the “firstborn of the dead” makes its use especially appropriate for Easter.

Mutual Greeting

Leader:     Even now as we have received God’s greeting, let us greet each other, in Jesus’ name.

People:     (to each other) The Lord is risen!

Commentary: Placing the mutual greeting (or passing of the peace) at this point in the service may be especially important on Easter Sunday because of the number of visitors often present on this day. Members of the congregation should be especially alert to greet visitors, to assist them with questions they may have, and to ensure that they have all necessary worship materials (hymnals, printed liturgies, prayer books, the Bible).

Lighting of the Paschal Candle

Leader:     Sisters and brothers in Christ: On this joyous morning, we celebrate that our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life. We join with the whole company of God’s people in recalling and celebrating his victory over death, and our deliverance from the bondage of sin and darkness to everlasting light.

Leader:     (reads John 1:1, 4–5)

People:     Eternal Lord of Life, through your Son you have given your people the brightness of your light. Sanctify this new fire, and kindle in our hearts and minds a holy desire to shine forth with the brightness of Christ’s rising until we feast at the banquet of Eternal light; through Jesus Christ, the Sun of righteousness. Amen.

Leader:     The light of Christ rises in glory, overcoming the darkness of sin and death.

People:     Thanks be to God!

Commentary: The paschal candle (a large white candle, on which may be engraved the chi rho) symbolizes the eternal victory of Jesus Christ over death, which brings light to our dark world of sin. Unlike other candles in Christian symbolism, the paschal candle is explicitly tied to the Easter message. Hence, the paschal candle is traditionally lit each of Sunday of Eastertide through Pentecost. It may also be lit at every baptism, where Christians celebrate that they “are raised with Christ,” and at every memorial or funeral service, where we celebrate Christ’s victory over death. This candle is traditionally lit at Easter Vigil, but congregations who do not hold such services may incorporate this into the opening of Easter morning worship.

Acclamations of Praise

Psalm 118:1–2, 14–16

Hymn: “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain”

Psalm 118: 16–21

Hymn: “The Strife Is O’er, the Battle Done”

Psalm 118:22–24

Hymn: “O Sons and Daughters of the King”

Commentary: This service features the use of Psalm 118, which has long been associated with Easter celebrations, in the opening section of the service. This serves to extend the opening time of celebration and adoration, certainly appropriate for Easter. The Psalm may otherwise be read or sung in its usual place between the Old and New Testament readings.

Psalm 118 may be sung by the congregation, choir, or by cantor and congregation in a responsorial form. This service, however, features readings of portions of the Psalm, alternating with Easter hymns. Other scriptural songs and choral or solo anthems may also used. This alternation reinforces the appropriation of these Old Testament words to express the faith and joy of New Testament experience.

WE HEAR GOD’S WORD

Prayer for Illumination

People:     Almighty God, we celebrate today the victory of Jesus Christ over death. As we now hear your Word of grace, inspire us by the power of your Spirit, that we may respond with joy and boldness in declaring our union with Christ, share in the feast of his victory, live in the power of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever. Alleluia! Amen!

The Old Testament and New Testament Readings

Jeremiah 31:1–6, Acts 10:34–43, Colossians 3:1–4

Commentary: If Psalm 118 is not read or sung earlier in the service, it may be used at this point.

The Easter Gospel: Matthew 28:1–10

Commentary: The Easter Gospel may be read dramatically by several readers, each reading the words of one of the persons in this scriptural account, with one reader reciting the narration. If this is done, the reading may be extended to include some of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, such as the appearance on the road to Emmaus. This type of reading is uniquely well-suited to capturing the spirit of joy inherent the account of Christ’s resurrection and post-resurrection appearances.

Response

Leader:     The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

People:     Praise to you, Lord Christ!

Commentary: This response to the reading of the Gospel lesson is appropriate for every service in the Christian year.

Sermon

WE CELEBRATE OUR NEW LIFE

Service of Christian Baptism or Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant

Introduction

Renunciation of Sin

Statement of Faith: (Nicene or Apostles’ Creed)

Prayer

Commentary: Easter morning is perhaps the most appropriate occasion in the Christian year for prospective members and newborn children of the church to be baptized, according to the practice of a local congregation. If there are no candidates for baptism, it is appropriate for each member of the congregation to remember their own baptism and to declare their union with Christ, by reaffirming their place in the baptismal covenant. See the Easter Vigil service for a complete text of the renewal of the baptismal covenant. If this is not included, it should be replaced by the statement of the Nicene or Apostles’ Creed, unless the creed is used to structure the Communion liturgy, as is the case in this sample service.

Prayers of the People

Adoration

Lord God, of power and might,

We praise you because of your power over sin and death.

We praise you for raising Jesus Christ from the dead.

We praise you for binding us together as the body of Christ.

We praise you for ruling over your kingdom in power and might.

Petition

We petition you to extend your power in our world, to crush the effects of evil that we see in our neighborhood, community, state, nation, and world.

We petition you to extend and strengthen the body of Christ, the church.

We petition you to assure us and strengthen us in our faith.

Confession

We confess that our faith has not always remained firm.

We confess that we have not always lived in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

We confess that we not have brought the news of Christ’s victory to our world.

Commentary: Worship in many Protestant churches has long featured a balance between printed and extemporaneous prayers. The latter can be best developed by following a pre-written pattern, as is printed here. Under each category of prayer are listed theme sentences upon which can be elaborated by the pastor or other worship leaders. Care should be given to make each section of the prayer specifically relevant to the needs and concerns of the local congregation.

Declaration of Pardon

Leader:     Friends in Christ: hear the good news: (reads Romans 12:1–2). In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.

People:     Thanks be to God.

Offertory

Leader:     In thanksgiving for Christ’s victory, we bring our offerings to God.

People:     Amen.

[The gifts are received.]

People (sing):

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow …

Commentary: At this point, the elements for communion and the gifts which have been received may be brought forward.

WE CELEBRATE THE SACRAMENT

Preface

Leader:     According to Luke, when our risen Lord was at table with his disciples he took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Friends, this is the joyful feast of the people of God. Come, taste, and see the that the Lord is good.

Declaration of Faith and Prayer of Thanksgiving

Commentary: The prayer of thanksgiving that is a part of the Communion liturgy traditionally features a Trinitarian structure. (See Pentecost Service.) The following Communion liturgy integrates the statement of the three parts of the Apostles’ Creed, itself reflecting Trinitarian structure, with the traditional structure of the Lord’s Supper liturgy. This is especially appropriate for Easter Sunday, when Christians emphasize the proclamation of their faith in the risen Lord and recall the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith which are important to the act of baptism or entry into the body of Christ.

Leader:     What do you believe concerning God the Father?

People:     I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Leader:     O Lord, our God, Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, with joy we give you thanks and praise. By your power you raised Christ Jesus from death to life. Through his victory over the grave we are set free from the bonds of sin and the fear of death. In his rising to life you promise eternal life to all who believe in him. We praise you that as we break bread in faith, we shall know the risen Christ among us. Therefore, with all Christians we praise your name and sing with joy:

People:     Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

Commentary: Most hymnals include a setting of this traditional canticle. For a list of service music found in a representative group of hymnals, consult the commentary to the Communion liturgy of the Advent service in this series. For Easter, the most celebrative version of the canticle should be chosen.

Leader:     What do you believe concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People:     I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

and born of the virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died and was buried;

he descended to hell.

The third day he rose again from the dead.

He ascended to heaven

and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.

From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Leader:     We praise you, O risen Christ, as the Lord of all creation. We bless you for your sacrifice in dwelling with us on this earth and sustaining even death on a cross. We worship you for your powerful victory over death and for your glorious ascension into heaven. And we thank you for leaving us with a constant reminder of your death and resurrection and means to declare our love for you: the sacrament of our Lord. Amen.

Institution

Leader:     For the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Memorial

Leader:     People of God, what do you proclaim in this feast?

People:     We proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ is coming again.

Leader:     What do you believe concerning God the Holy Spirit?

People:     I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

Prayer of Consecration

Leader:     Holy Spirit of God, descend upon us now, we pray. By these gifts, inspire in us a knowledge of our union with Christ and his church, an assurance of the forgiveness of our sins, a vision of our coming resurrection with Christ, and the comfort of knowing we will live and reign forever with our Lord. Amen.

Invitation

Pastor:     Friends in Christ, the Lord has prepared his table for his church. All who love him and trust in him alone for their salvation are now invited to come to the table of the Lord.

People:     We come with gladness. Thanks be to God!

Pastor:     The gifts of God for the people of God.

Sacrament

Pastor:     (as the people take the bread) Take, eat, remember, and believe that the body of the Lord Jesus Christ was given for the complete remission of all our sins.

Pastor:     (as the people take the cup) Take, drink, remember, and believe that the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ was shed for the complete forgiveness of all our sins.

Commentary: Music that accompanies the Lord’s Supper on Easter should be distinctly celebrative in tone. While it has been common practice in some parishes to accompany the sacrament with somber tones that focus on Christ’s sacrifice, this is certainly one occasion where the emphasis should fall on the celebration of his victory.

This mood of celebration may also influence the method of distribution for the sacrament. Congregations who normally serve the elements of Communion to the people in their seats may wish to invite the people to come forward to receive them.

Thanksgiving

Pastor:     You have given yourself to us, Lord.

People:     Now we pledge to give ourselves to each other.

Pastor:     You have raised us with Christ, and made us a new people.

People:     As people of the resurrection, we will serve you with joy.

Pastor:     You glory has filled our hearts.

People:     Help us to glorify you in all things. Amen.

WE DEPART TO SERVICE

Charge to the Congregation

Pastor:     Go in the power of our risen Lord, to love and serve him in all you do.

[or]

(reads Colossians 3:1–4)

People:     We go in his name and for his glory.

Hymn of Dedication (Recession): “This Joyful Eastertide”

Benediction

Pastor:     May the God of peace, who raised to life the great Shepherd of the sheep, make us ready to do his will in every good thing, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.

[or]

Pastor:     May God, who through the water of baptism has raised us from sin into newness of life, bring you into all the riches of union with Christ Jesus, his Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

People:     Amen. Alleluia! Amen!

Dispersal of the Congregation

(with organ, piano, or instrumental postlude)

Commentary: Post-service music on Easter should be triumphant. The use of brass instruments is especially effective.

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