Our pastor, Steve Hundley, and choir director, Fran McNiell, teamed up to present a wonderful on-line church service for us. It’s not a video. It’s a Word document with links to a couple of majestic Easter hymns performed by The Hereford Cathedral Choir and congregation with orchestral and pipe organ accompaniment.
Resurrected Lord, like Mary Magdalene alone in the garden we, too, find ourselves alone, separated from those we love on this Easter morning. Risen Christ, come to us as You came to her. Let no shadow of the grave terrify us and no fear of darkness turn our hearts from You. Reveal Yourself to us this day and all the days ahead, as the first and the last, the Living One, our Immortal Savior and Lord. Amen.
Celebrate the Empty Tomb
Today we celebrate the empty tomb and our risen Savior. Let us confess our shortcomings and ask our Savior to forgive us. Here is Pastor Steve Hundley’s
Prayer of Confession:
Almighty God, in raising Jesus from the grave, You shattered the power of sin and death. We confess that we remain captive to doubt and fear, as CORVID 19 virus rampages through our world and alters our lives. Forgive us, God of mercy. Help us to trust Your power to heal, to give us life and make us new, that we may know the joy of life abundant given in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon: (I Corinthians 15:54-57)
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is Your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Prayer for Illumination:
God of life, whose Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and draws us to Christ, send Your Spirit now to give us deeper insight, encouragement, faith and hope, through the proclamation of the Easter gospel. Amen.
Overcoming Life’s Greatest Temptation
“Do not worry about anything.” Paul said it. Jesus preached it in His sermon on the Mount message. It is Scripture to be obeyed. But, is it really humanly possible not to worry about anything? It is like telling a lame man to stop dragging his feet, or telling someone with a virus not to cough or sneeze so much. If life were predictable, maybe we could avoid “worrying about anything.” But as this deadly virus and empty pews on this Easter Sunday has reminded us, life is full of the unexpected—the unforeseen life interruptions that can turn our world upside down.
Of course, some unforeseen interruptions can be weathered better than others. When an appliance breaks at the most inopportune time, it is annoying, but we can handle that. Or, when we are late for an appointment and stuck in traffic. I know, I know, this is Montana, but it can happen.
And yet today, the whole world is in lockdown, in this, the mother and father of all unforeseen interruptions, and it has turned our lives upside down, stopping us dead in our tracks. The boss says: “I am sorry but we are going to have to let you go,” leaving you without a job or health insurance. The doctor says: “I’m afraid you’ve tested positive for the virus”; or, the paramedic says: “We did everything we could, but there is nothing more we could have done.” And we wonder: “Why is this happening? Where is God in all of this?”
Even though our faith assures us that God has a plan, it is little comfort as hopes, dreams, plans, and future crumble before us. You see, the greater life’s interruption, the more it bleeds over into the love for whom we care most.
As a pastor, husband and father, I tended to be a bit of a workaholic with more than a healthy dose of guilt. Some years ago, I was so caught up in my ministry that I was neglecting my own family. Concerned that I was not spending enough time with my daughter, Elaine suggested that I plan some quality time with Bethany. Elaine pointed out how much our daughter cherished the time I took her on a road trip to upstate NY. We attended the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous where we camped out and competed with traditional archers from all over the country. My daughter described it as one of the best times of her life.
So, I suggested we take the same trip together. She was beside herself with joy and could hardly contain herself as we began to pack the car for the eleven-hour trip. I too, was so excited about getting away, I inadvertently left the car keys on the kitchen counter as I was telling Elaine “Goodbye”. I ran back into the house, grabbed the keys and headed back out the door. As I was about to climb into the driver’s seat, I looked up and saw Elaine standing at the edge of the porch with a concerned look on her face and the phone in her hand. “What is it,” I called out? “You really need to take this call,” she said.
Taking the phone, I learned that an elder and professor, beloved by her husband, young daughters, our congregation, and her students at the university, had just committed suicide. No one saw it coming. On any given Sunday, her face was the brightest and happiest face in the church choir. She was so bright, bubbly, and attractive, that no one had the faintest idea that she had been fighting a long, but losing, battle with her own inner demon called “depression.”
Stunned, I handed the phone back to Elaine, walked slowly to the car, leaned in and told my daughter that we would have to cancel our trip, for there had been a tragedy in the congregation. I think what was most painful for me was the fact that my thirteen-year-old daughter didn’t cry. She did not protest or fuss. She just got out of the car, walked quietly to the house, passing her mother on the porch, never to mention the trip again.
Yes, life has always been filled with unexpected interruptions that catch us off guard, disrupt our lives, and keep us off balance. What is so insidious about life’s interruptions, whether large or small, is that over time, they have the power to erode our trust and our very relationship with God. For, those places where our faith is stretched so much, we begin to wonder whether we are actually “standing on the solid rock,” or whether it is “just shifting sand.”
Yet, in God’s great love and concern for us, and because of our inability to recognize God’s power over life’s greatest interruptions, God took a body like ours in order that we may witness God’s power more clearly in the life of Jesus. In Christ, God has demonstrated for all the world to see His power over all life’s unexpected interruptions by: feeding the hungry masses, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, making the lame to walk, and even by raising those who had died.
In the person of Jesus Christ, God demonstrated for us that “nothing can separate us from His love for us in Christ: not life’s greatest interruptions; not even death, the greatest interruption of all. And this is why, even in the face of this worldwide pandemic, we make our annual journey back to the empty tomb, remembering God’s all-encompassing power.
On this abnormal Easter morning, we remember how Christ’s own death on the cross interrupted the lives of his disciples and the life of Mary Magdalene. We remember how they must have felt, when all that they had believed in and hoped for, was buried and entombed with the body of Jesus.
We remember Mary Magdalene and how devastated and alone she must have felt, there at the empty tomb. Not only had they killed her Lord, but it seemed someone had even stolen His body, denying her closure. Of course, Jesus warned them that this was to fulfill all scripture, but Mary didn’t understand the scriptures. Peter did not understand the scriptures. None of the disciples understood the scriptures.
Besides, who is “the other disciple” who entered the empty tomb and believed? For that matter, what did he believe? Did he believe that Christ had risen from the dead, or did he simply believe what Mary said was true, that the stone had been rolled away and the body was stolen? After all, John says, “they left there and returned to their homes.” And who is this “unnamed disciple?” Is this simply a reference to John, or is it a reference to you and me, at home on this Easter morning?
Of course we remember that Mary lingered at the empty tomb, frozen in grief. But then, the risen Christ appeared to her, called her by name, proving that not even death can interrupt God’s gift of everlasting life. We remember, in spite of our own loss of life as we have known it, how Mary, overcome by shock and joy, threw her arms around Jesus, clinging to Him as if somehow she might shield Him from life’s greatest interruption once and for all. Still, just being alive is not enough. We remember on this Easter morning that Jesus is alive to do something for all humanity.
We remember on this Easter Sunday that:
Jesus is alive to make us all alive again.
Jesus is alive to make His God, our God; His Father, our Father.
Jesus is alive to raise us up from our own chaos and loss.
Jesus is alive to raise us up from death’s destructive power.
Jesus is alive to raise us up from every unexpected interruption that would threaten to separate us from the love of God.
JESUS IS ALIVE!
YES! We remember that “JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN TODAY!” And that the life, hope, love, and peace He gives can overcome all of life’s greatest interruptions!
YES! DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY! O DEATH, WHERE IS THY VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS THY STING?
Let’s sing of His Victory over death. Let’s lift our voices in praise!
Almighty God, on this triumphant day, we know that the whole host of heaven—angels, seraphs, and cherubim raise their voices singing “Alleluia,” for Christ the Lord is risen today. We want to join them, even though we are confined and suffering and the hands of a hidden and insidious enemy. We want to sing with the pure joy of those who celebrate the life You give in Jesus Christ. Give us freedom this day to lift our voices with all of heaven as we celebrate Christ’s victory over death.
Oh God, on this day some find it difficult to be glad. For them, life has too much pain. The present pandemic will not let them own too much hope. Some are angry in their loneliness. Some are worried about family.
We pray for each other in this unwanted, but necessary, internment. Touch us in our individual need. Free us today to be glad; to rejoice in the promise of newness of life; to let our hope out of its prison. Free us to shout and make joyful Alleluias. You know that we need to celebrate for You have done great things for us in the resurrection of Jesus.
O God, You know that we do not understand all there is to know about the resurrection. You know that we have questions, we have our doubts, we want to believe, we do believe, we wonder about our own belief. But on this day, help us to understand just enough about what faith means, that we are willing to let faith be what it should be; deep conviction without proof, trust without protested guarantees, joy in a promise which does not have to be fulfilled before it can be enjoyed.
Yes, on this day grant us the freedom to rejoice and sing glad Alleluias, for “Thine Is the Glory, Risen, conquering Son; Endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won!”
As Christ bursts forth from the tomb,
May new life burst forth from us
And show itself in acts of love and healing
to our hurting world.
And may that same Christ,
who lives forever and is the source of our new life,
Keep your hearts rejoicing
and grant you peace this day and always.
for you cannot go where God is not.
Go with noble purpose,
and God will give meaning to Your days.
Go in love,
for it alone endures.
Go in peace,
for it is the gift of God
to those whose hearts and minds
are in Christ Jesus our Lord.