April 12, 2020 Easter Sunday
DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Minister: Rev. Maria Szabo Berces
Good morning! Let me wish you Happy Easter, as we celebrate in our homes on this Easter Sunday!
I greet you with the words we have been using as a welcome at our worship services:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Based on 2 Cor. 13:13
Lighting of a Candle:
If you have a candle at home, I invite you to light it for the time you dedicated for worship service. Please join me in saying these words for the Candle Lighting Liturgy:
At the first light of dawn, the women went to the graveside.
Are not our hearts burning within us?
And they found … nothing?
Are not our hearts lighted with fire?!
An empty tomb! The grave-clothes lying on the ground!
Where is Jesus?
(The candle is lit.)
Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Written by Richard Bott; Gathering, Lent-Easter 2017 page 38;
Used with permission
Hymn: VU # 155 Jesus Christ Is Risen Today
Call to Worship
I believe that God is with us always and everywhere.
When we are happy, and when we are sad or weak.
At the church building, at home, or when we are on the way. Today, we are asked to stay put, and not to travel anywhere.
And God is with us as we celebrate in our homes the great fulfillment of God’s saving plan!
This is Easter! This is the day of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus! Let us celebrate Jesus’ victory over death! Let us worship God! Amen.
Written by Rev. Maria Szabo Berces, 2020 04
- Please carry on the precautionary measures recommended by health authorities:
Practice good flu season hygiene which includes:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with those who are sick.
- Cough and sneeze into your sleeve and not into your hands.
- Stay home if you are able, but especially if you are sick, to avoid spreading illness to others.
- Maria is sending a daily encouragement and devotion to those who have e-mail addresses. Many thanks to Chris Whittaker for forwarding these messages to the congregation’s mass e-mail list.
- We wish Shirley Robb’s family and friends comfort, peace, and the living hope that we may have because of Jesus’ victory over death at that first Easter!
- Thursday Coffee and Conversation time has moved to ZOOM. If you haven’t received the link to join, please let Rev. Maria or Chris Whittaker know.
Hymn: VU # 166 Joy Comes with the Dawn
Prayer of Approach
God of New Life,
On this Easter morning we celebrate the good news that Christ is risen. Even from our homes, we join our voices in praise;
With rejoicing we lift up our hearts;
In gratitude we offer our thanks; United we worship You.
We are your people, and it is because of You that we can have strength and hope in all circumstances. Thank you for your victory over death! Thank you for the promise of eternal life! Amen.
Adaption of a prayer written by Diane Bennett-Jones;
Lent-Easter; 2014, Page 42; Used with permission
Prayer of Confession
Easter morning takes us by surprise,
awakening us to the doubt and despair
that have been rooted in our lives.
Let us now confess to God.
If, at times, we deny you, God forgive.
When the risks of discipleship are high,
and we are nowhere to be found: God forgive.
When we wash our hands of responsibility: God forgive.
When we cast our lot with powerful oppressors
and seek to buy freedom with silver: God forgive.
When fear keeps us from witnessing to your truth,
or prejudice keeps us from believing it: God forgive.
In the bright light of Easter morning, O God, our sin is exposed,
and your grace is revealed.
Tender God, raise us in your love so that, with joy,
we may witness to your awesome deeds,
in the name of Jesus, the Risen One. Amen.
(Celebrate God’s Presence 8I003; pg 195)
Words of Assurance
Jesus said to the disciples, “Take heart. Have no fear.”
As disciples, we no longer need to be burdened by guilt,
no longer need to be bound by fear.
Be renewed through God’s forgiving love:
be open to Christ’s presence in your life.
Thanks be to God. Amen
(Celebrate God’s Presence 13K001; pg 196)
Hymn: VU # 381 Spirit of Life
Prayer of Illumination
Great Shepherd, help us to listen to your voice.
You know us. You call us. You assure us that no one can snatch us from your care.
In this time of worship may we listen with our hearts to you, and follow your lead. Amen.
Written by Camillia LaRouche; Lent-Easter; 2014,
Page 45; Modified; Used with permission
Matthew 28:1–10 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Has Risen
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.
6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Acts 10:34–43 New International Version (NIV)
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism
35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.
36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—
38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross,
40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.
41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.
43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Let me start today’s message with a touching story from an Unknown Source:
“Little Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several eight-year-old boys and girls. Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in leadership magazine. But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully.
The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought L’eggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs. Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container. Back in the classroom, they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion. After running about the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one. After each one – whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf – the class would “ooh” and “ahh”.
Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside. The children exclaimed, That’s stupid. That’s not fair. Somebody didn’t do their assignment.”
Philip spoke up, “That’s mine.”
“Philip, you don’t ever do things right!” the student retorted. “There’s nothing there!”
“I did so do it,” Philip insisted. “I did do it. It’s empty. The tomb was empty!”
Silence followed. From then on Philip became a full member of the class.
He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off. At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar not with flowers, but with their Sunday school teacher, each to lay on it an empty pantyhose egg.”
This story can illustrate a number of ideas of our today’s teaching.
First of all, we can see why we can be joyful and sing Hallelujah to God despite of the vulnerability of our body; despite of the pain and the grief that death still brings to each one of us. We all do die, as little Philip died in the story.
Many of us have already been given more years than it was given to Philip. However, I found the following quote from Abraham Lincoln thought provoking, which I saw recently during one of the ZOOM webinars: “It’s not the years in your life that counts. It’s the life in your years…”
So, the main point here is not the age when death actually comes to us, but the circumstance. With other words: Do we die hidden in Jesus Christ, the resurrected Lord, who said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10)?
Does death reach us in the faith and conviction formulated in I Corinthians15: 22: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive”?
If it is really so, there is no reason why we should fear death any more.
However, the gift of eternal life that is offered to all of us is not priceless at all. Jesus died an extremely painful death and paid a very high price that we remember every year during Holy Week, and especially on Good Friday. For this very reason the cross became the symbol of our salvation and faith; from which we can “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18)
But as we all know from the Bible by now, Good Friday is not the final point of God’s saving plan. All the four Gospels talk about the resurrection emphasizing different viewpoints based on their audience. All of them testify that Jesus paid the price for us; we have forgiveness of our sins through his blood – if we decide to accept his sacrifice for our sins.
However, Jesus offered even more than this to his disciples, who love him and remain in Him:
First, He offered his Spirit as we can read it in the Gospel of John: “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth … the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (John 14:15-17; 26-27)
This means that we are not alone as we live our lives here on earth; as we try to remain faithful to Jesus; as we try to follow his instructions and commands. We are promised God’s holy presence to help us all in these efforts of ours. And we are not alone either as we face any other storms, challenges or losses of life.
Second, Jesus also said that “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)
This means that when our life is over here on earth, we can be sure that Jesus abides with us and accompanies us that we also may be where He is. Here is the point, where the empty tomb can bring us joy and hope where normally there is sadness and hopelessness. Here is the point where Easter morning has its world changing power as Paul puts into words: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Finally, it is offered to any and all of us; any and all of us who takes the offer of God seriously and ready to accept it for himself or herself. No matter what our nationality, what our gender or sexual orientation; what our economic situation; what our mental or physical situation is.
Peter explained it to a Roman centurion in our lectionary reading this way: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)
Let’s not forget, that the religious rules of Peter forbid accompanying with those who didn’t belong to Yahweh’s covenant people. And let’s not forget that Cornelius, as a Roman officer should state “Caesar is the Lord”. So, stating the “Jesus is the Lord” would be traitorous for him.
And it is not only the book of Acts where we can learn “how the presence of the risen Christ breaks down and through all human-made barriers”. (Dr. Mickey Anders, www. lectionary.org)
Susan Warrener Smith wrote a story for “Fanfare for Easter Morning” in which a Presbyterian pastor in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, remembers “the largest wedding he ever experienced in his church.
It was a full house one beautiful Saturday night – a full house of people devoted to this young couple – a full house of diverse people of different cultures and faiths. Included in this wedding ceremony was the celebration of the Lord’s supper.
This pastor describes it this way. ‘After their exchange of promises, I moved to the communion table and reminded all who had gathered that Christ, present in this time of joy and celebration, had in his gift of bread and wine made all our tables holy. Then I proceeded, as is our custom, to invite all who had been baptized and who loved the Lord, to come forward to celebrate . . .'”
“To this pastor’s great surprise when he looked up from the table and looked out at the congregation, he saw virtually everyone regardless of who they were or what their faith tradition – everyone in that congregation was coming forward. What was he to do? Say, ‘Stop! Only the baptized are invited to the table!’ How totally absurd, he thought. What a travesty that would be to our Lord. And he welcomed all to the table.
“After the wedding a Jewish couple came up to him and explained that they were children of Holocaust families and that even though they had lived by a rule never to enter a Christian church, their love for the bride had brought them there that night. The gentleman said, ‘When you invited people to the table and everyone around us began to move, we couldn’t remain seated. We know, Pastor, it’s Jesus’ table, not ours. But we were drawn . . . by some kind of love, so please, we hope we haven’t offended you or your community. But we were received at the table tonight and were deeply moved.’
“Shortly after this confession, another couple came up to him, identifying themselves as Moustafa and Munir, originally from Lebanon. They said, ‘So you know what our life has been like. . . You know about the pain and bloodshed . . . We are, of course, Muslim.’ Then they told how their children rose to go to the communion table, and they were drawn inexplicably to follow them. ‘We know we shouldn’t have been there,’ they said, ‘but somehow, for us tonight, the war has ended.'” (www.lectionary.org)
The United Church of Canada belongs to those denominations that declare the Lord’s Table open to all who wanted to come. We pride ourselves on saying that we are open and inclusive. But for the Presbyterian pastor in this story, it was a breakthrough! And it is a vivid reminder of the radical good news that God shows no favoritism.
Peter concludes his speech to the Roman centurion: “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)
The price is paid. We are free from the conclusions of our sins. We are offered eternal life in Jesus.
Peter says that for God not the nationality, the human made religion is important but that someone “fears God and does what is right”.
So, shouldn’t we sing Hallelujah to God and live our lives as thanking for this love? Shouldn’t we glorifying God’s name as long as we live in this physical body?
At this Easter may we all commit ourselves to God that our whole life would be a thanksgiving to Him for his gift in Good Friday and Easter. May we find hope and strength in our trust in God’s unconditional love in all circumstances.
And may we find our help in the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is promised to accompany us and to help us both in our life challenges and in our commitment. Amen
Hymn: VU # 266 Amazing Grace
Invitation to the Offering
Even though we don’t worship in person, we are encouraged to continue to support God’s mission carried out by our church family, if we are able in these changed circumstances.
Please consider using the ways still open to us for our offerings. As we offer our financial means, let us remember that we are called to imitate Christ’s offering, and it is more than just money. We may offer our time, our talents, and our love to make a difference in this world and in our community.
Loving, and Gracious God, we are grateful for Christ’s life, death and resurrection among us, bringing us to fullness of life in the Spirit. Accept our gifts we offer in his name.
Through them, we pray that others might come to know the power of your Holy Spirit, for their lives and for the world. Amen.
Written by Frances Flook; Lent-Easter; 2020,
Page 49; Used with permission
Prayer of the People
Holy God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
We praise your name and we give you thanks for the gifts of Good Friday and Easter, when you showed how much you love us.
We thank you that in Jesus Christ you paid the cost, and in his sacrifice, we are freed from the consequences of our sins.
We ask you to help us to accept this gift with grateful and humble hearts. Help us with your Spirit that by knowing the weight of the price, we would be also ready to fear You and do what is right.
We thank You that you encourage us to ask in the powerful name of our risen Savior. We can bring everyone into your loving presence who need your healing, your strength and the peace and hope you gave us in Jesus.
In this great distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we pray for those who contained the virus. Especially for those, who developed more serious symptoms, and now are fighting for their lives. We pray for the overwhelmed healthcare workers in hospitals and in care-facilities. We pray for those who have other health concerns and now they have wait for relieving surgeries.
We pray for first responders; for transporters, retailers, cleaners and all who risk their health in essential services. We pray for wisdom, guidance and strength for the political leaders. We pray for our homeland Canada, but we pray for all the nations that fight this invisible enemy. Help the peoples of the globe to cooperate with other lands, realizing that this virus knows no borders. Guide the scientists to develop a vaccine and a cure to this disease.
We pray for those who are close to enter this world to the next. Good Shepherd, take them in your arms into their eternal home.
We pray for those of us who mourn; who are lonely; desperate or distressed.
We pray for those who suffer the economic consequences of this pandemic; for those who mourn the losses of cherished plans, celebrations, get-togethers, travel, adventure, and separation from each other.
We pray for our church family that we can remain and become more and more a shining light in our community to the glory of Your name.
We pray for all who haven’t been able to put their trust in You yet. Help them to find the unfailing love, full redemption, and peace that is in You in all circumstances.
We thank you that you listen to our prayers that we say together or alone in our privacy. Be with us always, and give us peace.
We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen
Written by Rev. Maria Szabo Berces, 2020 04
The Lord’s Prayer
It is also in Jesus’ name that we pray together the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.
Departing Hymn: VU # 173 Thine Is the Glory
May the blessing and the presence of God remain with us today and always.
May the good news of Easter linger in our hearts and minds as we enter the joys or sorrows of our weekdays.
May we keep in mind the words and promise of the Bible:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)