This service is published by https://devotions.urc.org.uk/ .
It is also available via telephone on 01252 978319 – if you know anyone who wishes to worship but who is unable to do so via the Internet, please share this phone number with them.
The Rev’d Dr John Bradbury leads today’s service. This is a Communion service and you may like to have bread and wine to hand so we can celebrate together.
Worship for Easter Sunday 2020
Downing Place United Reformed Church Cambridge
Led by the Rev’d Dr. John P. Bradbury
Musician: Ian de Massini
Prelude: The Communion Plainsong Proper for Easter Day
Christ, our Paschal Lamb,
has been sacrificed, alleluia:
therefore, let us keep the feast
by sharing the unleavened bread
of uprightness and truth, alleluia, alleluia.
Call To Worship
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
One: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Many: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
One: Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour, radiant in the brightness of our King! Jesus has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!
Many: Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
One: Rejoice, O holy Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines upon you! Let this place resound with joy, as we sing, echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
Hymn: Christ the Lord is risen today
Charles Wesley (1707-88)
Sing “Alleluia” after each line of music
Christ the Lord is risen today:
let creation join to say:
raise your joys and triumphs high:
sing, ye heavens, thou earth reply:
2: Love’s redeeming work is done:
fought the fight, the battle won:
vain the stone, the watch, the seal:
Christ hath burst the gates of hell:
3: Lives again our glorious King:
where, O death, is now thy sting?
Once he died our souls to save:
where’s thy victory, boasting grave?
4: Soar we now where Christ hath led:
following our exalted Head:
made like him, like him we rise:
ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
5: King of glory, soul of bliss,
everlasting life is this,
Thee to know, thy power to prove,
thus to sing, and thus to love.
Prayers of Approach and Confession including verses from Psalm 118
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever!
Living God, we give thanks for your goodness. That you came into the darkness of a fallen world, bringing light and life and truth. In Christ, death has been broken, resurrection life won as a victory over darkness. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
We praise you that through our baptisms Christ’s story has become our story: Christ’s death, our death; Christ’s resurrection our resurrection.
This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes.
As we worship in the midst of a broken world, send us the gift of your Spirit; unite us with the praises of your people in all times and places as we lift our voices in thanksgiving for all your good gifts for us. This is the day that the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it!
God, we are a broken people. The angel at the tomb said, ‘Do not be afraid’. And yet we are afraid. Very afraid. The risen Christ stood among his disciples and said, ‘Peace be with you’, and yet our hearts are full of anguish, we condone violence and war, and we know no peace. We are a broken and sinful people, and we come seeking your forgiveness.
Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy.
“God raised Christ on the third day. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name”. (Acts 10: 40,42-43, altd.)
May you know you are forgiven. May you know the peace of the living Christ. Amen.
Jeremiah 31: 1-6
Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers. Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria; the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit. For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim: ‘Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’
St Matthew 28:1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
an excerpt from the Menuet from Le Tombeau de Couperin by Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937).
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary head at first light, heavy with grief, to the tomb. One can only begin to imagine the nature of the sleepless nights that had preceded that dawn. The exhaustion; the emotional confusion. The previous week had been nothing if not tumultuous, as the one they had confessed to be the Messiah, the Lord, had taken centre stage in the most deadly passion play. Crowds of people just like you and me, had waved their palm branches and cried ‘Hosanna’. Those very same crowds of people, just like you and me, had shouted ‘crucify’, and willed the ghoulish spectacle of a crucifixion for their delectation. The religious ‘powers that be’ had felt threatened by this man of peace. They had plotted and connived to have him removed from harm’s way. Their harm’s way. The occupying Imperial power of Rome, supposedly famed for its justice, had washed its hands of him, taking the easy way out. Weak and pathetic men allowed evil to prevail. We know something of what weak and pathetic men can do in our own age. And the cruellest and most tortuous death had been witnessed, as it had time and time again under Roman rule, and would be time and time again to come. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had witnessed all of it. As the disciples fled, and disowned the one they supposedly professed as Lord, these faithful women had stood at the foot of the cross.
Exhausted. Bewildered. Far removed from any sense of normality, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary head to the tomb.
As Matthew recounts the story, its beginning is dramatic. There is an earthquake, there is an angel of the Lord like lightening, white as snow. And the guards, lackeys of the empire, shake and become like dead men. The living dead surround the moment of resurrection.
It feels at the moment like we are surrounded by death. The numbers of the dead appear daily on our screens, we watch the statistics and the graphs with rapt attention. We hear stories from our hospitals that are hard to take in. It feels like we cannot properly honour our dead and commend and commit them to God in the way we would wish. We live lives unrecognisable compared with but a few weeks ago. We cannot go to honour our dead as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did.
What does it mean to celebrate the resurrection in a time of Coronavirus? A time when our world feels like it has been turned upside down, we fear for our loved ones, we fear for our lives, we fear for the future of our churches, and we fear for life as we have known it? A time when we fear for our bodies, and perhaps have been brought up short
against the fact that we are our bodies. Weak and fragile as they are, without them, there is no ‘us’.
Perhaps it helps to recall that the resurrection was attended by those guards, the living dead. The living are dead, and the dead live. Resurrection times are strange times.
We never see the moment of resurrection itself recounted in scripture. We see the effects of resurrection. There is the dramatic moment with the earthquake and the angel, but then resurrection becomes strangely tentative. As Mary Magdalene and the other Mary encounter the risen Lord he says, simply ‘Greetings!’. They worship, and take hold of his feet. For just as we are our bodies, so Jesus is his body and they touch and caress it. “Do not be afraid” says Jesus, words uttered whenever there is a manifestation of the divine upon earth. Words easier to hear than to live by. Then Jesus tells them to go and tell his brothers to go to Galilee. To head away from the centre of power and religious life, to the marginal place of Galilee. There they will see him. And that is it.
The Romans are still in power. The religious authorities are still corrupt. Popular opinion is still fickle. The guards are like the living dead. And Jesus is risen and nothing will be quite the same ever again.
And Mary Magdalene and the other Mary clearly do go, and do tell, and the disciples head to that out-of-the-way place Galilee. And there they do encounter the risen Christ and he commissions that frail, fragile, exhausted, broken, bemused band to make disciples and baptise ‘to the ends of the earth’. From the telling by Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, here we are two thousand years later, recalling the promise of Christ that he is with us ‘always, to the end of the age’. The one who said to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, ‘Greetings! Do not be afraid’, says to us this day, ‘Greetings! Do not be afraid’.
What does it mean to ‘not be afraid’ in a time of Coronavirus? It feels easier said than done, I find. I suspect that might be because of our tendency to look at things from a human point of view. And from that point of view we want resurrection to be different to that which it really is. We want resurrection to mean that the brutal occupying powers of the world no longer rule over minority populations. We want corrupt religious authorities to be unseated from their thrones. We want the ‘will of the people’ to embody perpetual truth, life and love. And yet that is not what we get. What we get is a greeting, an injunction to not be afraid, a grasping of the feet of the Lord, and an injunction to go and tell. In resurrection God’s kingdom is born into the midst of life in the world, it seeps into it, it spreads through it, it leavens and transforms it, but we still wait upon the day when God will bring all things to completion and the lion will lie down with the lamb, there will be feasting on the mountaintops and nation upon nation upon nation will process into the heavenly city and all things will be in all in Christ. As Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go and tell, they are a sign and a foretaste of that reality. As St. Paul realises that God’s Spirit falls upon us unclean gentiles as much as upon God’s chosen people, that sign and foretaste becomes yet more palpable. Wherever Christ’s people worship, follow him and serve, that sign and foretaste of the kingdom becomes yet more real. And at the heart of it stand these words of resurrections: “Do not be afraid”.
For whilst seemingly not much had changed early that morning, in reality everything had changed. For death had been overcome. Life had been transformed. Terrified men locked in an upper room became courageous apostles, proclaiming the good news to people and places previously unthinkable and unimaginable. For we have been invited into that story of Jesus. In our baptism his story has become our story. His identity has become our identity. We are engrafted into the Christ’s body, he has become our head. His life and death have become our life and death. His resurrection has become our resurrection. Where Christ has gone before us, he has prepared a place for us and we will go after him. As Christ has been victorious over death, he was won that victory for us too. We live filled with that Good News, hopeful and expectant for the coming of the Kingdom, when all things we be created anew in Christ, death shall be no more, there will be no more weeping and every tear will be wiped from every eye.
And so it is that we need not be afraid when surrounded by death. For the reality of the resurrection is the promise that death does not have the last word. Like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, we will grieve in these times. We will feel fear. With the Psalmist and with Christ upon the cross we will cry ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’. The world continues to be a broken place, just as those guards became the living dead at the moment of the resurrection. But we will not be afraid. For into this world of death life has been born, resurrection hope has escaped and been let loose in the world, Good News has been told, and is ours to tell. The Kingdom is abroad in the here and now. Christ is with us now, as he is to the end of the time. The Spirit captures us up in the life of the Kingdom, holds us in grief, leads us to life, fills us with resurrection hope.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
Hymn Now the green blade rises
John Macleod Campbell Crum 1872 – 1958 © 1928 Oxford University Press
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been:
love has come again, like wheat that springeth green.
2: In the grave they laid him, love whom they had slain,
thinking that he never would awake again,
laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
love has come again, like wheat that springs up green.
3: Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain,
he that for three days in the grave had lain,
quick from the dead my risen Christ is seen:
love has come again, like wheat that springeth green.
4: When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Christ’s touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
love has come again, like wheat that springs up green.
Affirmation of Faith
As followers of Jesus Christ, living in this world—which some seek to control, but which others view with despair—we declare with joy and trust: our world belongs to God!
From the beginning, through all the crises of our times, until His Kingdom fully comes, God keeps covenant forever. Our world belongs to God!
We rejoice in the goodness of God, renounce the works of darkness, and dedicate ourselves to holy living, for our world belongs to God!
As committed disciples, called to faithful obedience, and set free for joyful praise, we offer our hearts and lives to do God’s work in his world, for our world belongs to God!
With tempered impatience, eager to see injustice ended, we expect the Day of the Lord. And we are confident that the light which shines in the present darkness will fill the earth when Christ appears for our world belongs to God!
Prayers of Intercession
Living God, we give you thanks and praise that in Christ’s resurrection, your Kingdom has been inaugurated here on earth. Christ was lifted up for all, and in resurrection new life is made possible for all creation. And so we bring our prayers for the life of the world and the life of the Church:
“As the first day of the week was dawning Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb”.
We pray for those faced with the stark realities of death: For those who fear because death is near. Grant them peace and assurance of your love. For those who are this day tending the dying, uphold them through your Spirit in this demanding labour. For those separated from loved ones close to death, grant them comfort and relief from anguish. For those grieving the loss of loved ones; surround them in your love and sustain them through your power. For those who lament that there was no chance for a goodbye, my they experience the reality of your Spirit, who unites us all with you and all we love.
May those surrounded by death know something of resurrection hope. That death is not the end, but the beginning of new life in Christ. The angel said, “Do not be afraid”.
We pray for all who this day live in fear: Those who fear for their own safety as they tend the needs of others. Grant them courage. For those who fear the unknown of what is to come: may they rest in the assurance you sustain all things in being through your love. For those who fear the spaces they are confined in, may they experience your supportive presence and live in the hope of freedom.
“Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
We pray for the life of the Church. By the power of your Spirit, enable us to go and tell the good news of your resurrection. May we be a people of peace, a people who proclaim that there is no need to live in fear. A people who hear the good news with open ears and hearts, and proclaim it with open mouths and lives lived well.
In a moments silence we bring those concerns on our hearts and minds this day:
All these our prayers we offer in the name of Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and saviour. Amen.
Introduction to Communion
In this time of coronavirus, physical distancing and lockdown, any celebration of Holy Communion is damaged. There are three of us gathered here today, and Christ’s promise is that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there among them. At the same time, some of you may be isolated as individuals at this time – and yet we are all surrounded so great a cloud of witnesses that none of us truly marks Easter alone. Across the family of the church, we cannot today share fully together the one loaf and the one cup. That we cannot do, and we lament. But in communion we follow the command of Christ to remember him. That we can do. We come to remember with thanksgiving Christ’s death upon the cross and his resurrection. That we can do. We pray that the Holy Spirit will unite us with Christ, and across space and time with one another. That we can do, gathered or scattered as community. You may wish to take bread and wine at home, and join me in saying some of the communion prayers. You might, perhaps, prefer to use these prayers later at your Easter meal table, so that as you gather at table, you remember all Christ has done for us, and pray that he will be present with you at table through the work of the Holy Spirit. If so, you may wish to leave out the words in brackets whilst using these prayers as a form of extended ‘grace’ at the table. However you find it most helpful to join with us, our prayer is that our celebration of Holy Communion may reach out to everyone sharing with us in some way, such that God will unite us with one another, and with Christ, that we might be fed by the Holy Spirit in these difficult days.
Invitation to Communion
Hear the gracious words of our Lord Jesus Christ: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. I am the bread of life: whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
The risen Christ stood in the midst of his disciples and said: ‘Peace be with you’. The peace of the risen Christ be with you all. Peace be with you.
Hymn I come with joy to meet my Lord
Brian Wren (1936- ) © 1975, 1981, Stainer and Bell Ltd
Repeat the last line of each verse
I come with joy to meet my Lord,
forgiven, loved, and free,
in awe and wonder to recall
his life laid down for me.
2: I come with Christians far and near
to find, as all are fed,
the new community of love
in Christ’s communion bread.
3: As Christ breaks bread and bids us share
each proud division ends.
The love that made us, makes us one,
and strangers now are friends.
4: And thus with joy we meet our Lord,
his presence, always near,
is in such friendship better known:
we see, and praise him here.
5: Together met, together bound,
we’ll go our different ways,
and as his people in the world
we’ll live and speak his praise.
The Narrative of the Institution
Hear the narrative of the institution of the Lord’s Supper as it was recorded by the apostle Paul.
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and following his example, we take the gifts at this table, this bread and this cup, and give thanks to God.
The Lord be with you and also with you.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is indeed right that we give you thanks and praise, source of all life and love, guide and goal of creation. Long ago you called to yourself a people to be a light to the nations. We wandered often from your ways, yet you loved us with an everlasting love, and have continued in faithfulness to us. You came into the world in Christ, teaching and healing, showing us your ways, and drawing us into union with you. You broke the power of death, greeting startled women on the first day of the week, bidding them go and tell. With Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, with all the company of heaven and all your people of all times and places, we proclaim your greatness and sing your praise:
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.
We remember with thanksgiving Christ’s life here on earth. The lessons of forgiveness he taught us. The peace he shared with us. The healing of troubled bodies, minds and spirits he offered us. Yet his ways of peace were met with violence from power.
We recall now his sufferings upon the Cross for our sake, and his glorious resurrection, which promises new life for all.
Let us proclaim the mystery of faith
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
We who have been redeemed by Christ and made a new people by water and the Spirit now gather at your table.
Send your Holy Spirit upon us and upon the gifts at this table, bread and wine, that we who eat and drink at this feast may share the life of Christ, our Lord.
Pour out your Spirit upon the whole earth and bring in your new creation. Gather your Church together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom, where peace and justice are revealed, that we, with all your people, of every language, race, and nation, may share the banquet you have promised. Let us say together the prayer that Jesus taught us:
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, the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The Breaking of the Bread
The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’
The gifts of God for the people of God
If and as we receive bread and wine:
The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.
Prayer after Communion
God of a love stronger than death, you have given us new birth into a living hope, through the gift of your Son. God with us, like a mother you have fed us with yourself and strengthened us for journeying ahead. God of truth and power, you take our weakness and our sin and refashion us by grace. Gracious God, may the love which bids us welcome at this table gather all your children into one, in your eternal presence, whole and free at last. Amen.
Hymn Thine be the glory
Edmond Louis Budry. (1854-1932) tr. Richard Birch Hoyle (1875-1939)
Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won;
angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave-clothes where thy body lay.
Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won!
2: Lo, Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the Church with gladness hymns of triumph sing,
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting:
3: No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
life is naught without thee: aid us in our strife;
make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love;
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.
As Christ burst forth from the tomb, may new life burst forth from us and show itself in acts of love and healing to a 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 and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us now and evermore Amen.
Postlude: Easter Hymn Fanfare, by Ian de Massini (born 1959).
Sources and Thanks
Opening Responses adapted by Andy Braunston from the Exultset.
Affirmation of Faith from the Christian Reformed Church in North America
Prayer after Communion (and other inspiration!) from: Worship from the United Reformed Church (London, United Reformed Church, 2003).
The epliclesis in the Prayer of Thanksgiving is an adapted form taken from The Worship Sourcebook (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Baker Books, 2013).
Christ the Lord is Risen Today performed by Maddy Prior.
Now the Green Blade Rises performed by the Smoke Faeries.
I Come With Joy To Meet My Lord unknown performers on YouTube.
Thine be the Glory from BBC’s Songs of Praise.
Call to Worship and Affirmation of Faith read by members of Barrhead URC.
Words to hymns, where in copyright, reproduced according to the terms of the various licences held by the URC. Barrhead URC’s OneLicence covers the performance rights of the recorded musical material.