Welcome to those in church and to others joining us via Zoom.
Call to Worship
THE LORD IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED.
Hymn 410 – Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia. Listen here.
O God our Father, on this Easter morning it is fitting that the heavens should rejoice, that the earth should be glad and that the whole world, visible and invisible, should join together in praise.
Living God. We worship you today with joy in our hearts and thanksgiving on our lips. When the powers of evil had done their worst, crucifying your Son and burying him in death, you raised him to life again, bringing light into the darkness of those early followers, joy replacing their despair.
Lord Jesus. We rejoice that death could not keep you in its grip, that you were raised to life, alive for evermore. On that first Easter morning you greeted your friends, turning their mourning to rejoicing. Over the past year we have found ourselves in the midst of a different kind of darkness. Amidst our continuing anxiety come and stand alongside us, encourage us with the promise that you will go ahead of us as we slowly continue to wend ourselves out of our tunnel of darkness, just as 2000 years ago you promised to go ahead and meet with your disciples around the shore of Lake Galilee.
Spirit of God. You are always giving life to the people of God, giving new birth to the children of God. Remould us in the image of Jesus, strengthen us in our weakness, bring peace amidst the turmoil that surrounds us and help us to be faithful to our calling.
O God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant equip us with every good thing that we may do your will, and work in us that which is pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever.
Hear us we continue to pray using the words that the Lord taught his disciples:
Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever. Amen.
For the children’s talk, Mo read the story ‘No more crying’, an adaptation of John 20:1–8 from The Rhyming Bible by Bob Hartman.
Hymn 55 – Jesus is Lord (from Songs of God’s People)
John 20:1–18 (New Revised Standard Version)
The Resurrection of Jesus
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
The Walk to Emmaus
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash
Reflection by Rev. Bob Gemmell: The Easter Message of Hope and Renewal
The Easter message is, and always has been, one of hope and renewal, one that has had an extraordinary and positive effect on people’s lives across the centuries. It was the powerful message which completely transformed the lives of Jesus’ disciples and followers – back there in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago – and it is one that has lacked nothing of that power in the interim period.
Think for a moment of how those early disciples must have been feeling as that first Easter day dawned, and of the extraordinary effect that news of our Lord’s resurrection had on them as that news filtered through to them. Their darkness and gloom melted away like the mist on a summer’s day, replaced by light and joy; despair turned to hope, dismay and disillusionment turned to certainty. Such was the transforming power of the resurrection.
First of all, this morning I would like to take you back a couple of days, take you back from the scene around the empty tomb to the foot of the cross, to our Lord’s crucifixion. According to John’s account of proceedings, the disciples, apart from John himself, had made themselves scarce, they didn’t dare show their faces. But the women remained faithful: “Standing close to Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleopas and Mary Magdalene.”
Fast forward back to Sunday morning and we find a common denominator between the two scenes – it’s the women we find taking centre stage. Matthew refers to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to look at the tomb. Mark’s account says: “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to go and anoint the body of Jesus.” Luke simply says: “Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared.”
John, as you will recall from our Scripture reading, refers to Mary Magdalene’s involvement. She went running from the empty tomb to Peter, uncertain in her mind as to what had happened: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.” Peter and John run quickly to tomb, enter it, blindly unaware of what had happened, then go back home. Mary returns tearfully to the scene, becomes aware of the presence of two angels who ask why she is crying. Suddenly she turns round. Jesus is there before her very eyes. She thinks he is the gardener. He too asks her why she is crying. What a strange question to ask a grieving woman – grieving for him. “Jesus says to her ‘Mary!’ She turns toward him and says in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni’, teacher”.
“So Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she HAD SEEN THE LORD.” Mary, the apostle to the apostles: “I have seen the Master, and this is what he said.” Nothing like fresh, first-hand evidence. And it still counts today. If someone in the first century had wanted to invent a story about people seeing the risen Lord, they wouldn’t have presented a woman centre stage, let alone Mary Magdalene.
Yet her message is the Easter message – I have seen the Lord. That Easter message of love and renewal had an extraordinary effect on the lives of our Lord’s followers, starting with the women and from their testimony spreading to the disciples and eventually to the uttermost parts of the world.
But it’s a message that also affected two of Jesus’ followers – Cleopas, and probably the already mentioned Mary, his wife? – as they wended their way and walked the miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus that Sunday, their hearts and minds gloomy and downcast because of what they had experienced over the past days and hours. The two weren’t members of the inner circle of disciples, not part of the twelve, but it would seem that they had been close followers of Jesus.
I wonder what hopes and aspirations they had held in their hearts and minds leading up to the events of that weekend. Perhaps like some others they had initially looked on Jesus as a conquering military hero, maybe they had seen him as a political revolutionary, or had they hopes of him being the long-awaited Messiah?
Whatever views they had held, whatever hopes they had clung to in earlier days, had been dashed before their eyes at Calvary. Jesus, their mentor, their leader, had been taken from them and scourged and crucified. He had been put to death on a cross. And so we find our travellers making their way back home to Emmaus, downhearted. Downhearted and yet with questions in their minds: “Some of the women in our group surprised us; they went at dawn to the tomb but couldn’t find his body. They came back saying that they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he is alive.”
As they travelled the road and miles a stranger joined them on their journey. And as he drew alongside them he also joined in on their conversation and in that conversation they got round to discussing the past couple of days’ events in Jerusalem. The travellers began to unburden themselves as they shared their feelings, their disappointment, and perhaps the questions in their minds.
The stranger in response, and in making reference to what had happened in Jerusalem, pointed the travellers to the Scriptures and to what the Scriptures had to say about their long-awaited Messiah. As he did so, to quote their later testimony: “their hearts began to burn within them,” and slowly but surely they began to realise that all the pieces of the jigsaw were beginning to fit into place, everything was beginning to make sense to them.
So as Jesus walked the road with them and then, critically, as he joined the couple for a meal at the end of their journey, the final piece of the jigsaw fell into place: “He sat down to eat with them, took the bread and said the blessing, then he broke the bread and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him.” What was it that made them recognise him now when they hadn’t recognised him on the road? It might have been the way he spoke at table, or they might have glimpsed his hands as he broke the bread. This failure to recognise Jesus, whether by Mary or the two on the road to Emmaus is one of the great mysteries of the Gospel story.
Our two travellers, like the disciples, like the women, experienced something of the transforming power of the resurrection message, the message of hope and renewal. And their depression, their despair, their disappointment turned to hope. And for all of them, it must have felt like the dawning of a new day.
And what relevance do these far-off events have for us today?
As far as the women and the disciples were concerned, the Easter message of hope and renewal, the message of resurrection, so transformed their lives, it transformed them to the extent that by Pentecost we find them being used in establishing the foundations of the early church. And do you know what? I believe that the Easter message, the message of hope and renewal, can have the same effect on our lives today.
But perhaps some of us can more easily identify with the lot of our two travellers walking the Emmaus road. There are occasions in life when circumstances can deal us a bitter blow, circumstances that can lead us towards those dark places in life, our hopes and aspirations shattered. If we ever find ourselves walking on the dark side of life then this morning’s message of hope and renewal is one that becomes real for us, the message of resurrection. There is light and there always will be light at the end of the tunnel.
I want to bring this morning’s reflection to a close by reading a reasonably modern take, a paraphrase of our passage from Luke’s Gospel, one that I think will “warm our minds and our hearts” on this Easter morning.
On that same day two of Jesus followers were going to a village named Emmaus about eleven kilometres from Jerusalem.
It was getting late sunset in their eyes and in their hearts.
Cleopas and his friend talk as they go: “Who would have thought it? All our hopes on Jesus and he ends up dead.”
Another traveller joins them: “What’s the great debate between you?”
Cleopas can’t believe his ears; after all, what else is there to talk about? “Have you been asleep all weekend? Haven’t you heard that Jesus is dead? And women have been seeing angels?”
The stranger sighs: “How foolish you are. How slow to believe. Can’t you see? It all fits.”
The stranger begins at the beginning. He leads them step by step through Scripture. He talks about Moses and David, the Psalms and the Prophets: “You expected a Conquering Hero. You expected a Suffering Servant. But you thought the two were different. In fact they ARE THE SAME. The Messiah is the Suffering Servant, the Suffering Servant is the Messiah.”
As they listen, they forget their hot feet, their tired minds, their broken hearts.
IT ALL FITS.
Later … at table, he takes the bread and thanks the Father. He breaks it … THAT VOICE – THOSE WOUNDED HANDS.
And with that … He is gone.
And still later, they said to each other: “wasn’t it like fire burning within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”
The Easter message of hope and renewal.
Jesus of the Emmaus road
Come as we walk the lonely path and be our companion.
Come when life mystifies us and perplexes us.
Come into our disappointments and our unease.
And in coming – open our eyes to recognise you.
Prayers of Intercession by Rev. Suzie Stark
Christ our Risen Lord,
On that first Easter day your friends were perplexed when they saw an empty grave and Mary wept anew because your body was gone.
Hear today our prayer for all who struggle to make sense of life, for those for whom grief and trial seem not to end.
Be with those who humbly and willingly serve your people,
seeking to bring comfort and show the way forward from darkness to light.
For those whose work goes on in the background,
unacknowledged and unrecognised.
For those who bring healing and hope in the most desperate of places.
In these troubling times we hear of riots and rebellion and we pray for peace and understanding throughout our troubled world. Strengthen and uphold all who serve and reach out to others in your name.
Hear our Prayer.
Christ our Risen Lord,
On the first Easter day you appeared first to Mary,
you chose your witness not from among the rich or powerful but from those least favoured by society.
Hear our prayer for those who are disadvantaged by the way our society works,
those without homes or means of earning a livelihood,
those who have fallen onto hard times and who cannot seem to find a way out,
be with those who have fled their homes looking for refuge and a new life.
Be with those who offer help to those shunned by society, showing love and practical help to those on the margins,
be with all who live out the gospel message,
through holding out a steady hand and offering to walk with others on their journey.
Hear our Prayer.
Christ our Risen Lord,
You journeyed alongside the disciples as they walked to Emmaus.
You listened to their sadness and knew their sorrow.
Hear our prayer for all whose burdens are hard to bear,
for those whose friends seem to have left them behind,
for those who weep alone and feel that they are not heard nor understood.
In these strange and troubling times we remember all whose lives have changed beyond measure,
and we pray for those who keep going in spite of tiredness or anxiety, all who care for the sick, scientists and researchers, the long-haul drivers away from home for long days so that food, medicine, PPE and vaccines reach the places they need to.
Hear our prayer for all who have found themselves without a job or who find their future looks precarious in these uncertain times.
May all have companionship and comfort wherever their journey takes them.
Hear our Prayer.
Christ our Risen Lord,
In the breaking of bread your disciples recognised you once again,
they knew you were with them in the sharing of their supper,
once more in their midst.
Hear our prayers for your church here in this place and the world over, remind us that you are eternally with us in the midst of all we do.
You gave your life so that we might live, finding life in all its fullness,
we remember those who this day face illness and death,
we pray that they may know the comfort of your presence.
We give thanks for those whose example has guided us in the faith and helped us make sense of things that are hard to understand,
and we remember with thanksgiving those who have gone before us in the faith and who now rejoice with you in heaven.
Keep us safe until the time comes when we, too, are lifted up into your eternal kingdom.
Gracious Easter Lord, we bring these prayers in your most Holy name.
Hymn 419 – Thine be the glory. Listen here.
The blessing of God, life giver, pain bearer, love maker, be with you all,
and may the blessing of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
rest upon you and on all whom you love, now and always,