Thursday, March 3, 2016

Year C -- The Second Sunday of Easter (April 3, 2016)

Happy Easter – even if attendance is not what it was on the first Sunday of Easter, it is still very much Easter today!

t  Especially if you did a Lenten series, an Easter season series may not be attractive.  But, the texts for this season are filled with stories of people acting on their Easter faith.  So “Easter People” could become an announced series or simply a frequently used term as you tell these stories and call worshipers to become Easter people today. 

Easter 2        Peter and John are witnesses to what 
                           they saw  OR
  Thomas who asks his questions
Easter 3        Paul changes sides OR
                     Peter accepts Jesus’ forgiveness
Easter 4        Dorcas sews to care for others
Easter 5        Peter accepts people he wouldn’t even eat 
         with as brothers and sisters in Christ
Easter 6        Lydia extends hospitality
Easter 7        Paul does not escape from prison to save 
         the jailer

t  To give the Easter People a visible presence in the sanctuary, create figures for each week.  Begin today with a central golden cross or Christ figure posted on a poster/banner/bulletin board.  After reading and exploring the gospel or Acts passage for the day, add a figure to represent that week’s person.  Write their name somewhere on it and decorate it with something to remind worshipers of their story.  Look for very simple “anyone can make this” samples for each week.  Make a copy or hand it (and a copy of the text) to an artist to create one of their own.  The whole series could be done by one artist or each figure could be added by a separate artist.   (Remember artists come in all ages.  This could even be an Easter gift to the church from a children’s or youth class.)

Take it another step by providing generic figures to which worshipers can add their names and a symbol of what they do as an Easter person.  Invite them to add their figures to the display.  This display might be in the sanctuary or might be a project created in the area for fellowship time.

t  Many congregations are celebrating “Holy Humor Sunday” on the Second Sunday of Easter.  It is an opportunity to laugh at the failure of evil to defeat God in Christ and to celebrate the resurrection of Christ with jokes, skits, and other humorous forms of worship.  This year laugh with Peter and John at the authorities who thought they could shut them up and with the disciples as they realize Jesus really is alive again.  Go to Year B - Second Sunday of Easter for historical background, resources and links to official “Holy Humor” web sites.

The story of Paul’s conversion is scheduled for the Third Sunday of Easter.  It would be possible to read and explore that story on Holy Humor Sunday instead.  God chooses Paul, who is bullying the Christians, to be one of the biggest leaders of the church.  Ananias hears God tell him to go heal and welcome Paul of whom he is terrified.  Then, the early church welcomes Paul in spite of his past.  God certainly displays a sense of humor here! 

t  For congregations that celebrate Communion once a month, it is unusual to have Communion on the Sunday after Easter as it is this year.  Use Badger’s Parting Gifts, by Susan Varley, to explore Communion as one of Jesus’ parting gifts to his friends – and us.  Briefly tell that when an old Badger died, his friends really missed him.  Start several pages into the book with “As spring drew near, the animals often visited each other and talked about the days when Badger was alive.”  Read some or all of the pages about what Badger taught Mole, Frog, Fox, and Mrs. Rabbit.  Conclude with “He had given them each something to treasure: a parting gift that would become all the more special each time it was passed on to others.”  Note that the last night he ate with his friends Jesus left a gift like that.  He said “every time you eat this bread and drink from the cup, remember me.”  Briefly rehearse the events of Holy Week and Easter Day, then invite worshipers to come to the Table to remember Jesus and receive his parting gifts.

Texts for Today

Acts 5:27-32

t  Especially if you are celebrating Holy Humor Sunday, expand this reading to include the interactions with the religious authorities that lead up to today’s verses (Acts 4.1-4, 13-21 and 5.17-32).  Because the authorities really do come off as a key stone cops group, the text could be easily turned into a clown skit without changing a word.  A youth class would have fun developing and presenting this.

t  To read only verses 27 - 32 one reader takes two roles turning and adopting different voices for the authorities and the disciples.

OK, you could write either WITNESS
or SPEAK UP in this bubble.
t  If witness is a key word in worship today, begin worship by presenting it printed on a big poster cut like a speech bubble possibly mounted on a banner pole.  Briefly define it as saying what we know about God and Jesus.  Invite worshipers to join you in praying, singing, hearing and telling stories about Jesus in worship.  Display the poster throughout worship.  Refer to it if you discuss the difficulties of witnessing.  Then at the benediction turn it around displaying the words “speak up” printed on the back.  Charge worshipers to speak up during the week witnessing for Jesus at school, home, and word.  Carry the poster out as part of the recessional.

t  After reading this story, add 2 Easter People figures each featuring an exclamation point - one for John, the other for Peter – to your Easter People banner/poster. 

If you also display a Thomas figure and used the Easter heart bearing both a question mark and an exclamation point on Easter Day, recall or even display the heart.  Laugh about the fact that the questions and the amazing excitement did not end on Easter Day.  It lasted for weeks, for years, even for centuries.  We, today’s Easter People, still have both questions and sure exclamations.

Psalm 118:14-29

t  Go to Year B Easter Sunday for a Call to Worship script that traces Jesus’ story using Psalm 118:24 (“This is the day…”) as a congregational response.

t  This is the psalm for all three Passion-Palm Sundays in the lectionary cycle.  As a whole it really fits there better than here.  Today pick one or two images such as the cornerstone to explore with children.  Point out the cornerstone in your church, demonstrate how a cornerstone works using children’s blocks and insist that Jesus is the real cornerstone of the church.  Or focus on “this is the day the Lord has made” in music and responsive readings.

Psalm 150

t  This is the alternate psalm, and may be the first choice psalm for children, today.  It is a grand way to bring Easter joy into another week.  At the beginning of worship invite worshipers to read it together with instrumentalists playing the first line of the opening hymn after the verse mentioning their instrument.  Children with rhythm instruments respond to verse 6.  The whole congregation then sings the hymn together.

Revelation 1:4-8

t  Today begins a series of readings from Revelation.  It is the major appearance of Revelation in the lectionary.  Children as well as adults encounter all sorts of interpretations and misinterpretations of this book.  There is even a Left Behind series for pre-teens!  That means we need to talk to children as well as adults about this book.

t  To introduce Revelation make a big deal about turning to it at the very back of the Bible.  Read verses 1 and 2 adding details to explain what kind of book this is and to provide context. 

t  Older children are fascinated by Revelation and like the fact that it is in the Bible WHEN they know that it is a book that was written in code during a time when being a Christian could get you thrown to the lions.  As they learn to decode the word pictures in the book, they enjoy imagining what a soldier might have thought when he found the scroll and read it while searching the home of a suspected Christian.  They also enjoy realizing what the coded messages meant to the early Christians and what they mean to us today.  To explore most of these codes, draw a new one with black chalk or crayon on a small piece of stiff poster board and to leave somewhere in the room.  Send the children to find the new symbol and bring it forward to discuss.  (A few clues about what to look for will help.)  After the discussion return it to its place or add it to a central display to serve as a reminder for the rest of the Easter season.  There will be specific suggestions for each week.  Since some of the code pictures in this season’s texts are more meaningful to children than others, I’ve selected the ones below.  There will be suggestions for each one each week.
Easter 2        alpha and omega
Easter 3        the Lamb
Easter 4        white robes washed in blood or
  (add fish to the Peter Easter People figure)
Easter 5        a new heaven and new earth
Easter 6        the new Jerusalem
Easter 7        Lord, Jesus come!

The coded image in today’s passage that is of most interest to children is the alpha and omega in verse 8.  There are several ways to unpack it.

t  If you have alpha and omega symbols in your sanctuary this is a good opportunity to point them out.  Note that they are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet.  Compare them to the first and last letters in several other alphabets.  Then state what we are saying when we display those letters in a sanctuary.  In the process reread verse 8 and explain how it answers the question, “what was there before the very beginning and what will be left after the very end of the world?”

t  On a seminary sponsored podcast a group of professors talked about how many times they had to see “The Wizard of Oz” before they could stay in the room for the scary parts.  Only seeing the ending multiple times finally enabled them to face the scary parts on the way to that ending.  Every time we see the alpha and omega we are reminded that God is at the end of the world.  Knowing that makes us braver when life gets scary before the end. 

t  On the Second Sunday of Easter read this text to answer the question “who is Jesus really – now that he has risen from the dead?”  Go through verses 5-6 stopping to put into your own words each description of Jesus.  Conclude with “Wow!  Jesus is not just a special person.  Jesus is Lord of, in charge of, the whole universe!”  If you made a big deal of burying the Alleluia for Lent, lead the children/congregation in responding with several loud “Alleluias”.

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.

John 20:19-31

t  This is the gospel reading for the Second Sunday in Easter every year.  Rather than list links to other years, I’ve gathered all the resources here and added one or two more.  So there is no need to check out Years A and B.

t  This passage is not that long, but a lot of different things go on.  To help children follow it, try the following group reading

? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ?
John 20:19-29

Reader One (probably you) invites the children to come forward to help with the gospel reading.  Imagine with them that they are the disciples on Easter Sunday  night hiding out in a locked upper room, wondering about what the women said about Jesus’ tomb being empty, and still afraid the soldiers would come for them too.

Reader One:  When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Thomas joins the group off to one side to read this line.  Then sits with the group as Reader One continues.

Thomas Reader: But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Reader One:  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him,

Thomas Reader:  “My Lord and my God!”

Reader One:  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

New Revised Standard Version

? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ? ! 


t  Invite children forward for back story before hearing the gospel read:
The disciples were behind locked doors because they were afraid, embarrassed and ashamed.  Recall some of their names and what they had done as Jesus died.  Then note that they were afraid of what Jesus would say to them about all their desertions if he really were alive again.  They were afraid the soldiers would come for them like they had for Jesus.  And, if the women were wrong and Jesus was still dead, they were afraid to face people who now knew that they had been wrong about Jesus.  They had been so sure, so loud in proclaiming Jesus and were apparently so wrong.  They did not want to see anyone ever again.  That is why they were hiding in locked room.  Then read the story from the big Bible.  After reading it, point out that Jesus did not say, “What happened?  Where were you?  You screwed up!”  He said, “Peace.”  In other words, “It’s OK.  I understand.  I forgive you.”  Imagine how they felt when they heard that. 

t  This passage offers several clues to what Jesus was like after the resurrection – he can appear inside a locked room, he can be touched (he is not ghostly), he still has the wounds, and still loves them and explains what is going on to them.  Next week he will eat fish.  Children are curious about all this.  Take time to ponder with them what they think Jesus was like after the resurrection, being open to new ideas and affirming the mysterious part of it all.

Either include this discussion in the sermon or use it to introduce the reading of the scripture.  In the latter case urge worshipers to listen for clues about Jesus after the resurrection raising a hand each time they hear one.  In an informal setting stop at each one to clarify the clue and ponder it briefly.

Forgiveness and Peace

t  In this short passage Jesus gives the disciples (and us) two Easter gifts (the Holy Spirit and peace) and one Easter task (forgiving others as God has forgiven us).

t  If your congregation regularly passes the peace in worship, before you do so today connect the ritual with this story.  We are being like Jesus passing peace to other people.  We don’t just say “Hi.”  We say, “The peace of God be with you.”  It is a wish or prayer for the other person.  We can say it because we know God loves and forgives both of us.  Then invite people to pass the peace to their neighbors.

t  Jesus’ forgiveness and call to the disciples to forgive in this story provide another opportunity to highlight and explore the Lord’s Prayer petition “forgive our debts/trespasses/sins, as we forgive…”  Write “forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins” on one poster strip and “as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass or sin against us” on a second poster strip.  Present them first in the order they appear in the Lord’s Prayer.  Then connect the first strip to Jesus forgiving the disciples on Easter evening and the second strip to his command that they forgive others.  Flip the order of the phrases and point out that we often have to pray this prayer backwards when we have someone to forgive.  Note how hard it is to forgive people who have treated us badly.  The only way we can do it is by remembering how Jesus forgave the disciples and forgives us.

t  Create a responsive prayer in which a worship leader describes situations in the world and in personal lives that need forgiveness and the congregation responds with “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  Pray this prayer after having explored it’s meaning in light of today’s story.


Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 1573-1610.
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library,
Nashville, TN.
[retrieved February 24, 2013]. 
t  There are two especially interesting paintings of Jesus and Thomas.  Show one or both of them.  Look first at Thomas’s face and imagine what he is thinking and feeling as he touches Christ’s body.  Then, look at the faces of the other disciples and imagine what they are thinking and feeling. 
JESUS MAFA. Jesus appears to Thomas,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library,
Nashville, TN.
[retrieved February 24, 2013].
(I suspect they are glad Thomas asked his question because they really wanted to know the same thing but were afraid to ask.  It does take courage to ask some questions and Thomas had it.)  Then, look at Jesus’ face and posture and imagine how Jesus felt about Thomas and his question.  (This could be a conversation with worshipers or could be the ponderings of the preacher in a sermon.)

Both of these paintings can be downloaded at no cost when not used to make money.  Click on the link under each picture.

t  The story of Thomas is important to children who already ask lots of questions about everything and to those who will ask deep questions as they get older.  If we want to encourage children to ask their questions, we must not label Thomas a doubter.  No amount of explaining can make doubter into a positive adjective – especially in this story.  So describe Thomas as a curious person who wanted to see for himself what others had already seen.  Recall what it is like when everyone is talking about an exciting event that you were not at.  Insist that Jesus welcomed Thomas’ questions and ours.  There is no honest question God/Jesus cannot handle.

In describing Thomas, remember that he was the disciple who cared enough to interrupt Jesus when he did not understand what Jesus was saying (John 14:5).  He really wanted to understand Jesus.  Thomas was also the one who after telling Jesus he was nuts to go to Jerusalem where his enemies were out to get him, replied to Jesus’ insistence that he was going anyway, “Let us go and die with him” (John 11:7-16).  He was that loyal.  Finally, upon seeing Jesus’ wounds after the resurrection, Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God!”  That was his statement of faith.

Thomas wasn’t the only confused, questioning disciple after Easter.  List the responses of Mary, Peter, John, and the others as they encounter the risen Christ.  Everyone was so confused that they were frightened. 

t  To celebrate Thomas’ questions turn this into Questions Sunday.  Collect questions about the Easter stories and God from the whole congregation.  Take them verbally or invite people to write them on pieces of paper to put in the offering plate.  Today read through the questions.  Celebrate them.  Elaborate on them adding related questions.  Even, ask for clarification on questions you do not understand.  Do NOT answer any of them – even if you can.  Instead promise to deal with them during the coming weeks.  If there is high interest in this, you might even print the questions in the newsletter or on the website.  As you work through the Easter season, point to the question/s that you are working with at any given point.

t  After reading this story add a Thomas Easter People figure with a large question mark on its chest to the Easter People banner/poster/bulletin board.  As you do note that people have always had lots of questions about what Jesus said and did while he was alive and about how Easter happened.  That is because Jesus is too big for us to understand completely.  Jesus knows that and it is OK.


  1. What a great idea with Questions Sunday. Yesterday, one of my Church parents said her 3 y/o asked her, if Jesus was resurrected, why couldn't Grandpa be resurrected?! (Yikes.) No different than the questions asked of me when I'm at hospital as the chaplain. I'm continually grateful for your creativity with children's learning and with worship. Such great help. Thank you, Carolyn! --Kris

  2. In the Date Index, the "April 3, 2016" entry is not a hyperlink. Could that be fixed, please?
    (I got here via the Lectionary Index.)

    1. Just fixed it. Thanks for pointing it out. How did it happen????


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