|Liturgy by TLW|
Easter Season Liturgies
by The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Planning for the "Great Fifty Days of Easter," after forty days of Lent and a heavy schedule of Holy Week services is at the very least challenging. Given one's usual exhaustion and the predictability of "Low Sunday" following Easter, a paler version of "great," if not altogether "normal," is a real temptation for this period.
But this should not be so. The seven weeks of Easter historically constitute the first real season of the Christian Church. Those first fifty days between Christ's resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost must have been a truly special time in the experience of the disciples -- a time of real exuberance and joy after the great disappointment and disillusionment of Good Friday -- a time of reconciliation of the disciples with their Lord -- even a time of holiness, a time of realizing the righteousness which was being bestowed upon these disciples through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and given as a gift of true grace by God.
There could be no more special time in the world than was this time between the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit for the first disciples. No doubt, that is what encouraged them into annual celebrations of this season as they brought the gospel to more and more people and established the Christian Church.
This early witness helps provide some ideas, I believe, which can keep us from the temptation of letting the Easter season slip into something less than "great."
1. Given the holiness that is bestowed upon us as Christians -- proclaimed and celebrated at our baptisms, renewed in our covenants at the Easter Vigil, and shouted aloud at our celebrations of the resurrection -- then this is a season that does not need Corporate Confession. Gad, can that possibly be Lutheran?! Yes, actually it can be. Easter clearly celebrates what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. It is the season of justification by grace, if you will. Much as the disciples experienced it, there is perhaps no other season which celebrates grace more.
Given the fact that we have gone through a major penitential season in preparation for this season of grace, it is now time to be the holy people of God. It is time to live out what Paul has proclaimed: the Great Exchange has taken place; Christ is my sin, and I am his righteousness (cf. 2 Cor.5.21).
Now, I'm not naive enough to suggest that no one is therefore going to sin during the next seven weeks. But I am going to suggest that there are several things in place which help to "cover" the situation: a. Private Confession with the pastor is always available. b. The Lord's Prayer is said at every liturgy, confessing sin. c. The eucharist itself promises forgiveness for those who partake.
2. Which brings me to the next suggestion: If you are not already having Holy Communion on a weekly basis (at every service), then the Easter season is one of THE most appropriate times for doing so.
The Easter Season should be a season to get close to and experience all those things associated with Christ and his resurrection: joy, power, forgiveness, presence, etc. Weekly participation in the eucharist can assist in this.
3. Bread for Easter Season communions is a nice touch. So also is using an amber wine instead of red, such as many of our Episcopal friends use.
4. It is appropriate to stand during prayer and even when receiving the eucharist during the Easter Season. Here is another contrast with the penitential season of Lent with its emphasis on a more humble posture. Here again the emphasis is on justification: Because of what God has done in Christ through the cross and resurrection, I am justified and can stand before him.
5. Don't stop singing those Easter hymns! This is probably the single most obvious thing which marks out each Sunday as still being part of the Easter Season. Continue singing Easter hymns all season. There are plenty of them in the our hymnals, too.
6. One of the most effective ways of keeping the celebration in the Easter Season is to continue using the ancient "Easter Shout" throughout the season. You might incorporate it as part of the Entrance Rite, as follows:
A. Alleluia! Christ is risen!
C. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
A. This is the day that the Lord has made!
C. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
This would be followed by the Easter Hymn of Praise: "This is the Feast." No Kyrie would be used during this season.
7. Chanting the Prayer of the Day each week can help to denote the season as special.
8. Besides every Sunday use of "This Is the Feast," I also suggest using the Nicene Creed, Eucharistic Prayer VII in the ELW or II in the LBW, and "Thank the Lord." Do not use "Lamb of God" until the green season.
9. A nice association with the Road to Emmaus story is suggested for Easter communions in the Minister's Desk Ed., p.29, no.34, to be said At the Breaking of Bread (following the Lord's Prayer):
P. When we eat this bread (break bread) we share the body of Christ.
When we drink this cup (lift cup) we share the blood of Christ.
C. Reveal yourself to us, O Lord, in the breaking of bread, as once you revealed yourself to your disciples.