Speakers from many lands unite for a rousing and inspired online Easter service
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Raising their voices in eight languages and expressing their joy with drums, trumpet and piano — and, of course, the spoken word — Presbyterians based in Louisville, Kentucky offer a glorious and thought-provoking online Easter Service for use throughout the denomination.
The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, the Rev. Marissa Galván-Valle and the Rev. Alexandra Zareth kick off the service with “Fanga,” a welcome rendered on drums and other rhythm instruments. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), welcomes worshipers and offers a prayer including these words: “Eternal God, we give you thanks for one more time — one more time to celebrate the fact that you are not dead. You are alive … You are alive, clothed in so many different ways: people who have touched our lives, parents who have loved us, individuals who have given us a word of wisdom and we did not even know their name … Through all the vicissitudes of life you have been our God. You’ve seen us through … to prove that you can do all things but fail … Let us worship God today in spirit and in truth. Let us be reminded that everything we have is yours and let us never forget the great story of Easter that reminds us that you live and because you live, we can live also. Amen and amen.”
Throughout the service, not only are Easter hymns sung in different languages (all supported by the piano mastery of Dr. William McConnell), the Easter message (“Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”) is proclaimed in eight languages: English, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, French, Portuguese, Arabic and Bemba, which is spoken in Zambia.
For her sermon, the Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, relies on Mark 16:1-8, the story of how Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome discover that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
“Though church buildings may be closed,” Moffett said, “the church remains open because, like Mary Magdalene, Mary and Salome in our Scripture today, we are the Church, the ecclesia, those who are called out and appointed to bear witness to Jesus Christ.”
But bearing witness can be frightening, Moffett said.
“It beckons us to make a wild claim. It pushes us to work in risky ways. It demands a high investment with no guarantee of earthly success,” Moffett said.
Readers of Mark’s gospel meet the three women “fresh in the throes of grief,” Moffett said. “They have come to anoint the dead body of Jesus and bury the hope he brought to them while he was on Earth.”
The three women were “strong supporters of this Jesus movement,” Moffett said. “They were people of the Way, people who believed in new possibilities, that salvation and liberation of God’s people would not be preserved for the sweet by and by, but would happen on Earth right here, right now. But their hopes were hushed by the tragic murder of their master and friend.”
“Instead of being an earthly king,” Moffett said, “Jesus becomes a crucified savior … These devoted sisters are left with nothing more to give than to prepare the body of Jesus for his final earthly resting place.”
They’re shocked to see the stone has been rolled away and even more surprised when they encounter a young man dressed in a long white robe who tells the women to report what they’ve seen to the disciples.
The women flee from the tomb but say nothing to no one “because they are scared,” Moffett said. “The women are scared because they fear the harm that may come to them considering what they have seen and been told to do. You see, bearing witness can be frightening because it beckons us to make a wild claim. If someone were to come to us speaking about a young man dressed in a white robe who shows up at a sunrise service for the dead, we may question their state of mind. If we were to hear a friend invite us to go and meet a mutual friend who they claim rose from the dead but whom we know was dead and buried, we might recommend a good therapist.”
“The claim of the risen Christ,” Moffett said, “can taint the reputation and color the character of those who confess it.”
If what the young man told the three women is true, “it means that the Jesus movement is not over, which means their work is not done,” Moffett said. The women are being asked to bear witness to the resurrection and go meet Jesus and the rest of the disciples in Galilee, the place where Jesus’ public ministry began.
“This is a lot for three sisters to contemplate,” Moffett said. “They have not had time to grieve Jesus’ death, let alone bear witness to his resurrection. But this is what they’re asked to do, and it’s also what we are asked to do.”
“Friends,” Moffett said after briefly highlighting what Jesus had to say in the Matthew 25 parable, The Judgment of the Nations, “Jesus’ resurrection is a mark in the sand, a declaration to the empire that truth crushed to the ground will rise again. It signals a continuation of his ministry by vital congregations, disciples who are committed to telling the world who believes Caesar is lord, money is master and power is king that God is still large and in charge.”
“It takes a great investment and commitment to do this work of ministry and the returns are not always so good,” Moffett said, “because while Jesus’ message is good news to the poor, it’s not good news to those who try to kill him. It’s not good news for those who benefit from the status quo. They will resent you for doing the work and getting involved in the issues of our time. The truth is, the same forces that came for Jesus will come for those who follow in his footsteps, for a student is not above their teacher.”
While the account of the woman running from the grave to say nothing to no one marks the end of Mark’s story, “it’s just the beginning of the gospel,” Moffett said, “because somewhere along the way the women meet the risen Christ and somewhere along the way the disciples see the resurrected Lord and they tell the story.”
“I have found,” Moffett said, “that it is wrestling with this call and seeing glimpses of resurrection in our life that moves us from fear to boldly bearing witness to Christ and doing the work that we’re called to do in a world that needs to know the rising power of Jesus.”
Moffett closed with these words from the poet Amanda Gorman: “When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
“May we step out of the shade, even our fears, and be witnesses to the risen Christ,” Moffett said, “this Easter Sunday, today and always. Amen.”
The online Easter celebration includes an invitation to give to One Great Hour of Sharing, which many congregations are collecting on Palm Sunday and Easter.
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Categories: Faith & Worship, Special Offerings
Tags: amanda gorman, dr. william mcconnell, easter, easter service, lacey gilliam, mark 16: 1-8, mondre moffett, One Great Hour of Sharing, online easter service, presbyterian center, rev. alexandra zareth, rev. dr. alonzo johnson, rev. dr. diane moffett, rev. dr. j. herbert nelson ii, Rev. Marissa Galván-Valle