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An Expansive Life

Happy Easter from Scugog Island United Church



"Prepared" by Hannah Garrity Inspired by Luke 24: 1-12


Lighting The Christ Candle


Call to Worship


One: This day is not like any other day.

All: Today we slow down.

Today we take it all in.

Today we rest in good news.

One: This day is not like any other day.

All: Today we are singing.

Today we are full to the brim.

Today joy cannot be contained.

One: This day is not like any other day.

All: Today the stone was rolled away.

Today the women saw the empty grave.

Today we know—death does not win.

One: This day is not like any other day.

All: Alleluia! Amen.


Anthem: VU 166 “Joy Comes with the Dawn” (Welcome to Emma)


Announcements


Farewell Service: Rev. Ned’s final service with Scugog Island United Church will be on June 5th.

Annual Meeting on April 24th

Copyright: Prayers by Rev. Sarah (Are) Speed | A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org. Bulletin Cover art by Hannah Garrity.

Artist Statement

In this paper lace art piece, the inside of a bowl is patterned with images telling the initial moments of the Easter story. This design depicts burial spices in patterns. Amidst the spice patterns, a sunrise emerges. At the top is an abstract image of the empty tomb.

This moment, the moment when the women arrive at the tomb, represents an act of holy, extravagant, expansive beauty. Imagine being there, arriving at daybreak, holding the spice bowl in your hands. The burial spices, nard and myrrh, were aromatic. The aromas of blood, oils, death, and spices fill the air. Imagine how it would have smelled. It was the work of the women to honor the body of the deceased; to honor the life he had lived, and they had loved.

How might we honor God with our practices of beauty? What materials do we need to gather and incorporate? How can we keep God centered in our creative endeavors?

Prayer List


Jean Law, Elsie Nicholson, Terry Petroff, John and Diane Findlay, Nancy and Don Scarrow, Debbie McIntyre, John Black, Lynne and Ian McLeod, Nellie Van Dyke, Tim Pelyk, Bob Currie, Derrek Linton, Sharen Bobbie, Ed and Jane Williams, and Bill Statton.


Children’s Story


Hymn- VU 149 “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

Call to Confession


Family of faith, it is our tradition to have a prayer of confession each week—not to harp on ourselves or to drum up guilt, but because we believe God is not done with us yet. So please join me in the prayer of confession, because God is always listening and God’s grace is always full to the brim.


Prayer of Confession


God of new life, we are a mixed bag. We want to be full to the brim with hope and joy, but often we overflow with comparison and doubt. We want to embody the resurrection, but often we’d rather stay the same than to begin again. We want to have the courage to be like the women on that Easter morning— to run and speak truth, but often we are weary of courage and uncertain of our own voices. Forgive us for all the ways we remain unchanged. Break into our hearts. Overflow here. With hope we pray, amen.


Words of Forgiveness


Family of faith, if there is life after death, then you can be certain— there is life after mess. There is life after mistakes. There is life after doubt.There is new life freely given, and that life is for you. You are forgiven, loved, and claimed. May we live full to the brim in response. Thanks be to God, and let it be so. Alleluia! Amen.

Prayer of Illumination

Holy God, we so often long for more. We want more than the hamster wheel life of to-do lists and errands, meal prep and alarm clocks. We want more than comparison and competition. We want more than certainty that drowns out curiosity. We want more than fear that leads to violence. We want a life that is teeming with alleluias. We want a life overcrowded with hope. We want a life congested with good news. We want a life jam-packed with forgiveness. We want a life bursting with laughter. We want a life so full that the stone just has to be rolled away. So today we pray— break the dam. Dust the cobwebs from our ears. Clear space in our minds to hear you clearly. Speak to us as only you can. It’s what we long for. We long for you. Gratefully we pray, amen.

Scripture: Luke 24: 1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Anthem Vu 253 “Sing Your Joy”

Sermon


Christ is risen! Hallelujah! God has rolled the stone away. The tomb lies empty and Jesus has gone back into the world. He is among the living once again. Death was not the end. Evil could not overcome God’s love. There is nothing we do that causes Easter to arrive. The miracle of Easter arrives whether we are prepared or not.

The women are the ones who share the message and I can only imagine how shocking it must have been to hear them tell the story that first easter morning. It wouldn’t have been a polished, well prepared sermon. It would have been a raw and heart felt testimony. I can imagine that it was probably a bit confusing for those who heard it. That morning they had gone to the tomb to carry out a ritual from their tradition to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. They gathered up the spice, oils, and everything they needed and set out early that morning to perform the burial rituals for Jesus’ body.

Ritual is something we do regularly in the same manner. The morning rituals of getting out of bed, getting dressed, having the first meal of the day, maybe reading a newspaper or listening to the radio. Each of these can be a ritual. They are familiar. There is some comfort in them. When things are hard the rituals allow us to continue forward with one small step at a time. In the face of trauma, grief, or difficulties, ritual is something we can return to. It allows us to do something, move forward, one small step at a time. Little rituals like brushing your teeth, combing your hair, or washing your hands can help to make you feel a bit more like yourself. The women turned to familiar rituals from their tradition to help process the trauma of witnessing Jesus die. When all his other followers abandoned him the women stayed close. They wanted to ensure they could show him the dignity and respect that had been denied to him.

They could never have anticipated what God would do. God would transform their lives, making them into the first preachers of the gospel. Entrusting them with the task of testifying that they had witnessed the impossible. From God’s messengers they receive the message, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not here, but has risen.” Convincing others of this would have seemed like an impossible task.

Just imagine the scene. The disciples have gone into hiding. Peter denied Jesus, Judas betrayed him, the others fled rather than stand with him. And now they hide behind locked doors grieving the loss of their friend and struggling with their failures to stand with him. Then into this solemn room, the women enter with the message God had given them. They haven’t had time to prepare a sermon. What they have to say isn’t a polished well practiced and persuasive account of what has happened, it would have been a testimony that was raw and real. I can imagine them rushing in still out of breath from having run so quickly back. They haven’t had a chance to decide which one will speak so a few start telling the story at the same time. Maybe they start right away saying what God’s messengers had told them, “Jesus is risen!” then how they remember now that Jesus had told them this would happen. They had forgotten because it seemed so impossible that everyone had just assumed Jesus was telling them a metaphor that they didn’t understand, but now that this has happened it makes sense and his words have come back to them. Then maybe they would backtrack and tell the disciples why they were there in the first place. And if the disciples asked for proof the women would have told them that the stone was rolled away and they couldn’t have done that alone, and that the tomb was empty, and that they had seen two men appear out of nowhere next to them and just by looking at them they could see that these men were actually God’s messengers. The disciples disregard what the women say and consider it an idle tale. At least Peter goes to see it for himself, but the text doesn’t say that he believed at this point, just that he was amazed by what had happened.

In many ways the resurrection may still seem to be an idle tale. None of us were at that tomb two thousand years ago. We can’t check out the facts of the story ourselves. We have faith, not certainty. Faith allows room for doubts. Asking questions and wondering is better than assuming we have all the answers. Learning about God is a journey of faith seeking understanding. We don’t start with a full understanding, just a glimpse of the truth of God’s love. We begin with faith and we seek to understand it. But it might always seem like an idle tale.

If we had to testify about the resurrection we might find that we wouldn’t have any more luck convincing others than the women did that first Easter. Where would you start? One place that we might start is with the words of God’s messengers who asked the women why they looked for the living among the dead. If we aren’t supposed to look for Jesus at the tomb, where should we be looking for him? The only place I can think to look is out in the world. In the lives of the people around us. In the lives of the people who seem to be lowest and least, but Jesus said would be first in the kingdom of heaven. We might also look for Jesus in the events of our own lives.

There was a woman who was going through a very difficult time. She had serious health problems, an unexpected divorce, and medical bills that she could not afford. Despite her best efforts her medical debts ended up forcing her to sell her home, had to give up her pets up for adoption, and moved to a new city. Eventually she ended up in a women’s shelter. It was a gradual and painful process. During that time she turned to her local church for support and met many wonderful people and built some very important friendships. This is how I met her. Being part of the church didn’t stop the hardships in her life, but it did give her a support network when she was at her lowest. She often felt that God was punishing her or that God took some joy in tormenting her. She had a lot of anger directed towards God, which just made her feel more guilty and wondered if that was why God was punishing her.

Over the years her friends and ministers would tell her things like, “if you have a lot of anger directed at God, let God have it. God is strong enough to take your anger and still love you.” They would tell her things like, “God’s love is stronger than your fear.” Over and over again in many different ways they would tell her that God loves her and so did they.

As I said, this didn’t suddenly make everything better. Many times this would have seemed to be an idle tale. But when she hit rock bottom, she found that she wasn’t alone. She still had the friends she made through the church. And her view of God was completely different. Whereas in the past she felt restricted by God, her faith in God was now a source of comfort. She was comfortable to openly tell people that she believed in God. She found that sometimes others who had built up anger directed toward God for the hardships in their life would redirect their anger toward her as the closest representative for God. She remembered the words that had been shared with her by those friends and ministers who had been a support for her and now she was able to share them with others. Sometimes just listening to them was enough, other times they wanted an explanation for why she believed.

She would tell them the things she had heard and she would also say things like, “God isn’t punishing you. God isn’t sitting on a cloud somewhere deciding what miserable thing to throw at you next. When God sees you in pain, it breaks God’s heart.” “Look” she might add, “God is on your side. There are things happening in the world that God doesn’t want to happen and God is trying to change it and put the broken pieces back together.”

She has seen people’s mindset and behavior change when they no longer see God as angrily working to torment them and instead they see God as someone willing to risk everything to help us. All this might still seem like an idle tale, but it is also the story of a woman whose life has been transformed, who went from losing everything, to finding a purpose in loving and helping others just as she had been.

When Jesus died, God’s heart was the first to break. God didn’t want to see Jesus in pain, just like God doesn’t want to see any of us hurting either. What God did in response to Jesus’ death was beyond the anything the disciples and the women who went to the tomb could have expected. God raised Jesus to life. Death did not have the last word. The powers of the world that opposed God’s message in Jesus were not able to stop God.

God continues to work in people and reshape the world to one that everyone is able to live an expansive life. An expansive life means that we are fully present to the awe, beauty, and pain of life. We know our self-worth is rooted in God’s love which has the power to transform lives. Through Jesus we are no longer limited by the restrictions we place on ourselves or that are placed on us by others. And so we go forth from our Easter celebrations full to the brim with grace and gratitude. For we know that even an idle tale might be filled with the good news of God’s love for each of us. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Hymn: VU 179 “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Give Thanks”


Affirmation of Faith


One: We believe in a God who can astound us— a God who created the mountains, the stars of night, and the green of new life budding.


All: We believe in Jesus, whose example changes us— an example of love for those on the fringes,

healing for the sick, and welcome for the lonely.


One: We believe that Jesus was abandoned by his friends, wounded, mocked, and killed by the state. And in a garden, three days later, we believe that life began again— the stone was rolled back, as death lost its sting.


All: Ever since that day, we believe the Spirit has been inviting us into an expansive life—a life not measured by wealth or accolades, but a life full to the brim with joy, overflowing with laughter, saturated in hope, and decorated with good news.


One: Death has lost its sting.


All: We believe, and are set free.

Thanks be to God, amen.


Hymn VU 586: “We Shall Go Out With Hope of Resurrection”


Prayers of the People


God of the garden, God of new life, God of the here and now, where do we begin? Our hearts are full to the brim with gratitude, hope, fear, doubt, dreams, and belief. As a result, our prayers can often feel chaotic at best, bouncing around to each name and need that comes to mind. Settle us. Excavate us. Summon out what we shall be. Lift our prayers from the rubble of our distracted minds and hold us close. God, there are some things we would like to let go of, things we’d like to bury, things that we do not want to bring with us into this new day. In particular, we’d like to let go of our stress and fatigue. We’d like to let go of our own self-criticism and low self-esteem. We’d like to let go of the fear to put ourselves out there, and the worry that we might not have enough or be enough.

These things are always easier said than done, God, which is why we need you. At the same time, there are things we’d like to hold close—things that draw us closer to that expansive life you dream for us, things we are running toward. In particular, we want to move closer to balance and to meaningful friendships, to health of mind, body, and spirit, to justice that sets our hearts on fire, and to your Word—lived out in our daily lives. Help us. Guide the way. Meet us in the garden. Roll back the stones that stop us. Give us the energy to run toward you. Gather us up into your expansive love. Until the promised day when swords are beaten into plowshares, and the prayers of the people are only prayers of joy, we ask that you pour out your Spirit on each of us. Gather us up into your expansive love. Until that promised day, we will continue to pray as Jesus taught saying,


The Lord’s Prayer


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 forever and ever. Amen.



Offering Prayer (plate is at the back of the church)


Gracious God, bless and transform all that we offer: our faltering steps, our brokenness, our hope, our risking, our hearts, that your covenant may be written on our hearts and we may be a blessed and transformed covenant people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Blessing


As you leave this place, may you be awestruck by the beauty of this world. May you laugh, and may it be contagious. May you overflow with love for those around you. May you be effusive with hope and quick to point out joy. And in all of your living, and breathing, and being, may you find yourself full to the brim with God’s Holy Spirit, and may it change your life. In the name of the Lover, the Beloved, and Love itself— go in peace, full to the brim. Amen.


Go Now in Peace



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