First Worship: Easter Sunday

You don’t need me to remind you that Easter Sunday is a little different this year! Different, yes in some ways, but the truth of the gospel remains the same and the truth is this: Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Amen! Praise God! After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb…The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay…” (Matthew 28:1, 5&6)

Praise: Take time now to listen to or sing your favourite Easter hymn.

Prayer: Almighty God, with joy and praise, with awe and wonder, with gladness and celebration, we bring our Easter worship to you today. We rejoice once more in the wonderful message of Easter, the Good News at the heart of our faith; light after darkness, joy after sorrow, glorious life after death. May the truth of Christ’s resurrection inspire us with new hope and fill us with new joy…To the glory of your name, Through Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us to pray: Our Father, Who art in heaven…..

Reading: John 20:1-18 We continue our journey through the Gospel of John. A journey that has now brought us from Christmas to Easter; from Christ’s birth in a stable to His rising in a garden…

Prayer: Pray for your family and friends, healthcare staff and those who are in isolation or unwell. Pray for our congregation of First Donaghadee. Why not take a moment to picture yourself in church…in your mind’s eye think of those sitting in the pews around you and pray for them each by name…Finish your prayer by thanking God that no matter what, you know He is in control and holds all things in His hands.

Reflection: There is much chat in these days of lockdown about the value of gardens: gardens to relax in, work in, dream about walking in; gardens are important to us and I know many of you are very keen gardeners, and gardens are also important in the Bible and Easter is a great time to reflect upon some of the gardens of Scripture. Today, on this Easter Day, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We are going to think about gardens in the Bible and how they help in the telling of the gospel story; and we’ll finish by posing a question that might be a helpful one to ponder as we sit or work in our garden over the next few weeks…

So, gardens in the Bible…. According to Scripture human history began in a garden. In Genesis we read, ‘Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food…’[Genesis 2:8,9] What an exquisite garden that must have been; lush, fertile, perfect in every way, and there Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect harmony with their environment and perfect harmony with God….however, we also know from Scripture that because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience things went badly wrong, sin entered the garden, and Adam and Eve lost their fellowship with God and were banished from the beautiful garden…

Human history began in a garden but many thousands of years later would take a dramatic turn in a garden. Not long before His death, having shared a final meal with His disciples, Jesus went to a garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. There He contemplated the terrible suffering and separation that lay before Him at one stage falling to the ground and praying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering from me.’ (Matthew 26:39) But obedient always to His Father’s will, Jesus left that garden, endured betrayal, a sham trial, beating and mocking, and on that cruel Cross willingly died for you and me…taking our sin upon Himself and by His death in our place opening up the way for our relationship with God to be made right…

Now we visit another garden, one found near to the place of Jesus’ death, ‘At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb….they laid Jesus there.’ (John 19:41-42) This is of course the garden that is the scene of the resurrection…. Let’s linger a little longer here…John begins his account of the resurrection with Mary Magdalene arriving at the garden very early on the first day of the week. She comes to do one last thing for Jesus, to anoint His body for burial, but as she wends her way down that lonely path, she is shocked to see the stone has been rolled away from the tomb and jumps to the conclusion that the tomb has been violated. She is distraught and runs to two of the disciples for help. Peter and another disciple run to the garden to see for themselves and sure enough they find the grave clothes neatly folded but no Jesus; they see and believe something incredible has happened.

Meanwhile Mary returns to the scene alone, confused and upset. She stands outside the tomb weeping but little does she know what is about to unfold…Firstly, she sees two angels who ask sympathetically why she is crying? She turns away as she answers to find someone else standing there whom she doesn’t at first recognise; someone who asks the same sympathetic question, ‘Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?’ Mary answers and as she does, it’s almost as if the whole world holds its breath, as the man speaks her name, ‘Mary’. And as she turns to face Him, her tear-stained eyes clear and she responds, a glorious one-word reply of recognition, ‘Rabboni!’ meaning ‘teacher’. The fear and sadness of Good Friday replaced by the joy and hope of Easter and for Mary and for each of us everything is now different. Why? How? Because Jesus is Risen, He is alive today, death is forever conquered. As one of our hymns puts it: ‘And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me, for I am His and He is mine – bought with the precious blood of Christ.’

The gardens of Scripture tell the story of the gospel – from man’s fall as sin entered the world to man’s redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I spoke at the beginning of a question for us all to contemplate, perhaps as we sit in the garden or picture ourselves in a garden this Easter…Firstly take time to thank God for all He has done for you through Christ and then why not ask this: ‘Lord, in these challenging days, what are you teaching me? What do you want me to learn from all this?’ Mary responded to Jesus in the garden that day calling Him, ‘Teacher!’ On this Easter Sunday may we each sit at Jesus’ feet, worship Him and learn from Him, our Teacher, Saviour and Lord. And to His name be glory and praise.

Prayer and Praise: Pause for a moment of quiet, thankful prayer and then sing or listen to a hymn of praise.  (Perhaps: Thine be the Glory /In Christ Alone/Jesus is Lord)

Benediction:  May we be challenged by the Risen Christ to walk expectantly with him, living triumphantly because he lives. And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us all, this Easter day, and evermore. Amen