Pastoral Message

April 12, 2020
An Experience Of Worship For Easter Sunday

From the Rev. Dr. Brenda M. Pelc-Faszcza, Pastor


Easter blessings to all!
Remember that even when we can’t go to church,
we can still be the church.
May we be the Body of the Risen Christ
today and tomorrow,
wherever we are!

 The outline for Easter worship below includes links to recordings of music from our church, as well as other recordings.

An audio recording of the reflection included below and two pieces of music will also be posted on the church’s website,
https://www.cantoncenterchurch.org/music/recordings/sermons.html.

And, here is a link to view Easter service videos made by the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ:  bit.ly/SNEUCCEaster


There are nine separate segments, including music, prayers, a dramatic storytelling, and short reflections on various Easter themes. You may view some
or all.


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Christmas Crosses in front of our Church Building

Crosses made from the church’s recent Christmas trees from Tim LeGeyt

 

AN INTROIT                  Lord of the Dance
Cherub Choir, from Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018


A HYMN         Christ the Lord is Risen Today



A stirring a cappella version of the same hymn:



A PRAYER

       God of life and new life, God of the now-awakened world,
      we praise you on this, our festival day,
      for joy that dawns, for life that rises,
      for love that overcomes everything.
      We praise you for the one we follow,
      Christ crucified yet risen,
      who for our sakes has lived and died and lives again.
      In this and all our days, may we be filled with Easter’s hope,
      compelled by its love, made bold by its truth,
      alive as an Easter people in the world.
      This we ask in the name of the Risen One,
      who has taught us to pray together saying:

      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 debts
      as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not
      into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
      For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,
      forever.  Amen.

 

A READING

The Easter story appears in four versions in the four gospels.  Mark’s, the earliest, is briefest and most spare.  The others add more detail, though differing detail.  Choose one or read all of them:

Mark 16:1-8 (the additional verses that appear in some versions of Mark are not
thought to be original to the gospel); Matt. 28:1-15;Luke 24:1-12;John 20:1-18

 

A REFLECTION         On Top of the Thorns   
The Rev. Dr. Brenda Pelc-Faszcza

A number of years ago,
I worked in a church where my office was up on the second floor
and looked out over a high corner of the building,
where a pigeon’s nest was always perched.
That in itself wouldn’t be noteworthy,
except that the nest was there in defiance
of something put there precisely to prevent it.
For a long time, that spot had proved to be attractive to pigeons,
and somebody in the church had decided
that since directly below it was a door people always used
to come in and out of the building,
this was not a good place for pigeons.
So they put up some material that, in theory,
is inhospitable to pigeons:
a coiled circle of sharp, prickly, dangerous wire
that sat there on the ledge so that the birds,
in theory, could not sit there, or nest there.

And so there I was, looking out my window every day
at the very nest that wasn’t supposed to be there,
that was sitting right on top of the sharp and prickly wire
meant to deter it –
the circle of wire that looked for all the world, if you ask me,
like a crown of thorns.
The birds had made their home right there with the thing
that was supposed to get rid of them forever.
Depending on your point of view,
you could see this as a failure, a disappointment --
that human cleverness did not work –
or as a triumph for a life force that knows how to persist
when threatened.
Either way,
I thought there was something almost mystically beautiful
in beholding the creatures who would not let
those humanly devised thorns
keep them from what they deemed to be
their place and their life,
living in fidelity to some life force bigger than any threat.

Easter is the celebration of the truth
that life that endures on top of thorns.
Or in spite of them.
On top of sharp, prickly hate,
on top of violence,
on top of fear,
on top of sorrow,
on top of pandemics,
on top of exhaustion,
on top of death, even:
that the great life-force of God --
within all things
but bigger than all things --
persists even where humans don’t understand it
or don’t trust it
or try to get rid of it.
Easter is the story we tell
to name the truth
that life is stronger than death,
and that love, which animates life,
is stronger than everything.

In the Jesus story,
there is, of course, a crown of thorns
placed on his head when he is crucified,
an intended deterrence
to show who can keep whom out,
who can get rid of whom,
who’s in charge, who has power.
In Jesus’ moment in history, as in our own,
the political issue was always power,
and who had the power to be doing what,
who had the authority to dominate and make the rules,
who could and couldn’t be followed.
Jesus is crucified for his politics,
for siding with those most powerless ones
the empire didn’t want to see or regard or include,
and whom every empire has had its ways of oppressing.
For those whose authority was wielded
in armies, swords and violence,
they never could understand
how anybody without any of those things,
how a Jesus with none of the earthly signs or trappings of power
could be heralded as any sort of leader,
much less followed as a “king,”
when all his teaching and all his living
undid the very assumptions of earthly emperors.
With the crown of thorns they put on him,
they made satire of his kingship,
convinced that when they killed him
they were getting rid of him forever,
deterring him from making any more of a home in the world
than he already had.

What they didn’t count on
is how when strength is in love, not in weapons,
you can’t kill it by overpowering it.
Love can’t be overpowered,
because it is itself already the strongest thing.
What they didn’t count on is how love  --
deep love,
huge love,
for-all-the-world love,
willing-to-pour-itself-out love,
God’s love –
can nest itself in the most inhospitable of places,
enduring and persisting where somebody tries to tell it
it’s not wanted,
and will make its home in spite of,
right in the presence of,
everything that threatens it.

And so the Easter stories always have to be taken along with
the Good Friday stories:
they’re not free-standing, they go together.
The new life of Christ after Friday
and the new life in Christ
that the community of disciples experienced --
what we now call the first Easter --
wasn’t just some wonderful experience one Sunday
that popped up all by itself.
Its power is because it happened after Friday,
because it happened on top of the Friday thorns.
It’s because that experience of Jesus-still-with-them –
although, in another form now, not the same form as before,
as the Apostle Paul emphasizes –
it’s because that experience hits them when they’re low,
when disappointment and fear have shattered them,
when their own reserves have run out;
it’s because all their own strength has been insufficient
in the face of the terrible evil and sorrow  
of what happens to Jesus,
and what happens in them when they get scared
about what happens to Jesus;
it’s because they themselves have been weak and they flee,
it’s because of all of that
that their experience of Jesus’ risen presence with them
holds such power,
and becomes the thing that awakens them,
strengthens them,
re-makes them to become the body of Christ in the world.
To become, as imperfect and only-human as they are,
that living community of Jesus-wisdom,
Jesus-love, justice, mercy and courage,
through time and beyond time,
of which we are the current generation.
Whatever it is that happened for them,
they’ve handed on to us,
that it might persist in this world.

On this Easter of 2020,
in the midst of a pandemic that has disrupted and scared us,
we may feel it’s all a Good Friday world right now,
that illness and death and sorrow and fright
are what we have now.
Yes, we are aware of these things, acutely.
Daily.   Hourly.
But still, they are not all we have now.
The resilience and faith and goodness of people and communities,
as the love of God works through them,
through us,
reminds us of how life makes its nest
right on top of all that looks like it might destroy it.
It reminds us, again, that nothing really destroys love
in any ultimate way.
Nothing kills it.
And if it looks like it has been shattered,
it just rises in some other form,
staying as fiercely present as it knows how.
At the heart of anything we could call Christian faith
there’s that.

And so we are working together
at that,
remembering and trusting
that wherever there is great challenge or need in this life,
in health threats or otherwise,
love is trying to build its home right in their presence.
Undeterred. it makes its home with us,
it makes its home in us
and helps us glimpse
what is more than this world,
more than this moment --
the “beyond” that this world looks to, and hopes in.

So many people have said that
“we need Easter more than ever this year.”
Yes, I suppose we do.
It’s not that we never believed in it before.
It’s that this time, we will have to bear witness to it
while we are all on top of some thorns.
And remind ourselves and each other and the world
what we mean when we say
that life persists and love rises, no matter what.
And that that’s what we mean by Easter.

May it be so with us!   Amen.

 

AN ANTHEM                              Hallelujah                                 Leonard Cohen
Cherry Brook Chimes Handbell Choir, from May, 2019




JOYS AND CONCERNS OF THE CONGREGATION

     Jim and Gina Magennis share the joy that their daughter Meghan
     and son-in-law Nick (in Virginia) are expecting twins in October!


A PRAYER

      Loving God,
on this Easter Day we find ourselves
in a strange place:
at home instead of gathered,
worshipping by ourselves instead of together,
and doing our best to feel the Easter promise
of new life and new hope
in the midst of our lament.
May that hope reach us when we need it most,
and may we find the ways of offering it to those
who need it most.
May we remember that Jesus’ first disciples
were scared, too,
and that whatever we mean by his resurrection
happened for them in the midst of their lament.
May it be real for us too, in the midst of ours.

      We continue to pray for all the heroic health care workers,
hospital staffs, grocery store workers, pharmacy workers,
sanitation workers, utilities workers, postal workers,
delivery workers, and all others
who are continuing to go to work and do their jobs
for the sake of the rest of us.
May they be safe and well themselves.
We continue to pray for the parents
who are doing the important work of home-schooling,
while they are managing their own tasks and challenges.
We continue to pray for all public officials
who are making such important decisions for us all.

      As we remember all those who may be in time of special
need of whatever kind,
in all the other things that life can give us, too,
besides a pandemic,
we pray for their strength and peace.

      On this Easter day, we remember the loved ones we miss
who have passed on to eternal life,
giving thanks for their lives
and for the ways we remain connected to them.

      And we remember, always, that no matter the strife in the world,
there are also the joys….
babies are still being born,
children are still laughing and growing,
nature is greening,
relationships may be deepening,
gifts are being released and shared,
kindness and goodness remain alive,
all bearing witness, Loving One,
to this truth:
that there is nowhere we can be
where you are not,
that your love rises and lives,
everywhere.
For this eternal Easter, we give thanks.
Amen.

 

A BENEDICTION

     Friends in Christ, friend of Christ,
as we live this day, may we behold its every gift.
Though we are restricted in some ways today,
may our hearts be unbound,
our spirits freely alive,
our souls awake to every place the Risen One
will appear –
in us, through us, and for our sakes.
Thanks be to God!
Alleluia!  Amen.

A POSTLUDE         Lord of the Dance
Mary Lou Keefe, keyboard, from 2019