Lectionary Planning Helps for Sundays

April 07, 2013
Second Sunday of Easter

Read the texts online at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library:


Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 150 (UMH 862)
Revelation 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

Color: White

Planning - The Second Sunday of Easter

"The incredulity of Saint Thomas" by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1602.
Public Domain.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings
See the texts (NRSV), artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.

Acts 5:27-32.
God's authority, not human authority, directs our mission in Jesus Christ.

Psalm response: Psalm 150 (UMH 862).
Let everything with breath praise the Lord! "Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen!" Response 1 with Tone 3 in D major. OR Psalm 118:14-29 (UMH 839). "The right hand of the Lord does valiantly!" Use response 2, without chant (no one Psalm tone quite fits with this response). Or use the joyous congregational setting in The Upper Room Worshipbook (2006), 312.

Revelation 1:4-8.
A core image of our identity as church: a kingdom of priests serving God.

John 20:19-31
Jesus appears to the disciples at a time when Thomas is not present, so Thomas is skeptical. Jesus returns a week later and greets Thomas, and Thomas confesses "my Lord and my God."

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Worship Notes


Easter continues from now through the Day of Pentecost (May 19). Eastertide has two main formational purposes: to teach Christian doctrine richly and to prepare people for ministry in the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit and in Christ's name.

Acts of corporate worship can support the formational purpose of this season. But worship alone will not accomplish it.

What structures do you have in place in your congregation to help people of all ages remember their baptism, both its gift and the way of life it calls us to? How do you help people identify their gifts and passion for ministry in Christ's name? What are you doing to help every member discern God's calling in their lives? How do you prepare people to discover how their gifts and passion combine with the call of Christ to describe specific ministries they may lead or participate in?

See Come to the Waters, pages 94-95, 120-121, for further reflection.

See DIY Tools for Spiritual Gifts Discernment and Ministry Deployment for guidance on building a spiritual gifts assessment process.  

Also see Pentecost Commissioning of Laypersons in Christ's Name.

For more about Eastertide, see Planning Worship for Eastertide, Year C.

This week, the Scriptures build around a common theme of "Your Own Identity in Christ."


Denominational Calendar for April
Native American Ministries Sunday: April 14. Consider inviting a Native American United Methodist elder or deacon to help you celebrate the newly developed Native American Holy Communion service used at General Conference 2012.

Festival of God's Creation: April 21 GBOD resources for this and Earth Day are here.

World Malaria Day: April 25

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It's still Easter! Easter Day is the beginning of the season, not its climax.

Keep the feeling of your worship space as celebrative as possible throughout these fifty days. And don't feel the need to limit yourself to white in your color palate. The symbols of Resurrection come in many colors — butterflies, rainbows, Easter eggs, bulb flowers of every hue. Think about offering egg hunts several times this season, using different colors and different ways to hide things — remember, these supplies will be much cheaper after Easter Sunday as well!

Eastertide is about the resurrection of Jesus, yes.  But it also and perhaps especially about the new life he opens up for all in the body of Christ and the unstoppable mission on which he sends us as his disciples. That mission wasn't just for "those people back there." It is for all of us here and now, in the places and among the people with whom we live and work, and everywhere and everyone our communication, influence, and resources can reach around our communities, nation, and world.

The focus of Eastertide is formation in both doctrine and ministry. We continue and deepen the doctrinal formation of those baptized at Easter, as well as the whole church. And we work with the newly baptized or confirmed and all others seeking to discern their gifts and calling to prepare them to be commissioned to ministry in Christ's name on Pentecost.

The doctrinal focus of the texts today calls us to claim our own identity in the risen Christ, even as we claim him as Lord of all, universally and personally.

The ministry focus today reminds us that God calls all the baptized into ministry in Christ's name starting with where we are, regardless of the opposition we may encounter.

Today's reading from Acts records a court case. Peter and John were arrested because they continued to publicly declare the resurrection of Jesus and the implications of that for the world, including fellow Jews. Cease and desist orders had been issued, but the apostles didn't stop. They multiplied their witness, healing and proclaiming the Resurrection to hundreds, maybe thousands.

That's why this case got "bumped up" to the Council and high priest in Jerusalem. The Council threatened serious punishments, but Peter was insistent. The gospel will not be stopped, and the apostles will not stop proclaiming it. "We must obey God rather than any human authority" (Acts 5:29).  

Where and what are the forces in your local community that seek to muzzle the gospel? Think deeply about what is restraining the people in your particular congregation, in your particular neighborhood or town or city. Ask an artist or musician or writer in your congregation or community to create artwork or compose some music or write a poem that portrays the "council and the high priest" (the restraining forces) where the people in your congregation live, work, and seek to be engaged in God's mission. Share these either while the first part of the reading is offered, or let the artist share the work and a brief interpretation of it after this reading. Keep in mind that the "council and the high priest" are not to be seen either as personal enemies, nor interpreted in any anti-Semitic way. Instead, they are signs of the "powers and principalities" with which we will inevitably find ourselves struggling as we seek to fulfill God's mission.

Don't stop with portraying the restraints. This text focuses primarily upon the power of God and the commitment of disciples of Jesus to break through all these restraints. As Christians, our chief identity is ambassadors of the Risen, living Lord whose power keeps setting us and everyone else free, whether they like it or not!

One more thing is vital for us to see here, both in terms of doctrine and ministry. Go back to Acts 4:23-31. Peter and John had the boldness to live out their calling as ambassadors of Christ, regardless of opposition, because they were part of a bold, praying church.  Neither they, nor we who now seek to respond to Christ's call, are lon- ranger heroes. All of our power comes from God and is supported by and often channeled through God's people praying together. Not all are called to preach. But all of us are called to pray.

Try praying the prayer of this congregation together as a worship planning team, and see what you discover about them as you do. Find some way for your congregation both to hear, and if possible, to pray their prayer in this service.

When you do, you'll know these Christians knew they were facing real threats. But you'll also know and feel how they never approached their God as victims, but rather as confident victors in the name of Jesus. Jesus truly is Risen. Jesus truly is Lord of all. This same Jesus who calls them to witness to his Resurrection and kingdom will empower the whole church, and each of us reborn into it, accomplish what he calls us to do.  

Above all, pray as a team as you plan this service. Pray for the boldness to plan and lead worship that will support anyone present who finds himself or herself in front of a council somewhere for naming the name or doing the deeds of Jesus.

And after you've prayed, plan to fan the prayers of your congregation into flame! There are embers of Peter and John in your midst. There are already signs, images, and stories from your worshiping community that are already saying back to the world, "We must obey God's call and be about God's mission, and no human authority can or will stop that!" Look for them. Find them. And find ways for them to be heard and seen and celebrated in worship today in whatever ways they can be. Maybe someone has a word from the Lord that has to get out today in art, or music, or dance, or drama or simple testimony. Bring that word, that testimony into interaction with the art or music of the resisters in the community in the week ahead, and see what the Spirit brings forth in your congregation in response to the Scripture. Let heaven break loose … just as heaven broke the apostles loose from their prison!

Doctrine: Jesus is Lord of all…
Ministry: and we are called to pray for and be vocal agents to make this revelation known.


In Acts we are bold witnesses in Christ, both in our praying and in our preaching and teaching. In Revelation, we see and hear and feel heaven broken loose. We are loved, freed from sin, made into a kingdom and priests to God. This is also who we are in our risen Lord.

By the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of new birth by water and Spirit, we are made priests of the Most High, serving our God.

Do you remember this about yourselves? How do you as a worshiping community exercise your priesthood, both in worship and in daily life? What images or soundscapes will help your worshiping community remember and express the ways they already do this, or invite them to do it better?

Never settle for generic. How do the particular people in your congregation know themselves loved by this Lord Jesus? What images express their awareness that Christ has freed them from the power of sin? Where do they see signs that they are full citizens of God's kingdom, no matter what the kingdoms of this world may tell them about themselves?

When and how are they priests to God, all of them, laity and clergy, young and old?

Don't rush by these words. They are revealed as Christ's names and callings for us. The Spirit has encoded these realities into our spiritual DNA from the moment we were baptized, if not before. And likewise the Spirit has encoded in us the ability to see who our Risen Lord is — the one coming with the clouds, the Alpha and the Omega, the one who was and is and is to come, all summed up in one final word "PANTOKRATOR" (in Greek). This final word is usually translated "The Almighty," but probably better interpreted (as the Greek synonym for the Hebrew "El Shaddai") as "The One who Holds All Things with Boundless Compassion."

Doctrine: Jesus is Lord of all…
Ministry: and we are a kingdom of priests in his name, serving before our God and Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Like Thomas in this story, we are also those who believe, and sometimes doubt.

Though we haven't seen the risen Jesus in person with our eyes, many of us believe. Many of us can testify that "the Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are children of God." Still, all of us, at times and some of us, nearly all the time, struggle with belief.

This story may seem to be for a different audience than the previous two. The first two are for believers who have already seen or felt or known something of the resurrection of Jesus. This story is for those who haven't yet. We move from bright lights to shadows, from joyous determination to fearful confusion.

The good news in this story is that our risen Lord comes to us wherever we are, however we are, and brings us what we need to believe, never condemning us for our doubts, but meeting us in them.

Your worshiping community likely includes some who are in Thomas's spiritual condition. You may also have some with a story to tell or sing about or express through some medium (art, dance, drama) what it was like for them to have Jesus meet them when they were in that place, and how all they could do at that moment was say, like Thomas, "My Lord and my God." Find both kinds of people before this service. Talk with them. Understand what they're seeking or what they've found. Let that inform what you or they create to help express this text. Your congregation needs to hear the stories of the seekers in their midst who have not yet found, and the stories of those in their midst who know themselves found by Jesus.  And they need to love both, with equal passion and compassion, just as Jesus did. That's mission. That's love that frees. That's our priesthood to God. Be who you are in Christ today!

Doctrine: Jesus is Lord of all…
Ministry: and he calls us into his way and ministry in his name starting right where we are, just as we are.

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Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship

Greeting: BOW 381 (John)


  • BOW: 420 (Revelation)
  • Call to worship based on Revelation 1:4-8
    Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come,
       and from Jesus Christ,
       the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead,
       and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Amen.
    To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood,
       and made us to be a kingdom,
       priests serving his God and Father,
       to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
    Look! He is coming with the clouds;
       every eye will see him,
       even those who pierced him;
       and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
    So it is to be. Amen.

    Follow the this call to worship with "Holy, Holy, Holy" (UMH 64), "Crown Him with Many Crowns" (UMH 327), or "Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending" (UMH 718).

Opening Prayer: BOW 394 (Acts)

Prayer: UMH 335, An Invitation to the Holy Spirit (John)

Prayer: BOW 399, Week 2

Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: East Timor, Indonesia, Philippines

Great Thanksgiving: BOW 66-67, or "A Contemporary Service of Holy Communion"

Thanksgiving (if no Communion):

  • BOW 395 (first half)
  • BOW 553


  • BOW 561 (John)
  • Dismissal with blessing (based on the Gospel)
    The assisting minister leading — deacon or a layperson:
    Go forth into the world with your inner eyes on fire with Jesus.
    We go as those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
    Go forth, knowing that the risen Christ leads the way.
    We go as those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
    Go forth; bold to act for love and justice.
    We go as those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

    Then the presiding minister blesses the people with the sign of the cross:
    Blessed are you who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

    Consider making this gesture part of the Sending Forth throughout Easter. The pastor making the sign of the cross before and
    over the people need not be considered a foreign action. The cross and all that it stands for is central to our tradition and the heritage of all Christians.

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As my colleague has noted in the Worship Notes for this season, Eastertide is traditionally associated with a 50-day period of mystagogical catechesis—that is, a 50-day period for instructing the newly baptized members of the church about their new identity as members of the body of Christ. Mystagogy is initiation into that which is not yet fully revealed. It is instruction in the "mysteries" of Christian faith and identity.

Maybe we don't always think of worship as a classroom, but perhaps we should! In the world of academic liturgy, Christian public worship is considered to be the primary source for theological encounter. In other words, the first place we learn what it means to be a Christian is through participating in worship. Worship is thus formational, in that much of what we learn about Christian discipleship comes through the rituals of worship. We pray the Lord's Prayer and we learn that God is in heaven and God's name is to be hallowed. We learn that "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!" We also learn that Jesus doesn't just love us, but that he "loves all the little children of the world." We learn that God is in three persons, a blessed trinity. We learn that we encounter Christ in the waters of baptism and around the table of the Lord.

We also learn from what the preacher says in his or her sermon. The period of Eastertide is a time when preaching has historically been directed toward teaching what it means to be baptized members of the church. As such, the lectionary texts associated with this season all lend themselves to some sort of insight into our new identities as members of the resurrected body of Christ. Christ is risen! He is alive and well and his Spirit dwells within his people. Each week during this season we read a passage from Acts, one from Revelation, and a gospel lesson from John.

Eastertide is an excellent period in which to develop a SERMON SERIES out of readings by focusing on one of the books and preaching on the readings from that book through the entire season. As such, the notes each week will all connect to the suggested theme for the series.

Eastertide Sermon Series From Acts: Signs And Wonders!
Preaching about resurrection and performing signs and wonders leads to life-altering, transformational things taking place in the book of Acts: persecution in some cases, wondrous belief in others. Healing, conversion and baptism, miracles, signs and wonders—Acts has it all! The readings from Acts during this season all give testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit to convert people to Christian discipleship. Prepare for the series by reading through all five of the lectionary texts from the book of Acts and begin to talk with your members about these stories. As you consider the witness in scripture ask yourself and others: What kinds of transformational things have happened in your life that led you to be baptized into the church of Jesus Christ? Did anyone from your community experience persecution as a result of his or her conversion to Christian faith? In the global context of today's world, choosing to follow Jesus Christ comes at great risk and cost in some places. What stories can we tell that testify to the cost of discipleship? Has anyone had an experience or a vision that changed his or her entire perspective on the world? Has anyone experienced a miraculous healing? Has anyone been saved by the power of prayer? All of these experiences occur in the readings for Eastertide this year!

Eastertide Sermon Series From Revelation: Kingdom Dwellers
This series on Revelation is intended to lead people to approach the Revelation of John as a vision of a new heaven and a new earth to be realized in this life as well as in the life to come. The focus of the series will be on living as members of the kingdom of Heaven, which John portrays as a place of inclusivity, hope, and celebration. This vision of the kingdom is global and multi-cultural, a place where all are welcome at the table, where all have enough to eat and drink, and where all are healed from the oppressions of life. Through the power of the Holy Spirit the resurrected Christ is with us, in our midst.

Eastertide Sermon Series From John: Seeing Is Believing
The first three texts are post-resurrection encounters with the risen Christ. How do we encounter the resurrected Christ? How are we convinced of his resurrection? Later in the season, the texts have to do with having a new identity in Christ—we know him and recognize him as messiah; we love one another and, by this, others see Christ in us; we keep his words, bear witness, and have assurance; all that was in him is now in us.

Notes for Acts 5:27–32

What does it mean to be a baptized Christian? It means that sometimes we are called to take risks and even make sacrifices in order to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. In the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples are depicted as fulfilling the command of Jesus to be his "witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Empowered by the Holy Spirit they go about this work of teaching "in his name" (which is the charge the high priest levels against them in this lesson), proclaiming the message of Christ, and engaging in acts of power, wonders, and signs. In spite of the fact that they have been ordered to stop doing these things, they persist to the point that they are arrested in thrown in prison repeatedly throughout the book of Acts.

What risky thing did Peter and the apostles proclaim? What was it they said that made the council so angry that they wanted to kill them for saying it (verse 33)? They proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus Christ! So one of the things that it means to be a baptized Christian is that we proclaim the resurrection of Christ. But what is the power of the resurrection for us who are still living on this earth? It is the power to transform the world into the Kingdom of God. It is the power given to us by the Holy Spirit to teach, to heal, and to offer signs and wonders in his name. It is a power that calls us to be like him, to be his body, to reach out to the feed the hungry, heal the sick, and eat with sinners.

How are the people in the congregations we serve taking risks and making sacrifices for the proclamation of the gospel? How do we demonstrate that the power of life in Christ is stronger than the power of death? Are there times when it is more important to follow the law of God than the laws of man? When is it necessary to take extraordinary measures to proclaim resurrection faith? What kinds of oppressions and persecutions require that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, take actions that may cost us something? What cost are we willing to pay? Are there causes for which we might be willing to be arrested and put in jail? Are there causes for which we might be willing to suffer negative publicity or lose members in order to do that which we feel God is calling us to do? Are there causes for which it would be better to die than to live in a way that is not faithful to the message of the one whom we serve?

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Notes for Revelation 1:4–8

"Behold he comes, riding on the louds, shining like the sun, at the trumpet's call! So lift your voice, it's the year of Jubilee, out of Zion's hills salvation comes!" I always love singing this chorus from Donnie McClurkin song "Days of Elijah" although I must confess that while I knew where the images in the lyrics came from, I was never quite sure what they meant in the context of the verses. No matter. It is a fun song and one through which we are able to proclaim through congregational singing the central sentiment of what the writer of Revelation holds to be evidence of Christian identity. "Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead. . . . Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail."

Proclaiming the resurrection is part of what it means to be among those who dwell in the kingdom of God. Can we help our congregations to begin to grasp Jesus' opening words at the beginning of his public ministry in a new way? What does he mean when he proclaims, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near," and how from that point forward he "went throughout the Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people"(Matthew 4:17; 23). Does it not mean that in Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven has already come? Does it not call his followers to usher in his kingdom on this earth and to live in his kingdom here and now? Are we not invited to dwell in God's kingdom NOW: "thy kingdom come, they will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven?"

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Notes for John 20:19–31

In spite of the popular tendency to cast Thomas as "doubting," this story is not really about Thomas' doubt so much as it is about the abundance of God's grace shown in Jesus Christ who, through his actions toward Thomas, responds with exactly what Thomas needs to be moved to faith. How has the resurrected Christ responded to us in our moments of fear and doubt and need? Can we name our own encounters with the risen Christ? Invite conversation or share stories and examples from the lives of the people with whom you serve of how the risen Christ has come to them in ways that have moved them to faith. If you have a talented videographer in your congregation and the means to show videos, this might be a good way to engage the people you serve in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Capture a few stories on video and show them as an illustration for your message. Or, if you do not have the technology to make a video, invite one or two people to share a witness from his or her own life of how Jesus Christ has responded in exactly the right way and brought us to deeper faith through his grace in our lives.

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God of Life, Death, and Resurrection, we continue in our worship and praise to raise our "Alleluias" to you! We sing out loud like those who are so confident about your final victory over death; and yet too often we live our lives and hoard our resources, like those who doubt who will be victorious in the end. Like Thomas, we long to see the bodily resurrection, to see the scars where humanity has done its cruelty, and see the face of Christ before we acknowledge your triumph. Help us to open our eyes to see the scars that are all around, many beyond the boundaries of our communities. And through the giving we do this morning, help us to see and show the world the face of the compassionate, risen Savior and Lord of Love and Life! We pray it in that holy name. Amen. (John 20:19-31)

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Lectionary Planning Helps

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BOW - The United Methodist Book of Worship

CLUW - Come, Let Us Worship (Korean)

MVPC - Mil Voces Para Celebrar (Spanish)

SOZ - Songs of Zion

TFWS - The Faith We Sing

UMH - The United Methodist Hymnal

URW - Upper Room Worshipbook

WSM  - Worship & Song, Music Edition

WSW  - Worship & Song, Worship Resources Edition