The liturgical year that we have inherited with its rhythms, rites, songs and sights is indeed treasured by many of us who work and worship in an ELCA congregation. The reality, however, is that our cultural calendar, shaped largely by school schedules and secular holidays, often bumps into our Lutheran liturgical festivities.
The challenge with Easter is that it is a festival that lasts for 50 days. Anyone working with the church’s calendar has read and heard this many times, but soon realizes that as semesters end and Memorial Day looms nearer, the chances of keeping the choir together and the Easter spirits high through the great feast of Pentecost are small, if not impossible.
When working with pastors, musicians, artists, worship committees and lay leaders of all sorts, consider putting special attention into the 50 days that stand at the heart of our Christian life.
The Easter season
Easter is a season of baptismal living. On the Sundays of Easter, in place of the usual Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness, consider using the option for “Thanksgiving for Baptism” on p. 97 in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship.” Easter is also a season of endless Alleluias. Pay special attention in your musical planning to include as many Alleluias as possible.
The Gospel Acclamation would be an especially important time to “let it all out.” Check out some of the possibilities in “Evangelical Lutheran Worship.” Dress the acclamations up with bells, color and movement. Explore the many Easter hymns with Alleluia refrains. The refrain could be used alone at various times in the liturgy to provide an Easter exclamation point.
There are numerous choir anthems composed solely around the word Alleluia (repeated many times). Consider Randall Thompson, J.S. Bach, Calvin Hampton and more. These anthems could make glorious Gospel processions or offerings.
Festivals of the church, including Easter, usually have white as the primary liturgical color. How might the white of Easter be dressed up this year, clearly making it the “queen of feasts’? Could gold or other bright spring colors be added to the usual white? Might lilies be supplemented with yellow daffodils or tulips of many colors?
The day of Pentecost
Tongues of flame appeared as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore red is the energetic color for this day. Consider creating red banners or using poles with red streamers in procession. Sunday school classes could easily contribute to such a project.
Invite members of the congregation to wear red on that day. Put as much work into arranging for red flowers, such as geraniums or roses, as you did for poinsettias and lilies.
The Pentecost Sunday reading from Acts tells us that God’s word was proclaimed in many languages. On that day, consider reading a portion of the Scripture in another language, perhaps many languages simultaneously. Be sure that the message is heard clearly and understood by all before launching into a cacophony of sound.
This need not be done for an entire reading. Perhaps the Gospel could be read entirely in English (or your congregation’s primary language), then just a few verses repeated in many languages.
You may be surprised at how many languages may be known by the members of your congregation.
The Gospel speaks of Jesus “breathing” on the disciples as he gives them the Holy Spirit. Organ pipes and other instruments speak a breath in worship. How might air, wind or breath be experienced in a different way in worship on this day? Wind chimes or bells could be tied into banners or streamers. Be sure to instruct those who carry them to jiggle them slightly as they process to be sure they will be heard.
To further enhance the Pentecost experience, this would be an excellent day to have your congregation sing in a different language. For some people, this can be very uncomfortable and frustrating, so start slowly.
“Veni, Sancte Spiritus” (“Holy Spirit, Come to Us,” “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” #406) is a simple refrain in Latin (a neutral language), or try a song from Africa, such as “Wa wa wa Emimino” (“Come, O Holy Spirit, Come,” With One Voice #681). Either song could make an effective, quiet introduction to a rousing entrance hymn, allowing a procession of red streamers and bells (described above) to be experienced and heard by all before launching into the gathering hymn.
Many other possible songs are available in the worship books of this church. The possibilities are endless. Plan to make this an extraordinary 50 days!