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The Guards Had to Cover It Up - First Sunday after Easter - Matthew 28

A worship service based on Matthew 28 for the first Sunday after Easter. The message in this service will focus on the efforts of the enemies of Christ to do their best to cover up the reality of the resurrection.

Theme of the Service

Although Easter Sunday is past, our celebration of Easter continues. So in this service we aim to worship our risen Lord with the same joy and trust.

The message in this service will focus on the efforts of the enemies of Christ to do their best to cover up the reality of the resurrection. The guards were caught in this web of efforts. In contrast we will make our professions of faith and certainty, and will continue our commitment to making the truth of the resurrection known to all.


Prelude: "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee," Burkhardt, Cherwien [organ]; Carter [piano]; Sherman [handbells]

The Call to Worship

*Opening Litany
Astonishing Good News!
A surprise beyond expectation!
Christ is alive!
He has risen indeed!
The grave could not contain him!
And the news cannot be hidden!
Come, let us worship the risen Lord.
We will worship with joy and thanks.

*Song: "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" PH 464, RL 521, TWC 20

*God's Greeting and Congregational Amen!

*The Passing of the Peace

*Response: "Alleluia" PsH 640, RN 136, SFL 87, TWC 114
1. Alleluia, Alleluia . . .
2. Christ is risen, Alleluia . . .
or "He's Alive!" SNC 151, SFL 174

Anthem: "Halle, Halle, Halle," Haugen


The Call to Confession

Our Prayer of Confession
Almighty God, you have accepted our Lord's sacrifice for our salvation.
By your power you have raised him from the dead,
you have clothed him again with flesh
so that his disciples might recognize him.

We humbly confess that,
while we know the story and believe it,
it often has made too little difference in our lives,
and at times we have been silent when we should have spoken of it.

Forgive us, we pray, of these sins.
Enable us today to reflect more deeply on the sacred story,
that our obedience may increased
that our service may be more joyful,
and our testimony may be more courageous.

Hear us in the name of our risen Savior. Amen.

The Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 2:1-2

Song: "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" TWC 239

The Children's Moment

Our Affirmation of Faith
If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have
testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead.

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
Then those who fall asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in
Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also
through a man.

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Thanks be to our God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
(from 1 Corinthians 15)


*Song: "Alleluia, Jesus Is Risen" SNC 150

The Reading of Scripture: Matthew 28:11-15
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Sermon: The Guards Had To Cover It Up

The Prayer of Application


Song: "Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks" PH 106, PsH 402, RN 271, SFL 173, TWC 240

The Pastoral Prayer

The Offering and Offertory: "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," Courtney [anthem]; Burkhardt [organ]; David [piano]; or Sherman [handbells]

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

*Song: "This Joyful Eastertide" PsH 403, RL 328, TH 284

Postlude: "This Joyful Eastertide," Bender

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. Easter has the greatest and most powerful message in the world. The resurrection of Christ has changed lives and the entire course of world history. It is to be expected, therefore, that efforts to discredit the reality of the resurrection would increase in intensity immediately after Easter. Satan and his forces failed to prevent the death and resurrection of Christ; now they turn their efforts to stop the news of the resurrection from going out.
  2. A plan for damage control was put in place already on Easter Sunday, and our Scripture passage exposes it. The chief priests, guards and Pilate conspired together to cover up the story. Their plan involved a report (Matthew 28:11), a hastily devised plot (vv. 12-13), a bribe (v. 12), and a promise of amnesty (v. 14). Matthew reminds us there was a significant level of success in their efforts (v. 15).
  3. We can readily understand what is at stake here. The very lives of the guards were at stake, for they could easily have been sentenced to death for failing to successfully guard the tomb. The influence of the chief priests was at stake, for a resurrected Jesus could discredit them in a hurry. But even more is at stake. The very credibility of the Christian gospel is at stake. Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 15—and it would be helpful to lay out Paul's line of reasoning from that chapter in this sermon.
  4. No wonder history has been replete with efforts to discredit and cover up the truth of the resurrection of Christ. You may want to review some of the theories that have been proposed—the stolen body theory, the removal theory, the swoon theory, the hallucination theory, and the theory that he arose only in the sense that his spirit and influence lives on. In all these efforts we must identify the opposition to the gospel.
  5. Our calling is not only to resist such theories, but to make our witness and testimony to the reality of the resurrection clear and courageous.

Music Notes:

Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

Music Level Key: E = Easy, M = Medium, D = Difficult

  1. The music suggestions for the prelude based on the hymn tune HYMN TO JOYcan be found in the following sources:
    - "Hymn to Joy" by Michael Burkhardt, published by Morningstar MSM-10-729 [2000] (E-M). This piece effectively combines a Bach prelude with the hymn tune.
    - Postludes on Well-Known Hymns by David Cherwien, published by Augsburg Fortress 11-10795 [1997] (E-M). Don't let the title of the collection put you off—these pieces can work very well as prelude material too.
    - Easy Hymns for 4 Hands by John Carter, published by Hope 8146 [2002]. You may wish to have a student pianist join you in preparing this piece.
    - "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" arranged for 2-3 octave handbell choir by Arnold Sherman, published by Agape 1652 [1993] (E).
  2. Alternative harmonizations for the opening hymn can be found in Thirty-four Changes on Hymn Tunes, arranged by Jack Goode and published by H. W. Grey GB 644 [1978]; and in Let It Rip! At the Piano by Pam Gervais, published by Augsburg Fortress 11-11045 [2000].
  3. The SATB anthem "Halle, Halle, Halle" by Marty Haugen is published by GIA G-3961 [1993] (E). This includes a congregational refrain. You can also find this selection in SNC 44.
  4. The offertory suggestion involves the choir singing an SATB anthem: "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" by Craig Courtney, published by Beckenhorst BP 1562 [1999] (E-M).
  5. The alternative instrumental offertory music, based on the hymn tune DUKE STREET, can be found in the following:
    - "Five Easter Season Hymn Improvisations," an organ collection arranged by Michael Burkhardt and published by Morningstar MSM-10-403 [1990] (E-M).
    - "Here I Am, Lord," a piano collection by Anne Marie David published by Augsburg Fortress ISBN 0-8006-7566-5 [2002] (E-M).
    - "Jesus Shall Reign," arranged by Arnold Sherman for 2-3 octaves handbell choir, published by Agape 1708 [1994] (E).
  6. The organ postlude on VRUCHTEN can be found in "Five Festive Preludes on Easter Hymns" by Jan Bender, published by Concordia 97-5495 [1979] (M).

Liturgy Notes:

  1. This service is designed to continue the spirit of Easter worship. Whatever transitions are employed should reinforce that intent.
  2. This service includes "Passing the Peace." It is helpful to distinguish between "greeting each other" and "passing the peace." The former usually includes "good morning" and some chatting. The latter is a distinctively Christian greeting of "The peace of Christ be with you" or "Christ's peace to you."
  3. The service of confession anticipates the message and calls us to confess how we have minimized the power and influence of Christ's resurrection in our own lives and testimony.
  4. The children's message on this first Sunday after Easter is an excellent time to consider with them how good news cannot and should not be hidden. It must be valued and professed. Let the children become aware that there are many who are intent on denying the resurrection of Christ.
  5. The affirmation of faith is intended to build our thanks after the assurance of pardon, but also to anticipate the message of the sermon.


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