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Were You There in the Garden When He Arose? - Matthew 28 (Easter)

A service plan for Easter Sunday celebrating the victory accomplished through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, part of a Lenten series following specific events that led up to Christ's death and resurrection.

Worship Service

Theme of the Service

This is Easter Sunday and the theme of the service can be none other than a celebration of the victory that God has accomplished through the resurrection of Jesus Christ! This celebration is expressed in song, throughout the liturgy, and in the sermon. While the story of Christ's resurrection is retold its implications will be proclaimed.

This service is another in the series of services under the theme "Were You There?" and so it will approach the event in a narrative style and encourage each worshiper to enter into the story.


Prelude: "Low in the Grave Christ Lay," J. Ferguson
"Fanfare," J. Lemmens
"The Strife Is O'er," L. Shoemaker-Lohmeyer

Hearing the Easter Story: Matthew 28:1-15

Introit: "All Shall Be Well," Foley

The Welcome and Call to Worship

*God's Greeting and Congregational Amen!

*The Worshipers Greet Each Other and Pass the Peace

*Song of Proclamation: "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" PH 113, PsH 388, SFL 172, TH 277, TWC 234, UMH 302
st. 1 - all
st. 2 - antiphonally (east side first; west side on "Alleluia")
st. 3 - all in unison
st. 4 - antiphonally (west side first; east side on "Alleluia")
st. 5 - all, with descant

*Song of Celebration: "Good Christians All, Rejoice and Sing" PH 111, PsH 397, RL 326, TH 270, TWC 255

Anthem: "Jesus Is Risen, Alleluia!" Nagy

Song of Celebration: "Christ Is Risen" SNC 147, UMH 307

Anthem: "Share the Easter Joy," Patterson

Songs of Praise: "A Shout Rings Out, a Joyful Voice" PsH 392
"Low in the Grave Christ Lay" PsH 396, TH 276, TWC 235, UMH 322
(During the singing the offering will be received.)


The Prayer for Illumination

Sermon: "Were You There in the Garden When He Arose?"
(Were You There - #7)

Song: "Were You There?" PH 102, PsH 377, SFL 167, TH 260, TWC 218
1. "Were you there when God raised him from the tomb?"
2. "Do you know he arose for you and me?"

The Morning Prayer


*Song: "Alleluia, Alleluia! Give Thanks" PH 106, PsH 402, RN 271 SFL 173, TWC 240, UMH 162

Anthem: "On Earth Has Dawned This Day of Days," Hopson

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

*The Benediction with Congregational Amen!

*Song of Celebration: "Hallelujah Chorus," Handel
(As our worship concludes with the joyful celebration of the “Hallelujah Chorus," you are
invited to sing from the pew or join the choir in the front of the sanctuary.)

Postlude: "Toccata from the 'Fifth Symphony,' " Widor

* you are invited to stand

Sermon Notes:

  1. Since there is a considerable gap of time between the reading of Matthew 28:1-15 at the opening of the service and the sermon, it might be wise to refer to the Scripture and briefly recap its message.
  2. One of the difficulties in writing an Easter sermon is that the story is so familiar to most of the worshipers. We tend not to listen carefully to those stories which are most familiar. So a sermon on Easter Sunday needs to capture some new perspective or approach to become "listenable." Because of the series of sermons in which this one is found, we suggest using your biblically-formed imagination to draw the listeners into the story. Suppose that you could be there, right in the middle of the whole drama . . . who would you want to be? Surely we would not want to be one of the soldiers, or Pilate, or one of the leaders of the Sanhedrin, because for them everything began to unravel right before their eyes. Perhaps you'd like to be Mary Magdalene, the very first person in history to see and report on the resurrection of Christ. Or maybe you'd rather be one of the angels who made the visit to earth on assignment to oversee and proclaim the resurrection! Just imagine . . .
  3. After whetting the appetite of the congregation's imagination, it would be helpful to back up and retell the story, reconstructing the events of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning. Use this as an opportunity to help your listeners feel the drama of the whole event.
  4. Having done that, point them to another drama that was happening at the same time. The soldiers and the chief priests and elders quickly became engaged in a scam to cover it all up. See Matthew 28:11-15. From both the Jewish and Roman side they felt pressure to cover it up. The world cannot handle the idea of a resurrection. They didn't want to be there!
  5. But those of us who have been there have had the privilege of seeing the miraculous and victorious power of God at work. And we feel a deep sense of wonder (Mark 16:8, 11, 13; Luke 24:4, 5, 11). We sense the urgent need to worship him (Matthew 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52-53). And we are compelled to tell the good news to others (Matthew 28:7, 19).

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)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

1. Resources for the organ prelude can be found in the following:

  • "Low in the Grave Christ/He Lay" [CHRIST AROSE], John Ferguson, Augsburg Organ Library - Easter. Augsburg 11-11075 [2000] (E-M).
  • "Fanfare," Jacque Lemmens, in Roger Davis, The Organist's Manual. W. W. Norton ISBN 0-393-95461-7 [1985] (E-M).
  • "The Strife Is O'er" [VICTORY], Lisa Shoemaker-Lohmeyer, The Strife Is O'er. Morningstar MSM-10-418 [1997] (M).

Alternative pieces on VICTORY can be found in:

  • Held, Wilbur. Six Preludes on Easter Hymns. Concordia 97-4649 [1975] (E-M).
  • Helman, Michael. Augsburg Organ Library - Easter. Augsburg 11-11075 [2000] (E-M).
  • Johnson, David N. Easy Trios. Augsburg 11-9291 [1969] (E).
  • Linker, Janet. Suite for Holy Week. Beckenhorst OC5 [1989] (E-M).


  • Hamilton, Gregory. As the Grains of Wheat. Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7577-0 [2003] (M-D).


  • Sherman, Arnold B. The Strife Is O'er. Agape 1847 [1996] (3-5 octaves, level 3).
  • Zabel, Albert. The Strife Is O'er. Augsburg Fortress 11-10989 [1999] (3-5 octaves, level 3).

2. The SATB introit "All Shall Be Well" by John Foley, SJ, is published by North American Liturgy Resources 5569 [1985] (E-M).

3. Alternative accompaniments for the two opening hymns of the service can be found in the following:


  • Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, bk. 2. Ludwig O-07 [1983].
  • Wood, Dale. New Settings of Twenty Well-Known Hymn Tunes. Augsburg 11-9292 [1968].


  • Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, bk. 2. Ludwig O-07 [1983].
  • Johnson, David N. Free Harmonizations of Twelve Hymn Tunes. Augsburg 11-9190 [1964].
  • Wood, Dale. New Settings of Twenty Well-Known Hymn Tunes. Augsburg 11-9292 [1968].

4. The unison anthem "Jesus Is Risen, Alleluia!" composed by Russell Nagy is published by Beckenhorst JH524 (E). This anthem could be sung by combined adult and children's choirs.

5. The hymn "Christ Is Risen" can also be effectively sung to the tune HYMN/ODE TO JOY.

6. The unison/two-part anthem "Share the Easter Joy" by Mark Patterson is published by Choristers Guild CGA 851 (E-M).

7. We encourage congregational singing during the offertory in this service. With the wealth of wonderful Easter songs and the desire of congregations to sing joyfully on this high holy day, sing as often as you can!

8. Because spirituals were passed on through aural/oral tradition, we have taken the liberty to craft verses on "Were You There" that tie in with the theme and sermon. An alternative harmonization for this spiritual can be found in Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, vol. 3, arranged by John Ferguson and published by Ludwig O-10 [1986]. An alternative harmonization for piano by Michael Hassell can be found in Let It Rip! At the Piano, published by Augsburg Fortress 11-11045 [2000].

9. The two-part anthem for mixed voices, "On Earth Has Dawned This Day of Days" by Hal H. Hopson, is published by Choristers Guild CGA 709 [1995] (E-M).

10. Congregational copies of the "Hallelujah Chorus" can be purchased through Fred Bock Music Company B-G0745 [1984]. A choral arrangement transposed to the key of C by Clair W. Johnson was published by Rubank, Inc. in 1941. Using the transposition makes the chorus more accessible for congregational singing.

11. The postlude "Toccata" from the Fifth Organ Symphony of Charles Widor is published by Marks [1936] (D).

Liturgy Notes:

  1. The visuals in the sanctuary should reflect the celebration spirit of Resurrection Sunday. The colors of Easter are white or gold. Do whatever you can to visually portray a celebratory atmosphere in the worship space.
  2. We suggest that the worship service begin with the proclamation of the Easter story through the reading of Matthew 28. It can be very special to have a child (upper elementary or middle school) do this reading. We encourage you to rehearse with the reader so that the reading can be done confidently, clearly, and in a tone that portrays the proclamation of a wonder.
  3. The Welcome and Call to Worship are particularly important on Easter morning. Visitors will likely be present, either the unchurched/underchurched or relatives and family members who have "come home" for Easter. A warm word of welcome to them is important. For that reason this is a good week in which to include time for worshipers to greet each other and encourage them to make this more than a "good morning!" but also a time to pass the peace of Christ.
  4. The structure of this liturgy is more simple than most weeks. After the gathering we engage in two blocks of celebration in music and song, with the ministry of the Word of God between them.
  5. During this service we have chosen to continue congregational singing while the offerings are received. This will continue the worshipful activity of celebrating in song.
  6. The Morning Prayer must include great sensitivity to the occasion so that thanks and praise are offered for the resurrection of Christ, but also intercession for a world that tries to find hope and confidence while sidestepping the truth of Christ's resurrection. The passion on Easter Sunday should be expressed in this prayer-that while we celebrate together we are eager for the world to come to know this hope!