A Service of Lessons and Music for Easter

A Service of Lessons and Music For Easter

by Judy Hunnicutt

[update: as you can see above, this article is not written by me...it is from the archive of Creator magazine's printed issues]
In another article, we gave you a service outline for a Tenebrae service incorporating the music of the John Rutter Requiem,which you can find here. This time, we reprint a useful service model presented by Judy Hunnicutt. The repertoire that Judy features is a function of when this article was published (in the January/February, 1985, issue of Creator magazine), though the music is no less worthy. In fact, many of the pieces to which Judy refers are classic choral anthems. You will notice, however, that she specifically encourages you to personalize this service to fit your circumstances — adding children, drama, or a worship team for instance. My experience is that a service such as the one outlined here, or the Tenebrae service referred to elsewhere, is a wonderful way to prepare your congregation for the joyous celebration of Easter Sunday morning. For without the loss, and lament, we often forget what we have to celebrate.

Here's the article. I think it would serve any church well during the Easter season.

A Service of Lessons and Music for Easter

For many years, choirs have celebrated the Christmas season with a service alternating between the reading of nine lessons and the singing of carols and anthems. The same format can be used very effectively for a special Easter season service.

Although I will list anthems which have worked effectively for me in such a service, you may easily substitute anthems which your choir enjoys singing that are appropriate to the lesson read. I have tried to give several pieces in which children's choirs may participate as well as music for SATB choirs.

The service begins with an organ prelude. While dozens of organ pieces could be used, one of the best for preparing the mood is David N. Johnson's setting of Wondrous Love (Augsburg 11-821).

Following the prelude is the hymn In the Cross of Christ I Glory. This should be sung by everyone. There is a fine descant to this hymn in theLillenas book Descants for Choir by Dwight Uphaus (MB-424).

The first lesson to be read comes from Matthew 21:1-11 and deals with the Triumphal Entry. (The readings may be read by one person or a different reader can be used for each lesson.) The reading should be followed by an anthem such as Palm Sunday Procession by Alec Wyton (HG FitzSimons 2218), Hosanna, Loud Hosanna by Lois Emig(Harold Flammer A-5938, U+SATB) or my own Palm Sunday (SMP S-241, SATB + two trumpets).

Lesson II is on the Last Supper and is taken from Luke 22:14-23. You will want an anthem which focuses on that event to follow this lesson rather than a general communion anthem. My This Do in Remembrance of Me (SMP S-320, SATB) works well as does the lovelyMozart Ave Verum (many editions) or Jesu, Word of God Incarnateby Edward Elgar (Noveilo 29 0164 01, SATB). You may also, along with an anthem or in place of it, sing the hymn Twas on that Night.

Lesson III deals with Gethsemane and comes from Mark 14:32-46. While there are several anthems which could be used effectively, I have found nothing better than to alternate the Billings canon When Jesus Wept with the four stanzas of Go to Dark Gethsemane. To make this moment especially meaningful, use a quartet of soloists for the canon and place them one in each of the four corners of your church. Have them alternate corners moving into new positions while the choir is singing the hymn. Be sure to sing these two works in parallel keys to make for smooth transitions from one to the other.

The trial of Jesus is the subject of Lesson IV, Matthew 26:57-67, 27:1, 15-26. There is one particular anthem which works magnificently here:Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley by Wallace Hornibrook (Harold Flammer A-5609, SSATBB + flute). If your choir cannot sing the divided parts of this piece, substitute singing the four-part version of this old hymn as found in Hymns for the Family of God.

Lesson V is the Crucifixion and comes from John 19:17-24. There are many anthems which may be used but here are four which work well. I Wonder Why by Lloyd Pfautsch (Agape AG7104, SATB); my own The Crucifixion (GIA G-2171, SATB); At the Cry of the First Bird byGilbert Martin (Harold Flammer A-5671, SATB) and Green the Weeping Willow Tree by Robert Graham (AMSI 179, SA + C instrument).

Lesson VI is handled a bit differently. It is on the Death and Burial of Jesus and begins with the reading of Matthew 27:45-54. After that the choir and congregation combine to sing When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. The lesson continues — Matthew 27:57-66 — and is followed by a time of silent meditation.

This next is optional but can provide a real "goose-bump" moment. If you have a handbell choir, have them begin playing Mary McCleary'sFanfare (Choristers Guild CGB-14) from the back of the sanctuary and then process to the front as they continue to play the piece. It must, of course, be memorized but it is short and easily  learned. Be sure to practice playing it while processing as this can be tricky the first few times. The beauty of the bells as they come closer and closer truly sets the mood for the next lesson.

Lesson VII is, of course, the Resurrection; the passage to be read is from Luke 24:1-9. There are many anthems which can be used at this point but here are five special ones. There is nothing more beautiful thanRandall Thompson's Alleluia (E.C. Schirmer 1786) to celebrate this tremendous event. Easter Proclamation by Albert Zabel (Harold Flammer A-5737) adds handbells to an SATB choir with a part for optional brass quartet. Christ the Lord Is Risen Again by Richard Proulx (GIA G-1709) is a difficult anthem for SATB and brass and quartet but it is truly glorious. Michael Jothen's He Is Risen (Choristers Guild CGR21) for two-part choir and four handbells is effective, as is Joy Dawns Again by Garry Cornell (AMSI 180), another two-part anthem.

The Ascension of Christ is the topic for Lesson VIII and comes from Matthew 28:16-20. You may want to follow this with an anthem on the ascension or you may choose to have the choir and congregation join to sing the hymn Ali Hail the Power of Jesus' Name. A descant on the final verse helps make this hymn special; there is one in the same descant book mentioned earlier.

The final lesson focuses on Eternal Life and comes from John 3:14-17. It should be followed with one of the many choral settings of Wondrous Love.

Cap off the service with the singing of an Easter hymn which is well loved by your congregation. The Benediction comes next and the service ends with an organ postlude.[Tweet "A service of Lessons and Music for Easter"]

I hope this has helped you plan a truly worshipful service for your congregation. Do not hesitate to "individualize" it. Singing anthems loved by your choir and congregation — like the stunning Gilbert Martinsetting of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, for instance — will make it all the more meaningful.

Final Thoughts

believe that the discipline to plan ahead, even if your preaching pastor has difficulty with doing so, is not just helpful — it separates the excellent ministry from the average one. Most members of church ensembles — be they worship team members, singers in the choir, handbell players, or actors in your drama program — are not able to prepare a new piece of material in one rehearsal. Rather than settle for simplistic music in order to meet a last minute "crisis management" aesthetic, planning ahead allows your ensemble members to explore repertoire with more depth, more difficulty, and, in many cases, more impact. Plan ahead this year...you'll be glad you did. Blessings.

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