Easter Sunday 2023 – The Empty Tomb
2 minutes before service, service countdown begins.
Call to Worship – Pauline and Miak
P: Out of the darkness of grief and despair
comes a message of hope. Christ is risen.
All: Christ is risen indeed!
M: We run to the tomb to see for ourselves.
The tomb is empty. Christ is risen.
All: Christ is risen indeed!
P: We hear a voice call our name,
and we know our risen Lord
is with us now and always.
All: Christ is risen.
Christ is risen, indeed.
Thanks be to God.
M: Come, let us worship the Risen Christ!
Worship Set 1:
Christ The Lord Is Risen Today
O Praise the Name
Worthy of It All
Prayer – Miak and Pauline
Help us remember the first Easter
Didn’t begin with trumpets and choirs,
Processions and exclamations
But with fear and bewilderment
While it was still dark before dawn
We wept in sorrow and grief
And we hoped to see you one final time
Only to find
The stone rolled away
And the tomb empty
Confused, lost, fearful,
We ran to tell our siblings.
We ran to the tomb when we heard
That the tomb was empty
Some of us didn’t know what to make of
The strips of linen
And the burial cloth
Some of us saw and believed, even as we yet understood
And some of us continued to weep and mourn
We all encounter You differently
As varied as our experiences of the empty tomb
Because resurrection meets us where we are
Where there is brokenness
Where there is death
Where there is pain
Where there is despair
And because Christ is risen
We know that love is stronger than death
That there is restoration, healing and hope
God of life and love,
Your love story with all of humanity
is the greatest story ever told!
We pray for all who bring your word of life
As a light to those in darkness
For those who bring your word of peace
To those enslaved by fear
For those who bring your word of love
To those in need of comfort
Lord of love and Lord of peace
Lord of resurrection life
Through our lives
and through your power
Christ the Lord is risen to-day
May our encounters with You
In the empty tomb
Bring us back to life
So we may touch the lives
of all we meet
And bring Your Kin-dom here on earth.
Alleluia. Christ is risen.
ALL: Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Sermonette Opening –
CHRIST IS RISEN!
I never get tired of doing this. I hope you don’t get tired of me doing this! Sometimes church services become something we just sit through – but Easter Sunday isn’t one of those – it is a day of joy, proclaiming Christ is risen! And if that’s the only thing you take away, that’s it.
In FCC, Easter Sunday is also the day we conduct baptism, and induct new members into our church.
The lectionary reading today is from John 20.
I would like to invite Arnold, who is getting baptised today, to read verses 1-10 and share his testimony with us
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there,
7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed, 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Testimony 1: Arnold
Hi I’m Arnold, and today I am getting baptised, and this is my testimony, sharing my account of my relationship with God.
In my teen and early adult years, I participated in Christian youth and fellowship groups. And as I progressed beyond the basic doctrines of God’s love and salvation,
I became deeply confused and troubled by the 6 Biblical clobber verses that seemed certain to condemn all forms of same sex relationships.
I was perturbed and did not know how to resolve this conflict inside. There was no one to turn to for help – there was no internet, there was no FCC, there was no resources anywhere.
And these verses seem so applicable to me.
There was no running away from it! I felt condemned for what was natural to me. I began to backslide and eventually left Christianity completely. It was the only obvious choice then to resolve this conflict in my heart and to find peace.
Being a “free thinker” then, my priorities, interests, concerns and activites were directed towards attaining satisfaction and achievements in my career, finance, relationships and other worldly matters that were frivolous and superficial, such as going to the gym almost religiously in pursuit of physical beauty.
All these did not really fulfil my inner needs, and any sense of happiness was temporal. I felt insecure, lonely, lost.
Aging can be a curse or blessing. For most of us, physical and mental deteriorations creep in such as a less youthful appearance, vulnerability to pains and cancers, and decreasing mental faculties. But it also brings with it certain wisdoms resulting from past experiences, being more sensitive and reflective.
There was a particular incident that awoken in me that my own death could happen when least expected. Indeed, life and death are in the hands of God. This was what happened. I climbed up to my house attic 1 day to check on the leaking water heater tank installed there. As I approached and stepped onto the flooring near the water tank, the false ceiling below suddenly gave way! Somehow I grabbed onto a long horizontal bar to break the fall. If I had fallen, I might have died or had my back or legs broken in multiple areas because of the height. I felt grateful that God did not take my life that day. Was God giving me another chance at knowing God better?
My heart was therefore undergoing a spiritual revival. Sometime in late 2021, I was going through my old things, I found a DVD movie entitled “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, a early 60’s Hollywood production. I was just so completed moved in my heart towards the end of the movie with the scenes of Jesus been tortured and led through the streets of Jerusalem, and the crucifixion moments. I was overwhelmed by the love that God was showing to us! I was moved by the Holy Spirit and rededicated my life to God!
In the early months of 2022, I watched a lot of You Tube videos, particularly relating to pro-LGBTQ discussions on the 6 clobber verses, besides other topics that would contribute to my further understanding and knowledge of general Christian doctrines and Christian living.
I found FCC after searching for gay Christian churches in Singapore, and watched the online broadcast for a few months. Then I first attended FCC in person in May 2022 and have been a regular attendee since.
I feel more secured, grounded, and beloved now as a Christian. It is the start of a lifelong journey with God, and certainly no walk in the park. There will be trials, tribulations and temptations along the way. But I know that God is always with me, walking and leading me through the good and hard times. He will not forsake me. I have much to learn and grow as a Christian but I will, through daily prayers, Bible reading and interacting with brothers and sisters in Christ, and at FCC.
So today I am joining FCC as a member, and getting baptised after all a long journey. Baptism to me is a public profession of faith in Jesus, in the resurrection power of God. I want to openly declare my faith in Christ, and baptism to me is an open manifestation of my faith.
Thank you Arnold for your testimony.
We all encounter God differently – as varied as the experiences of disciples of the empty tomb. Yes, Mary Magdalene, Peter and the disciple that Jesus loved all were there at the empty tomb, but each of their experience was different. Resurrection feels different for each one of us because each one of us have different things that need to be brought back to life.
“Peter saw went into the tomb first and saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’s head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed, for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
What did they see? What did they believe? They saw something that convinced them that Jesus is not dead – He is alive! They were convinced love is stronger than death! This was their conversion experience. They witnessed something that convicted them.
When Arnold shared with me how moved he was when he watched “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” I immediately saw this experience as a conversion experience. His DVD was the linen wrappings and burial cloth.
I want to invite Inez, who is joining us as a member today, to share her testimony.
Testimony – Inez
Hi everyone, my name is Inez. I think most of you don’t know me bc I have not really done very much to meet people since coming to FCC since about Sept of last year! But since I’m joining FCc, I think this is a good opportunity for me to introduce myself a little, and I hope to talk to more of you soon, though I am VERY bad at remembering faces, so sorry if I have to meet you several times!
The last three years were very tough for me. Around the start of the pandemic in 2020, when I was living in southern California, I started having really severe migraines and other health and mental health issues that really took me out of most things. (Mostly due to work-related stress as I was a teacher and also trying to look for jobs in Sg.) (I have been doing a lot better finally in the last few months!) But during that time, unexpectedly, I felt like God was showing me that his love for me was unconditional. It really didn’t depend on my work, or my service in church, or what I could do for other people or even for God. It was a very painful lesson I really did not want to learn, but it also really changed me for the better.
When I moved to Sg in 2021, I realized what I was most looking for in a church was a place and community where I could experience God’s unconditional love, the love he has for every one of us as his beloved creations, no matter who we are or how we identify or what we are going through. I am really grateful that search led me to FCC, and I look forward to being more of a part of this family.
Thank you Inez –
I wonder – how many of us believe, but only believe in part? When Inez shared with me her reflection – she shared an experience that is quite common – feeling unworthy of God’s love and thinking that God’s love was conditional – but her conversion experience during the last 3 years of the pandemic was learning that God’s love was unconditional – it didn’t depend on her work, or service in church, or what she could do for other people or even God.
I had this insight into the reading from John 1-10 this week. Many scholars tried to explain why in the Gospel of John, there are references “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved”? Why is John referred to as the beloved disciple?
In the past, I read it as some rivalry between John and Peter. After all, they raced each other to the tomb, and the author had to tell us that the disciple that Jesus loved, John, reached there first. And later on, (in John 21) after Jesus asks Peter three times do you love me and tells Peter the way Peter would die, and “Follow me!” Peter asks “Lord, what about him?”
But as I reflected on all the stories of all the folks who are joining us as members (and Arnold who is getting baptised), I saw something else.
Some people have suggested that the beloved disciple is unnamed so that all of us can more easily identify with the narrative. Then I re-read the verses again from the beloved disciple’s perspective.
What if the beloved disciple hesitated to go into the tomb even though they arrived first, because at that time, the beloved disciple wasn’t convinced that they were beloved. What if they didn’t think that Jesus loved them as much as Peter, or that they were as worthy as Peter – especially since Jesus washed Peter’s feet first, and that Peter is so named because Jesus said “And I tell you, you are Peter,(Petros) and on this rock (Petra) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
Like the beloved disciple, like Inez, how many of you have felt that you weren’t good enough for church God? Good enough for God?
There may be a myriad of reasons to feel not good enough. For many of us here at FCC, it is about related to our sexuality – our gender identity and / or sexual orientation. But many others too feel not good enough, and somehow need to do things to prove that they are. Sometimes we end up trying too hard to be better than others, trying too hard to prove we are correct, because somehow we are only half-believers – we only half-believe we are beloved. We do not believe that God loves us unconditionally. We are only loved if we volunteer in church, we are only loved if we do well in our work, if we believe in the right doctrines…
That is limiting the radical, limitless, unconditional love of God.
To believe fully, is to embrace our identity as the beloved disciple. Perhaps that’s why they used that instead of their name. To remind themselves that they are beloved. “The disciple that Jesus loved.” That at the end, finally, they came around to recognise even though they weren’t going to be the rock of the church like Peter, they were loved all the same. Just like what we believe here at Free Community Church – FREE stands for First Realise Everyone’s Equal – equally beloved by God, equally worthy.
Su shared with me this reflection. I am reading this on her behalf.
I don’t know if Catholic guilt really exists. Part of me liked to think it was just yet another pop culture jab at the church I’d grown up in.
The rest of me believed it was probably true – because there was no other explanation for the deep sense of unease that went down to my bones whenever I stepped into church for mass these days. I’d spend whole masses steeped in misery and self-loathing, mind circling around myself rather than focussed on the cross and the word of God – wondering if it was OK for me to be here, if it was OK for me to even be.
All because I’d reached a point in my life when I couldn’t deny any longer that I was most definitely Not Straight. The voices in my head spoke louder than the word of God being preached on the pulpit. I wasn’t a good Catholic girl anymore. I wasn’t good. This wasn’t something I could talk to a priest about at Confession and have absolved. I’d seen how those around me reacted to those who had dared to out themselves at Church. I knew what my family would say. Had said. Besides, just how does one absolve a part of yourself? If the people around me knew who I was, they would surely ask me to leave. Or to keep hiding who I was, stay in the closet and deny myself – as if the queerness would wilt from a lack of sunlight.
It was at my grandmother’s funeral mass, sitting in church, going through the motions with a stuffy priest who knew nothing about her spouting a trite and unfeeling homily, seeing her coffin lying right there and wondering if she still loved me now that she was with God and knew that I was queer – that I knew.
I couldn’t live like this any longer. It was a stupid question – of course she loved me, just as God loved me. There was no use in staying here and trying to be what I wasn’t if the struggle was only pushing me further away from God. And that if I continued as I was, I would die one day and there would be a Catholic funeral for me, just like this one, and nobody would even know who I really was.
I attended my first face to face service at FCC two weeks after the funeral. And it wasn’t until I’d gotten home after service that I realised what was different.
My head. It’d been so quiet, so peaceful during service. The voices – they were all gone. It’d just been me and God and the people around me.
I still don’t know if Catholic guilt exists. But one thing I do know – especially in this season of Easter – is that death, so paradoxically, in its own way, brings us closer to life. And for the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to growing in God’s light and living with light for others.
“Death, paradoxically, in its own way, brings us closer to life”
The empty tomb is the place of resurrection.
Years ago, when we first moved here, Rev Yap commented that this space is like a cave. It didn’t help that we often closed the curtains because the projectors were not that bright. (They are still not that bright)
Rev Yap said it was like a closet, without much light coming in.
We have been here since 2014 – and while there had been some changes – we have removed the platform that formed the stage in front because we wanted worship not to be a performance where the congregation “watches” but bring congregation together with the worship team on the same level. Then, for a season, we included tiles that we drew that were almost like stained glass, telling our stories.
But even though we had all these changes, I think Rev Yap is still right. This is still a cave.
Just like the tomb Jesus was buried in. But this tomb isn’t one that’s filled with death. This tomb is the empty tomb.
This tomb is – hopefully – for us the place where we experience new life, resurrection, restoration, and healing.
This place is the place where we know – fully and truly – that we are God’s beloved. We are the beloved disciples.
I want to invite 2 more members to share their stories – and I want to invite you to hear from their experiences, the story of empty tombs.
Testimony 2: Harrison
• When I was younger and growing up, I was really into this idea of the whole church being the body of Christ – as in all Christians are supposed to be good and preaching the word of God and bringing people to Christ by living good lives, being good people
• This changed over time. Slowly but surely. It started with some Christians being anti-science, and refusing to believe or even learn about science and just claiming that it is false (but if you don’t understand it, how can you even refute what you don’t understand?), and interestingly enough, me learning to be pro-LGBT largely stemmed from a scientific perspective as I found out that you could not choose to be gay, and to me it would be “immoral” of God to condemn the nature of his own creation, when he put that nature in his creation in the first place. That is not a God that is worthy of worship. But sadly, over the years I have seen more and more Christians and more and more churches go from wanting to do good in the world to being anti-science, anti-intellectualism, anti-LGBT, and even pro-fascism.
• When I came out as transgender, my mum wanted me to go to conversion therapy. Thankfully it was a half baked attempt of some pastor rambling his stream of disjointed thoughts at me, not really caring about who I am or what I think and feel. Thankfully it wasn’t some boot camp where I was forced to be away from my home or anything worse. It was still bad though, I was still really triggered, and yes the gaslighting and transphobia and everything was horrible but I still didn’t understand why God would allow these people to become pastors and lead so many people astray from Jesus. It didn’t make sense how the church was getting worse and worse and people who were so selfish and unwilling to learn or listen or reflect were pastors and revered, held to such a high regard.
• Why do I want to join FCC?
• In the story of Ruth, Ruth decides to follow Naomi, and she says “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.” I find this interesting because (in my opinion), Ruth’s choice to follow Naomi’s God is because of her relationship with Naomi, that she chose to follow her and adopt the same religious practices as her. To be frank, I don’t really care about the larger “body” of Christ. I really don’t. I wish all the best for them and I wish they would become better people, but I will no longer lose sleep over them or torture myself over them. I care about the people in my immediate community, and FCC has become my “Naomi”. Naomi has become home to Ruth, and Ruth has decided that she belongs with Naomi, and that she will journey with Naomi together.
• FCC has become a place where I feel safe to say what I truly think and feel. It is a place where we can ask as many questions as we want, and really try to understand what is happening in the bible. Another thing I noticed from my youth spent in church is that I kept asking questions and people said that “God’s ways are mysterious~~~” very boring and unsatisfying answer. I would rather have a deep conversation to try to learn more than to brush it off and call it a day. And the world is not a nice place – it is a place with violence, hatred of so many kinds, institutions and systems of injustice and so on. FCC is the only church that I have attended that acknowledges and draws attention to these issues and sees the world through these lens. Yes it is uncomfortable knowing about these things happening, but I would rather have this than some brainwashing prosperity gospel crap.
• I guess I shall end off by saying this. I’m not a Christian because I want to go to heaven when I die (I don’t care). I’m not a Christian because I want to get something out of the religion like prosperity gospel or increased status in this world (I don’t care). I’m not a Christian because I believe everything in the bible is real (I don’t know and I don’t care).
What I do know is that FCC is real, the relationships that I have in FCC are real, and I do care about the journey of faith through life that we are going on together. That’s what I care about. That’s why FCC is my Naomi.
Testimony – Norman
I never liked church.
Before I became a Christian, I didn’t like church.
When I became a Christian I thought for a very brief second that it might change. But it didn’t. If anything it got worse.
I didn’t like the people, and I don’t think the people liked me.
I didn’t like the hierarchy, and the hierarchy definitely didn’t like me.
The judgmentalism, the play-acting. Not so much the things that were talked about as the things that weren’t talked about.
It all got to me.
And above all the boredom.
I have a very short attention span. I get bored very quickly if I’m not actively involved in doing something. Church after church, that was my story and it never worked.
Nothing to do with God, it was just the church—but as I think we all know when you are starting out the two get inextricably confused. Problems in church spill over into problems with God, and it takes a while to separate them out and make a distinction.
I wonder if any of you have ever thought about the differences between the early church and the church today.
We shouldn’t glamorise it, but it WAS different!
And a big difference was this: for the first three hundred years, the church was a persecuted church. Whether it was actually illegal to be a Christian is not entirely clear; but what is clear is that the Christian church for 300 years was an outcast, despised, marginalized, rejected minority.
Until the 4th century when the Roman Emperor embraced Christianity, and then everything changed.
The outcasts became the establishment.
The persecuted ones became the persecutors,
and the age of innocence was over.
I think that some people here have a dream. They dream that one day people may be judged not on the colour of their skin or their sexual identity, but by the content of their character—that one day this church may be fully accepted by the wider Christian community of Singapore.
It may happen, but actually I doubt it. Things may get better. And they may equally get worse. We don’t know and in any case it doesn’t matter.
You see, the bible teaches that God has a special place in his heart for the poor, the marginalized, those who are not able to fully participate in wider society.
God’s favour, Luke’s gospel tells us, is particularly on them.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, revile you and defame you. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven, for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” (Luke chapter 6)
That’s why we rejoice.
And that’s why I rejoice to be a part of this Christian community.
And that’s why I’m here.
Thank you Norman.
Norman rejoices to be part of this Christian community. That’s why he’s here.
These new members have shared with us their stories. Here’s an opportunity to share yours on Menti
Question 2 (Word Cloud)
What about you? Why are you here?
Question 3 (Open)
What does empty tomb mean for you today?
The empty tomb is where grief is met with joy, unbelief is met with faith, despair is met with hope, and guilt is met with forgiveness, regret is met with
And the empty tomb isn’t just about us – we are to “go and tell others Christ is risen,” and through that we are given new life, and given new life abundantly so that we may then live life fully.
My mentor Rev Jim Mitulski shared his reflections on Easter in the San Francisco Reporter
“If we can broaden the definitions, we can experience it more fully. If we can detach it from negative experiences of church we can see resurrection as a commitment on a daily basis to live life fully, and to make sure that everyone has the same opportunities to do the same. To believe in resurrection is to believe that change is always possible.” – Jim Mitulski
May we commit ourselves to live life fully, and make sure everyone has the opportunities to do the same. Because we are all equally beloved by God, equally worthy, we are all the disciple Jesus loved.
Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen indeed!
We have confessed many understandings of Baptism:
sacrament, symbol, sign.
Some of us were baptized before we remember.
Others only later when we said, “I believe.”
Whether immersed, poured upon or sprinkled,
It is Your action, gracious God, that defines our baptism.
Having put off the old nature,
we have been clothed with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female,
for we all are one in Christ Jesus.
Old things have passed away.
Behold, God is making all things new.
In Baptism we honour possibility and celebrate the sacredness of life. Let this water be for us a sign of our desire to join together in our love for God and for one another.
Siblings in Christ,
Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are joined into Christ’s holy Church.
We share in the story of God’s mighty acts of salvation,
and we receive new birth through water and the Spirit.
Those who are baptised and would like to renew your baptismal vows are invited to join the baptism candidates in their responses.
Do you desire to be baptized
into the faith and family of Jesus Christ?
Yes, that is my wish.
Do you promise, by the grace of God, to be Christ’s disciple, to follow in the way of our Saviour, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best you are able?
I promise, with the help of God.
Do you promise, according to the grace given you, to grow in the Christian faith and to be a faithful member of the church of Jesus Christ, celebrating Christ’s presence and furthering Christ’s mission in all the world?
I promise, with the help of God.
All present here, will you witness this new beginning for our newly baptised friends, will you keep them in your prayers, help them, share with them your ministry, bear their burdens, and forgive them and encourage them?
All: We will!
God, bless this water, we pray, by the power of your Holy Spirit. May it remind us that we have been born again into new life, that we may remain faithful until we are united with you in the life to come. Amen.
Baptism of the Candidates
I baptize you in the name of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Mother of us all.
Creator Spirit, strengthen them with your gifts of grace, to love and serve as servants of Christ, to share in his royal ministry, his priestly ministry, and his prophetic ministry.
I present to you, servants of the Servant God.
May they reflect the glory and image of God.
Our hands are the hands of Christ to shape the kin-dom of God.
Our hearts are the heart of Christ that will dream the kin-dom of God.
Our mouths are the mouth of Christ that will speak of the kin-dom of God.
Our legs are the legs of Christ that carry the news of the kin-dom of God.
Communion – Harrison & Pauline
Offering & Announcements
Closing Song: Christ The Lord Is Risen Today
Benediction – Pauline