“A Samaritan Easter”
Rev. Douglas Taylor
A multi-generational Easter worship service rooted in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Also, it was Passover and nearly Earth Day, reflections upon those holidays are included.
Welcome and Announcements
Good morning. Welcome to the _____ Unitarian Universalist Congregation where we join together in the search for deeper meaning and richer connections. Our service today is about Jesus’ message of the Good Samaritan, the central message of Jesus.
Egg #1 (see note at bottom of this script)
Passing the Peace
Opening Words ee cummings
(Note: we did this in three voices, it is equally delightful with one dramatic voice)
A i thank You God for most this amazing day:
B for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky;
A and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes
B (i who have died am alive again today,
A and this is the sun’s birthday;
B this is the birth day of life and of love and wings:
A and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)
B how should
A tasting touching hearing seeing breathing
A –lifted from the no of all nothing—
B being doubt unimaginable You?
A (now the ears of my ears awake and
B now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
*Doxology (#381 SLT) Composite based on Isaac Watts
From all that dwell below the skies
Let songs of hope and faith arise;
Let peace, goodwill on earth be sung
Through every land, by every tongue
*Covenant (#473 SLT) by James Vila Blake (adapted)
Love is the spirit of this congregation, and service is its life.
This is our great covenant: to dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love, and to help one another.
Chalice Lighting by Elizabeth Strong
We light this chalice to remember the sorrow, the loss, and the joy that are within this season of the year.
The Passover, that brought freedom from slavery and bondage for the Jewish people, continues to bring light into the world.
Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, that brought joy and the triumph of life over death for the Christian people, still bring the light of that joy to the world.
The spring equinox, that brings new life bursting forth on the land each year, brings lengthened days of sunlight to all life.
Passover for freedom, Easter for life, spring for rebirth.
We light our chalice for all three.
(Light the chalice)
Hymn (#38 SLT) Morning Has Broken
Story ‘The Good Samaritan” Luke 10:25-37 (NASB)
(adapted from “ministry-to-children.com”)
Note: We called for 6-8 people to come forward to help dramatize the story. We had some simple costumes and offered very general staging instructions. This took about 2-4 minutes to organize in the moment.)
Jesus – speaking part -liturgist
Lawyer / man – speaking part -minister
Robbers (at least 2) – non-speaking part
Priest – non-speaking part
Levite – none-speaking part
Samaritan – speaking part (line written out on cue card)
Innkeeper – non-speaking part
(Jesus and Lawyer stand to the side of the stage while others are at the other side of the stage)
Jesus (to congregation) – A lawyer stood up and put Jesus to the test.
Lawyer – Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
Jesus – What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?
Lawyer – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus – You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.
Lawyer – And who is my neighbor?
(lawyer becomes ‘man’; enter robbers)
Jesus – A man was going
down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him
and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.
(robbers can pretend to hit the man and the man can fall down like he’s really hurt)
(exit robbers – enter priest)
Jesus – And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. (priest can make sure that he goes far away from the man)
(exit priest – enter Levite)
Jesus – Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Levite can make sure that he goes far away from the man)
Jesus – But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
(Samaritan can take good care of the man and bring him to the opposite side of the stage from where Jesus and the Lawyer is standing)
(enter innkeeper at the inn)
Jesus – On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper.
Samaritan – Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.
(innkeeper can nod in agreement – then exits)
Jesus – Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?
Lawyer – The one who showed mercy toward him.
Jesus – Go and do the same.
From whom all things come and to whom all things return
We who gather this morning are a people of faith in search of life’s deeper meanings and richer blessings. This is a sacred time for many of our religious siblings around the world. We would honor the stories and the meaning they find in this season, while striving to uncover resources for ourselves as well. We hold that in each of our neighbor’s religions there can be found deep understanding and life-giving truth.
We hear the story of a Samaritan, a story of how we could lead our lives with kindness and compassion toward others. We hear the story and know deep in our bones that this story is a lesson we need to keep hearing, to keep taking in, to keep trying to live out.
And in this Samaritan story we hear the echoes the larger stories of the season. In this Samaritan story we hear the echoes of our modern day lives. May our hearts be opened anew through this old story of compassion.
When we feel lost and abandoned, O Spirit, visit us and renew our faith
When we are fearful, endow us with courage
When we face painful trials, grant that we may see the possibility of new life born again within
Grant that the blessings of compassion and wisdom fill our days beyond measure. Encourage us in our times of hardship to discover anew the power within to embrace again the world and the work which yet awaits our attention. In learning to let go, to trust both ourselves and unexpected kindness, may we uncover the hidden reservoirs of hope.
This we pray in the name of all that is holy
May it be so
Meditative Hymn (#396 SLT) I Know This Rose Will Open
Reading Tell Them By Edwina Gately
Breaking through the powers of darkness
bursting from the stifling tomb
he slipped into the graveyard garden
to smell the blossomed air.
Tell them, Mary, Jesus said,
that I have traveled far
into the darkest deeps I’ve been
in nights without a star.
Tell them, Mary, Jesus said,
that fear will flee my light
that though the ground will tremble
and despair will stalk the earth
I hold them firmly by the hand
Through terror to new birth.
Tell them, Mary, Jesus said,
the globe and all that’s made
is clasped to God’s great bosom
they must not be afraid
for though they fall and die, he said,
and black earth wrap them tight
they will know the warmth
of God’s healing hands
in the early morning light.
Tell them, Mary, Jesus said,
smelling the blossomed air,
tell my people to rise with me
to heal the Earth’s despair.
Homily by Rev. Douglas Taylor
Tell them to rise with me, Jesus says in the poem by Edwina Gateley. Tell the people to rise with me.
But let me start with the Samaritan story. From there I’ll circle around Easter and Passover and back to Edwina Gateley. But let me begin where we began, with the Samaritan’s Story because the story of the Good Samaritan is the essential teaching of Jesus. This is important and if nothing else connects for you today, let this be your one ‘take away’: The Good Samaritan story is the central message of the religion of Jesus. He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And then to illustrate that point, we hear the Samaritan Story. A man gets beaten by robbers, a priest and a Levite refuse to help and then a dreaded Samaritan steps up and offers the needed assistance. The lesson is: be like the Samaritan.
There is an interpretation of the Good Samaritan story that I want to argue against, as a setup to tell you about an interpretation that I think is very helpful. There is an interpretation that says the Jewish religious leaders were bad. By this interpretation, Jesus was telling us about how awful these elitist priests and Levites were because they were so worried about ritual purity. There were religious laws about keeping yourself clean before performing ritual, and touching that beaten man would have defiled them ahead of the rituals. Being so worried as they were about laws around the rituals, they miss the greater law of love!
But that interpretation misses something important. Aileen was showing me a Jewish interpretation that talked about how the Samaritan story is using a common trope in the Jewish storytelling from that time period which we might recognize today as a version of the rule of three. There were a bunch of stories back them in which first a priest walks by, then a Levite, and finally an Israelite. This was a common trope back then. People back then would have recognized what Jesus was doing after hearing about the first two characters. They expected the third character to do the right thing. What they didn’t expect was who the third person would be. It’s supposed to be an Israelite. It’s supposed to be someone the hearer will identify with. “Oh, that’s like me, I’m an Israelite.’
What Jesus does is subvert the ending. The important part of the story is the identity of last person, not the first two. The first two are not mentioned for the purpose of being disparaged. They are mentioned to set up the expectation which is then subverted. Israelites and Samaritans at that time were like Palestinians and Jews today, like Republicans and Democrats today, like neo-Nazis and black people. They were in deep conflict each other. But according to the trope, the hearer is supposed to identify with the third character, that’s how the story trope works. Jesus adds a twist, a surprise to the usual trope. We’re all listening along, we know where this story is headed, and suddenly it is not what we expected. What Jesus does is subvert the ending.
You may know another story where Jesus does that. It’s Easter today. The Easter story does this as well. We’re all listening along. Jesus starts doing his thing, healing people, performing miracles, challenging the Roman oppressors and the corrupt religious leaders … and we know what’s coming next.
He gets arrested, he goes through a trial which is a bit of a farce, he is put to death. It’s happened before, it happened to so many people back then. It’s still happening in places around the world today. We recognize the story line, it’s how tyrannical governments work, it is how oppressive systems keep the dissidents in check. It’s the playbill of every dictator through the ages.
But then something else happens, Jesus subverts the ending. Easter is the twist ending, the subverting of the expected narrative. The resurrection is not what normally happens. Somehow, hope continues. Somehow, death is not the final answer. I know most of the people gathered do not believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus. I also know a few of the people here gathered do. I’m not suggesting we limit this conversation to doctrines and beliefs and who is right and who is wrong. Sometimes truth is a bigger issue than the question of ‘did it really happen?’ Sometimes truth is found in asking what does this story mean? and does it help me be a better person?
Now, hold that thought! Because if the Easter story does not connect for your spirituality, let me circle around to Passover. To understand Jesus, it is important to first understand the Jewish context of his message. Last month I attended Jewish Seder meal for non-Jews. It was hosted jointly by Temple Concord and Temple Israel with support from the Children of Abraham interfaith group. We had a Jewish host at each table to help explain the elements and the rituals. Passover began this past Friday evening at sundown. Judaism’s story of Passover is a story of liberation and freedom.
It is a time when Jewish people remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt. It is a time to seek liberation for all those in bondage today “for we remember” the people recite in the Haggadah. “We remember what it was like to be slaves.” It is a call to treat the foreigner and stranger with dignity and compassion, for we have been foreigners and strangers ourselves.
And isn’t that essentially what the Samaritan story is all about? Treat the foreigner and stranger with dignity and compassion is simply another version of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Passover, which began this weekend, is the story of freedom and liberation of the Jewish people; it is also the call to seek freedom and liberation for others. Easter is today; it is a story for every soul that ever faced the tragic choice of love and hopelessness in the face of the world’s madness. It is a story that says even if we feel beaten down, abused, denied, and overlooked – something unexpected can still rise.
Tell them, Jesus says, to rise with me. In the poem by Edwina Gateley, we hear Jesus imploring Mary. Tell the people to rise with me. This is not just a story of something that happened thousands of years ago. It is happening today. It is our story too. Ask yourself: Who is in my path? Who should I help now? Rise. Reach out and help your neighbor. Show your compassion – that is the heart of the Easter message, Rise. Rise.
In a world without end, may it be so.
Antiphonal Reading: “We Believe in Life”
Liturgist: In the days and weeks ahead,
Congregation: May we remember our courage and our faith
Children: We believe in Life
Liturgist: The Passover story reminds us of the struggle for freedom, and the promise leading us into the journey
Congregation: May we have courage and strength through the struggle
Children: We believe in life
Liturgist: The Easter story reminds us of the transformative power of love, and hope leading us onward
Congregation: May we have faith and trust through adversity
Children: We believe in life
Liturgist: Let these holy stories remind us that love is strong than death, & that a path to freedom, though fraught with difficulty, is open to us.
Congregation: May we be inspired to live our lives with courage and with faith
Children: We believe in life
*Closing Hymn (#269 SLT) Lo the Day of Days Is here
Chalice Extinguishing (#456 SLT) (Unison) by Elizabeth S. Jones
We extinguish tis flame, but not the light of truth,
The warmth of community, or the fire of commitment.
These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.
Benediction by William Murry
Now let us go forth with the faith that life is worth living, that defeat and adversity can be transformed into victory and hope, that love is eternal, and that life is stronger than death.
And may that faith inspire us to live out lives with dignity, love, and courage in the days and weeks ahead.
Eight plastic Easter Eggs each with one of these small stories inside:
During the service, when it calls for an egg, we would step out with the basket and ask for a volunteer to come open one and read it. We gave preference to children.
(Prep note: 6 weeks earlier we had proposed a ‘Kindness Challenge’ to the congregation. “Notice the small kindnesses you give and receive over the next month,” we said. “Write a few sentences about it and send it to us at the church office,” we requested. Upon receiving the small stories, we paraphrased them and made them anonymous.)
Many years back I remember having a terrible time at work, it stretched for weeks. At one point a coworker came up and patted me on the back, smiled and said something encouraging I no longer recall. But I’ve always remembered how that small act of kindness made all the difference in the world to me.
My kindness report: I was given a gift of a bag of yarn from a friend. She was happy to get rid of it I think, but it was so wonderful for me because I love knitting.
This is actually two stories. A few decades ago, my wife and I helped a friend get out of a bad relationship by selling her a car for whatever pocket change she had in her purse at the time. It helped her get away from the abuse and change the path of her life. Fast forward to this past year, my car was dying and I was having trouble finding the funds to get another vehicle. A fellow congregant overheard my trouble and offered me a sum of money there on the spot. I am deeply moved by this person’s generosity every time I think about it. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of this kindness. It is truly amazing.
I haven’t bestowed much kindness to others over the past month, between my illness and a family situation, but what I have received has been truly amazing – – flowers, cards, hugs, emails, invitations to talk over coffee. How wonderful.
A friend has been going through something very difficult. I wanted to help but felt there was nothing I could do. I sent a simple message letting them know I wanted to help but didn’t know what to offer. We met and talked for a bit. I’ve followed up like that as things continue to be difficult, just keeping the conversation going. I didn’t really help, just offered comfort and a listening ear.
I have developed the habit of paying attention to strangers when I’m out in public. It’s not hard to see when someone is having a hard day. I have stopped strangers and said, “You look like you could use a hug. I’ll give you one if you’d like.” It is amazing how often people respond with appreciation and even tears.
I have been helping a neighbor deal with a problem with their mail. They have so much they have to deal with for their health and other things. It is a small act of kindness I can do to help.
I needed cilantro for a recipe I was making for dinner. In the produce section of the supermarket there was only one bunch left and I was lucky enough to grab it. Then I noticed a woman next to me with many children in tow. It became obvious to me that she too needed cilantro, and though she looked we both know there was no more loft. I know I was not going to need all the cilantro in the bunch so I unbundled it and gave her half.