Easter Sunday Re-Lived
Julie Stoneberg, Ministerial Intern
PRELUDE Handel: Sonata in A Minor
Morning and Happy Easter! My name is Julie
Stoneberg. I am the ministerial intern
Today, we will be visiting the source of our river…or at least traveling upstream a bit…to experience the history of Easter in this church. Much has changed. Much has been added.
Much has been abandoned on the shores or has evaporated from disuse. And much flows on, albeit transformed by the influences of time and thought.
Using old Orders of Service, I have attempted to create an Easter experience that will give you a sense of the stream of our history. I invite you to relax into a spirit of receiving and to trust the experience. Let the words and the music wash over you. Try to imagine them in the context of their times.
This is a highly participatory service. You will be asked to sing and read more than usual. In this way, you can commune with the many who have occupied these same pews, reciting the same words and singing the same songs. They gave birth to ideas and dreams that have both lived and died here, and this spirit continues to sustain us.
Music has played a large part in Easter services over the years, as it does today. As with everything else, music at First Universalist has changed over the years, and today, there will be no soloists singing “Hosanna”, no choir processional, no male chorus featuring Mark Magnuson as there was in 1946. Still, what we sing tells our story; hymnbooks have functioned very much like sacred scripture for Unitarian Universalists… they reflect our common values and beliefs, and as those beliefs have changed, so has our music.
Another way that we can trace our changing theologies is through our statements of faith. Three statements from various periods are sprinkled throughout today’s service. Again, we must attempt to see them in their context… the earlier ones, in particular, seem so far from where we are today that it may be difficult to see just how distinctive they were in their own day.
As much as possible, service elements are included word for word, which means that it will contain non-inclusive language. And, it is all unabashedly reflective of our deep Christian source.
And so we begin with 1925. This is an arbitrary starting point, only because this is the oldest bulletin I could find. Our church’s history goes back to 1870, so today’s service only covers about 61% of our history. No one living has been a member that long (Lillian Hoppe claims the longest membership; she joined in this church in 1934).
J. Taylor was the minister from 1919 – 1927, arriving in
During these years, a pamphlet called “The Wausau Universalist” was published at the end of each week and mailed out, so people had the order of service and announcements ahead of time. There was a subscription price of 50 cents per year. The Easter covers were in exquisite full color. Good Friday services were held and Communion was celebrated at those services.
These were proud years. The bulletin covers claim Universalism to be the inevitable religion of tomorrow. The Universalist Church saw itself as the world’s greatest adventure in organized religion; insisting that the real essence of Christianity was the Christ Spirit with which to meet the issues of this life. This was a spiritual fellowship that promoted Truth, Righteousness, Reverence, Love and Helpfulness among men, and in the quest of the Infinite. One cover states that “the world must go forward to universalism or remain in semi-barbarism!
To them, the Universal Fatherhood of God meant that there is one God, into the developing image of whom Jesus and all of us are divinely born. Jesus was seen as a Spiritual authority, and not as the means of salvation, for God was infinite love.
Hear these words of William Taylor, written at Easter in 1925.
No time of year means as much to our souls. In the tender recollection…we remember “the one loved long since and lost awhile;” in the longing for the deeper things of life; in the deepening desire to perfect in some way true and just, that which is noblest and best within us; and in the gladsomeness born of the knowledge that immortality hath been brought to light through Christ; in these, “we see through a glass darkly” the meaning of Easter, and the cause of Easter joy.
Come, let us worship together. Let us pray.
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father! by whose power thine only begotten Son hath overcome death and opened unto us the gates of everlasting life, perfect within us the work thou hast begun, and while we are permitted to say, “Lord, I believe,” may our faith enable us to rest in thy promises, and even now to enjoy thy salvation. Through power given to us in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, may we rise above the temptations and sinful lusts of this mortal life, and in the hope of immortality, pass on toward the dark valley with unfaltering steps, seeing before us the shining footprints of our risen Lord. May this day be sanctified to our growth in Christian life. More than ever before may we think of Jesus, and in his glorious resurrection may we all have part, according to his gracious promise that he will draw all men unto him. Glory be to thy holy name forevermore. Amen.
That prayer for Easter was printed in The Gloria Patri, a book of prayers published in 1882. Both Taylor and McLaughlin used it in Easter services prior to 1930. And here now is the first of the Faith Statements. It is based on the Boston Declaration of Principles adopted by the General Conference of Universalists in 1899. I have altered the words a bit in order to shorten it. Please read the indented and bolded text.
1. The Universal Fatherhood of God.
We are here to give the world an interpretation of the character of God, which makes Love the central element.
We are here to bring Christ within the sphere of human sympathy and needs; to make him our friend and our brother.
3. The Bible, as containing a Revelation from God.
The Bible is…the record of a religious growth from crude and cruel beginnings, up through different ages and ideals…
4. The certainty of Just retribution for Sin.
Love is not at odds with Justice. They who sin must suffer, - here or hereafter. There is no arbitrary penalty – only consequences.
5. The Final Harmony of all souls with God.
We are here to preach the gospel of continuous and unfolding opportunity. We insist that this world does not tell the whole story; that death is but an incident in an endless career; that the door of hope is open forever beyond the grave.
Our first hymn was used in nearly every Easter service from 1925 –1945.
It was generally used as a choir processional with the congregation joining in the singing. We don’t have a choir processional today…so just use your imagination. All arise and sing.
(All arise and sing)
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say: “
Raise your joy and triumphs high; “
Sing, ye heavens and earth reply. “
Love’s redeeming work is done, “
Jesus’ agony is o’er, “
Darkness veils the earth no more, “
Soar we now where Christ has led, “
Following our exalted head; “
Made like him, like him we rise; “
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. “
SCRIPTURE – John 20: 1-17
Today’s scripture reading, John 20:1-17, is read from the Easter Order of Service in “Songs of Work and Worship” published by the The Universalist Publishing House in 1923. This was meant to be read in unison by the congregation, but I’ll read it for you today. It is entitled, “The Risen Christ”.
Now on the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdelene early, while it was yet dark, unto the tomb, and seeth the stone taken away from the tomb. She runneth therefore, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith to them, They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him.
Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. And they ran both together: and the other disciple outran Peter, and came first to the tomb; and stooping and looking in, he seeth the linen cloths lying; yet entered he not in. Simon Peter therefore also cometh, following him, and entered into the tomb; and he beheld the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which was upon his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself. Then entered in therefore the other disciple also, who came first to the tomb, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again unto their own home.
But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping; so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they said unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and beholdeth Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
Jesus saith to her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
Jesus saith unto her, Mary.
She turneth herself, and saith unto him in Hebrew, Rabboni; which is to say, Teacher.
Jesus saith to her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father; but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.
Easter is a time that we talk about newness, and that’s why some people get new clothes for Easter. When I was a little girl, my mother kept a box on the top shelf of the hall closet that had our Easter hats stored in it. Every year, my sisters and I got all excited about Easter, we couldn’t wait for that box to come down, and when it did, we negotiated for which hat we would each wear that year.
Sometimes we don’t like the new things we get. One year, I was to get new shoes for Easter, and we went into town to the store. I picked out the perfect pair of white patent leather shoes. My mother made me buy another pair…because they were less expensive. But I hated them. And on Easter morning, I hid them in the linen closet so that I wouldn’t have to wear them to church. I got in a lot of trouble for doing that.
New things happen when things change, and today I’m talking with the adults about how things have changed in church. For one thing, there didn’t use to be a children’s story during the church service. Just like today, they had to sit for a long time through a lot of words. And Sunday School has changed a lot too. Do you know Dolores DeVoe? Well, she has been coming to this church since she was a little girl. At first, she came with her aunt, and they rode to church on a street car. Can you imagine that? Dolores says that all the young children met for Sunday School in the rec room…They sat in a circle and had a story and a song. Sometimes they would stand and march along with the song. Then they would go to their classes, but they didn’t leave the rec room. Instead of going to rooms, they went to separate tables that were set up in the basement. You see, there weren’t separate classrooms then…the rooms that you have now are in the house where the minister used to live, and your classrooms used to be bedrooms.
What kids have learned in church has also changed a lot. There was one woman, Sophia Fahs, who really changed Sunday School for Universalists. She began to introduce the study of other religions and also wrote a book about Jesus that portrayed him as a person. Just like today, many other churches then saw Jesus as part of God, so the work of Sophia Fahs was really important, because she expressed what Universalists believed about Jesus for kids! Here’s her book about Jesus…it was written way back in 1945. Your parents could check this out of the adult library and read it to you.
For quite a few years, there was a program called “Fireside Hour” that was held in Yawkey Hall before the church service at . During this time, all the kids would present something… sing a song, read a poem, recite a verse. Sort of like a big talent show, but I think they did it every week! And, there was a children’s choir. Here are some pictures of different children’s choirs over the years. Maybe we’ll have a children’s choir here again soon.
You see, Easter is about new things…things that change…and things that grow.
Now it’s time to go off with Samantha and Jenny to have your own Eastertime together.
CHILDREN’S BLESSING - DOXOLOGY – All standing
all that dwell below the skies,
Let the Creator’s praise arise!
Let the Redeemer’s name be sung,
Through every land, by every tongue.” Amen.
The years 1942-1963 saw just two ministers… Brainard Gibbons and Carleton Fisher…each of whom made a large impression on this congregation and on the larger Universalist movement. Many current members of our church joined during their ministries, and our church had perhaps the largest membership it has ever had during these years.
Universalism was moving away from identifying as Christian to thinking of themselves as ‘more than Christian’. This certainly included a humanist perspective as well as an opening to the wisdom from all of the world’s religions. A bulletin from 1955 puts it this way… “If Christianity is the acceptance of a certain system of belief with regard to the personality of Jesus, his relationship to God, and the supernatural effect of his death and resurrection, then obviously Universalists are not Christians – for they do not teach these doctrines. But if Christianity means the effort to live this life of ours in accordance with the major ethical teachings of Jesus about human worth and human obligations…- then Universalists have as good a right as anybody to call themselves Christians.” Clarence Skinner was making his mark on Universalism during these years…his leadership in the denomination moved Universalism from a theological doctrine to a working philosophy aimed at securing the universal harmony of all individuals on earth. He used the concept of brotherhood as a guide to a transforming social vision, and this was in fact one way that Universalism evolved from Christian sectarianism to a universal religion.
“Hymns of the Spirit” was published in 1937,
and was a join venture of both the Unitarian and Universalist Commissions on
Hymns. The joint Commission was concerned
with including hymns that were in line with the ever-evolving ideology of
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find printed copies of any of Gibbons’ Easter sermons, but they were titled such things as “Fact, Faith or Fiction” in 1942 and “Immortal Living”in 1950. Gibbons is well remembered for a sermon he delivered for the national Universalist Church in 1949 called “New Wine in Old Wineskins”… in which he expressed his belief that the expanding theology of Universalism could no longer be contained in the Old Wineskin of Christianity.
I did find a couple of Easter sermons given by Carleton Fisher. In 1960 he spoke about the creative power of the universe that was present in each and every atom, stating that immortality means spending our lives fruitfully, and that hope can be found in the very nature of reality.
In 1963 Fisher stressed the need for a resurrection that meant being ‘restored’ to life…life defined as finding a meaningful place in the world.
Both of these men were instrumental in taking Universalism in a new direction.
This affirmation of faith appears virtually unchanged from 1944-1962. Let’s read it together.
AVOWAL OF FAITH – (all uniting)
We avow our faith in:
God as eternal and all-conquering love.
The spiritual leadership of Jesus.
The supreme worth of every human personality.
The authority of truth known or to be known.
The power of men of good will and sacrificial spirit
to overcome all evil and progressively establish
PRAYER AND CHORAL RESPONSE
“Hymns of the Spirit” contained prescribed orders of service. The Easter Service includes this prayer. Let us pray.
O Thou who makest the stars, and turnest the shadow of death into the morning: on this day of days we meet to render thee the tribute of our thanksgiving. We praise thee for the resurrection of the spring-time, for the everlasting hopes that rise within the human heart, and for the gospel which hath brought life and immortality to light. Receive our thanksgiving, reveal thy presence, and send into our hearts the spirit of the risen Christ. Amen.
Please join in the choral response.
“Blest be the tie that binds,
our hearts in Christain love.
The fellowship of kindred minds,
Is like to that above.”
RESPONSIVE READING –Easter (1944-1952)
The following Easter responsive reading was used in as many services as “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”. It was printed in our red hymnal as well as in a booklet of responsive readings that was used prior to that hymnal. The language is difficult…Listen closely for the influences of humanism…there is a clear emphasis on what we do in this life being the ‘shining light’; our works are our immortality.
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, And there shall no torment touch them.
In the sight of the unwise they seem to die, And their departure from us is taken for misery, And their going from us to be utter destruction:
But they are in peace: and their hope is full of immortality.
And having borne a little chastening, they shall receive great good,
For God proved them, and found them worthy of himself.
And in the time of their visitation they shall shine forth,
And the Lord shall reign over them for ever.
The faithful shall abide with him in love: Because his grace and mercy are to his chosen.
For in the memory of virtue is immortality: Because it is recognized both before God and before me.
When it is present men take example of it: And when it is gone they desire it:
And throughout all time it marcheth crowned in triumph,
Victorious in the strife for the prizes that are undefiled.
A righteous man, though he die before his time, shall be at rest.
For honorable old age is not that which standeth in length of time,
Nor is its measure given by length of years:
But understanding is gray hairs unto men,
And an unspotted life is ripe old age.
Being made perfect in a little while, he fulfilled long years: For his soul was pleasing unto the Lord.
And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament,
And they that turn many to righteousness As the stars for ever and ever.
For the path of the just is as a shining light
That shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
HYMN – O Day of Light and Gladness - #270 – all stand
O Day of Light and Gladness gets 2nd place in Easter popularity over the years, although it was sung more after 1940 than earlier. It has appeared without change in all three of our hymnals.
Scott has been read at several Easter services, including 1955, which was one of the first years that a reading came from a source other than scripture. Perhaps this is the reading that congregation heard.
Jesus is Risen from the dead.
The centuries have not been able to bury him.
Forsaken by his friends,
sentenced to die with thieves,
his mangled body buried in a borrowed tomb,
he has risen to command
the hearts of millions, and
to haunt our hate-filled world
with the restlessness of undying hopes.
The years bring him increasingly to life.
The imperial forces that tried to destroy him
have long ago destroyed themselves.
Those who passed judgment upon him
are remembered only because of him.
Military might and political tyranny
still stalks the earth;
They too shall perish,
while the majesty of the carpenter-prophet
bearing his cross to the hill
will remain to rebuke the ways of violence.
While this particular responsive reading was not used repetitively (not much of anything was used repetitively after 1960), it’s included today as an example of a marked shift in language that began in the late 50’s and early 60’s.
Before the mountains were formed, or the mists became seas, I dreamed my dream.
Out of the night came light, and the void blossomed with wonder and beauty.
In the waters fishes were bred, and from the slime came forth reptiles.
grew and spread themselves, and rivers threaded the land. Summer came, and
And within all was I, brooding and dreaming.
Man lifted himself from the soil and walked.
Men built for themselves huts to dwell in and temples for worship.
There was I, in all and sharing all.
Clans became nations and kings were born and walls began to divide the land. And the sword was lord.
But I am the foe of night and hate and war and death.
For old foundations and old walls are an abomination to me.
My breath is the breath of spring. Better a living tree than heaped stones.
Therefore do I destroy. But fear not, I proclaim not death but dawn.
Before the stars were, I am. And after the stars have passed, then I shall be. I am life.
For many, many years, going way back, an offering was not taken here during weekly services. Easter was one exception. A special offering was taken on Easter Sunday… ‘attractive’ envelopes were mailed out ahead of time, with encouragement to approve the practice of limited offerings by being especially generous with the Easter offering. (There was, in 1934, a printed admonishment referring to people not taking the offering very seriously at the last collection!) The 1937 bulletin went so far as to state that “our people do not want an appeal for money made during a service of worship.” Beginning in 1942, the Easter offering was earmarked for a “Growing Endowment Fund”. By 1960, there was no offertory during the Easter service; just a note that offering envelopes and contributions could be placed in the plates at the back of the sanctuary as people left. For today, will the ushers please come forward to collect the offering and after the music, return to the front for the dedication of our gifts.
Let us upbuild the church in strength and purpose
to minister evermore abundant life and peace. (1985)
The Universalists and Unitarians formally merged in 1961. The period after the merger was a time of unrest for the newly formed movement as well as for society in general. Membership fell off in many UU churches across the country, as we searched for solid spiritual and theological footing.
Another new hymnal appeared in 1964, “Hymns for the Celebration of Life”, this one showing evidence of the expanding pool of musical and cultural resources from which Unitarian Universalists might draw for common worship. However, soon thereafter, the women’s movement brought issues of gender and language to the forefront, and this hymnal was quickly outdated. Several small booklets of hymns with revised language were printed in the years that followed.
1964-1989, our church saw a quick succession of four ministers. I’ve had the pleasure of having a conversation
with John Robinson (minister here from 1969-1973 who is currently the interim
minister at the UU Society of
Robinson had colorful memories of Easter in
Rev. Drinon expressed his ongoing struggle with the Easter holiday. While he felt it was important to give some recognition to the Christian Easter, he personally was moving more toward humanism during his tenure here, and strove to associate Easter with the hopeful impulses found in nature…building on our natural human response to the coming of spring.
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH: (1979-1986) And so things continued to change. While the faith statement used during this time had many similarities to the one from the 1920’s, it also resonates with our current principles. Any reference to Jesus has been dropped altogether. Please read with me.
Minister: What gives a special character to your religious faith?
People: Its Universality! We believe in the unity and sanctity of life –
- the supreme worth of every human personality
- the authority of truth known or to be known
the power of men and women of good will and sacrificial spirit to overcome evil
and progressively establish the reign of love and justice;
- the final harmony of all Souls with the Divine
- And God will be All in All.
HYMN - Lo, the Earth Awakes Again #61
Let’s stand together and sing just one verse of Lo, the Earth Awakes Again…#61…new words to the old tune…another clear indication of a shift in theology. This is the only version of the tune that appeared in the blue hymnal.
As I stated earlier, there are few repetitions or dependable traditions in Easter services during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. One common element, however, was the use of multiple readings from modern sources. Hal Borland was a nature writer for the New York Times from 1941-1978. This was read at the Easter service here in 1973.
There is a temptation to say, as May spreads the leaves and opens the blossoms, that spring has come again just as it has come for untold aeons. But the fact is that no two springs are exactly alike. Man contrives machines that turn out countless duplicates; but nature is not a machine. Change is the one constant in this living world…
We go to the meadow to pick violets, but there are only a few where they were profuse a year ago; this year they are at their best a hundred yards away. We look for wild columbine on the rocky ledge, but the ledge itself has been split and diminished by winter frost. We walk beside the brook and see that the spate has filled one cove with silt, widened another. We cut across an abandoned hillside pasture, all grass five years ago, now dotted with seedling pines, a new woodland in the making.
Bloodroot still blooms beside the old stone wall, and anemones. But the wall is tumbling…Field mouse and chipmunk that sheltered there have had to find new homes. The ever-shifting balance has been changing again. The wind plants thistles and milkweed, the birds plant briars and wild grapes, the squirrel plants oaks.
Change, constant, unending change within the framework of the familiar, the enduring. Another May, another spring, eternal but unlike any other that was or shall be.
The beauty of this faith lies in its ability to continue to live through many springs…the ongoing death and rebirth inevitable in the continuance of life. Our congregational theology evolves in response to the personal challenges, the needs, and the events in each new era. Each generation has the responsibility to adapt our worship services to reflect these changes. We encourage you to be a part of that…note the Preparing and Leading Worship Workshop being held next Saturday.
And so our river is forever changing, constantly being reborn. Even today, some things are dying and being reborn in new manifestations of our faith and love. Over the years, pain and grief over what has been lost have co-mingled with the press forward and the excitement of new growth and discovery. We have lost beloved ministers, favorite musicians, familiar rituals, and well-loved hymns. But interesting aspect of Easter services over the years is that they have often been the occasion for christening babies and for welcoming new members (e.g. Hilary Ware and Amy Pradt in 1985) …both acts of welcoming and celebrating what’s new among us.
remains unchanged is the Easter message of hope – hope for times of despair and
disillusionment – hope that the Shaivo family will fine comfort - hope that
We continue to drink of the waters that founded this church, and in that way, we drink from wells we did not dig. Yet the promise is that we continue to pour our unique selves and understandings into this common stream. What was, is what was, and, like it or not, it has left its mark on us. We can be grateful for this past; the incredible journey taken by our ancestors who have passed on to us their quest for truth and freedom.
Bach/Gounod: Ave Maria
(Organ/Violin played this our 1938 Easter Service)
It wasn’t until the mid-1980’s that we began to light a chalice at the beginning of our services. Today, we light this chalice near the end of our service, to express our assurance in the continuing flame…a flame that ignites in the alchemy of our shared pursuit of justice, meaning, and universal love. You’re welcome to use this musical time to light a candle or record a personal joy or concern that you would like to be held in the ever-renewing breath of this congregation.
HYMN – All Creatures of the Earth and Skies # 203
While our final hymn appears in all three hymnals, it has been through several revisions. It appeared in the blue hymnal under the title “The Canticle of the Sun”. The verses in our current hymnal are much changed, but not so much in meaning as in linguistics. And so it spans the history of this church.
A sentiment from 1946: May every Easter joy be yours. May the resurgent religious interest that accompanies this season not die after Easter has passed. Rather, may this spirit take on the immortality of Easter and remain a vital spark of your lives through all the days and years to come. Amen.
POSTLUDE Handel: Allegro