Tuesday, 13 September 2011

St. John Chrysostom

Today is the feast day of St. John Chrysostom.  His Easter Sermon was included in the Easter Vigil when I was growing up, and I have successfully used it in various Holy Week/Easter celebrations with children.

Last year, we had lots of kids absent for Easter itself (away on holiday) and so we had an Easter celebration on our first day of Sunday School after Easter.  We started at the bottom of the stairwell going up to our Sunday School room, where I told the story of Creation.  We then moved up the stairwell to the landing, where I told the story of the Red Sea.  The other teacher and I held a piece of blue cloth across the stairs and the children pushed their way through it.  We then sat at the top of the stairs, where I told the story of the Dry Bones (using the feltboard) and how God sent prophets and kings and teachers to help the people follow God's laws, and how he finally sent Jesus to live among us, and to share our life.  I told them how Jesus preached good news to the poor, how he made miracles happen and how he cured people who were sick.  I talked about how Jesus' enemies were afraid of him, that they were afraid he was going to take away their power.  I talked about how they arrested him, told lies about him, and put him to death on the cross.

And then I read part of the sermon that follows.  The "Christ is risen! / He is risen indeed!" bit at the end was done responsively, back and forth between me and the children - and at the end of the sermon, I pressed "Play" on the CD player and the Hallelujah Chorus started playing as I flung open the door to the Sunday School room ... which was covered in flowers, lit candles, our "Alleluia!" banner from Easter Sunday, and had a table groaning with cake and sweets in the centre of it.

We feasted and partied for about 15 minutes and then decorated candles for the children who were getting confirmed two weeks later.  It was a wonderful session.  You could do it on Holy Saturday as a children's service around sunset, or expand the drama bit (look to the readings from the Easter Vigil for inspiration) and surround it with artistic activities and worship and singing together to make a two or three-hour Saturday afternoon programme.

Here's the sermon.  Italics indicate what I cut.  These kids were between 6 and 9.  Older kids could probably handle the whole thing.

Whoever is devout and a lover of God, come, enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

Whoever is a good and faithful servant, rejoice, and enter into the joy of your Lord.

Whoever is weary of fasting, receive now your recompense.

All who have labored from the first hour, let them today receive their just reward. Those who have come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them keep the feast. Those who have arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss. Those who have delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation. Those who have arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; he gives rest to the one who comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one he is just, and to the other he is merciful. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our LORD, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another dance for joy! O you zealous and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted, and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden, feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!
Let no one fear Death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free!

He that was taken by Death has annihilated it! He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive! Hell was embittered when it tasted his flesh, and, anticipating this, Isaiah proclaimed, "Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions."

It was embittered, for it was abolished! 
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It laid hold of a mortal body, and found that it had seized God!
It laid hold of earth, but confronted heaven!
It seized what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!
O Death, where is they sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and Hell is overthrown!
Christ is risen and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tombs!” 
For Christ being raised from the dead has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages! 

Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
Christ is risen!!!
He is risen indeed!!!

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