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Finding the Risen Christ in Community

Blogger Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.





Eastertide is the season where we get to hear a little each Sunday from the book of Acts, a record of the wild experiences of Jesus’s first disciples as they went into the world to tell the good news. In the Christian liturgical tradition, Lent is the season to reflect inwardly, but in Eastertide Jesus pushes us from the nest and we find ourselves, like those disciples, bumping our way through actual discipleship in the real world.

It’s exciting, especially at first, when the memory of the risen Lord is fresh in our minds. Think of the last time you had a personal revelation, or read a book you adored; you couldn’t wait to tell someone. But at some point the newness wanes and the vigor you felt at first is no longer enough to properly fuel your work in the world.


Christian Community

That is, I believe, where Christian community comes in. Guest blogger David Calvert made reference to community a few weeks ago when he wrote about the Common Hymnal project. In his blog, Calvert describes how, in the age of vinyl, people would anticipate a new album coming out and then gather together to listen to it. Before recording technology, too, someone who had a hunger for new songs would have to learn the song themselves in order to enjoy new music at home. Fast forward to 21st century, when we can download albums instantly and listen in our earbuds; this is not in itself bad, but something is lost when the only way we consume music is as background noise, by ourselves.


Making Time

The element of community is important to our experience of music, just as it is important to our experience of the risen Christ as we go day by day through the season of Easter. I have felt this recently, in situations where I made time to be in community, face to face, with other people. As a choir director, for instance, my choir and I feel refreshed in our knowledge of the risen Lord when we work intensely on an anthem and it comes together on a Sunday morning. We hit just the right chord and there is something sacred born that is more than the sum of the individual notes and voices. As a music teacher, I felt the Lord’s presence with my three- and four-year-olds when we were dancing with colorful scarves to Saint-Saëns’ “Aviary,” and suddenly a beautiful blue jay swooped by the window. Finally, the Lord graced me with his presence last week when I dragged myself to a Vacation Bible School meeting which I had been dreading, but which, by God’s grace, became a sacred space for us leaders to open our hearts about what we wanted for our church’s children. We came up with new, risky, yet exciting things we could try to make our hopes for our children a reality. In all of these examples, God made God’s self known to us in community, because we had all made the effort to show up, week after week. It was both because of and in spite of our efforts that we experienced these moments of awe and grace.


God’s Work

Much of God’s work is difficult and tedious and not every gathering of the faithful produces a golden moment we can treasure for weeks or years to come, but it is because we did not neglect to meet that we gathered what needed to do what Jesus sent us out to do. This Eastertide, as you flap your fledgling disciple wings, I hope you find people to flock with, people to make and listen to music with, and wonderful glimpses of the risen Christ to carry you all through the season.



Author – Ginny Chilton Maxwell is Music Minister at Church of the Ascension in Norfolk, Virginia, where she serves as organist, choirmaster, and elementary music teacher.

On Easter Day we celebrate that Jesus came back to life, but starting the day after Easter most of us in ministry, and music ministry specifically, feel anything but lively. Easter is meant to be more than just one day; in Western Christianity, at least, it’s a whole fifty days of celebrating. But how many of us actually treat the seven weeks after Easter as the festival season it is? In many of the churches in which I’ve worked and worshiped, we tend to take a few days or even the whole week after Easter off, and the rest of the Easter season never really regains its momentum. We’re exhausted, for goodness sakes, and our worship tends to suffer for it. This doesn’t seem to reflect the reality of the resurrection. What can we as musicians do to be more faithful to the spirit of Easter, without overtaxing ourselves and the people we work with?


The more we get together, the happier we’ll be…

The Sunday after Easter can often be a bit of a downer, not only because we’re all still recovering from Easter, but because many of us have to go from a very full church back to our usual, often much lower, number of worshipers. One thing that worked particularly well for my church this year was to plan a worship service with other churches in our neighborhood for the Sunday after Easter. Granted, ecumenical worship services can take a lot of effort to execute. But I found that with three music ministers working together, we were able to divide and conquer and not leave anyone with too much to do. With someone there to conduct, I could focus on the organ, and we had plenty of singers to fill the choir loft and make the anthem sound full.

I have to say, I’d forgotten how much having children around makes each holiday feel so special.

The nave, too, was full of worshipers to make the hymns and responses quite hardy. What’s more, it feels faithful to the good news of Jesus to break down our denominational barriers and worship as one. What better time to proclaim that message than during the Easter season.


On the road again…On the Road Again

For those of us who are church musicians, most of our work is for events that occur within the four walls of the church. What would happen if we took our show on the road for one or more of the weeks of Eastertide? The music is already learned; why not perform it a few more times in a location other than your church sanctuary? If your church is in a downtown or other highly visible location, consider doing some of the music you worked so hard on for Easter out on the front steps or the front lawn. You could even do the whole worship service outside, weather permitting, at your usual Sunday morning time. If your church is affiliated with a school or nursing home, ask if you can perform the anthem or other special Easter music at their weekly worship service. Or, team up with the school’s music teacher and make music class that week a special Easter “concert,” complete with a tour of the organ and an opportunity to sit with choir members and follow along with the music as they sing. Some of these options will be relatively easy to execute; others require more planning than most of us want to do the week after Easter. But I think you’ll find that just by changing the scenery you’ll be able to extend the life of the music you performed on Easter Sunday, and keep the Easter season alive while you’re at it.


Won’t someone think of the children?

In the past three years I’ve had two children and started a Children Singing Easterjob that involves working at the school affiliated with my church. I have to say, I’d forgotten how much having children around makes each holiday feel so special. Children have an enthusiasm for celebrations and traditions that is infectious to the rest of us. Easter Sunday may not be a good time for the children’s choir to sing, but it’s perfectly appropriate to have them sing an Easter song on the Sunday(s) after Easter. Small children delight in having songs to sing that go with whatever season it is, so even if you’re working with children in a less formal setting than a choir, you can keep singing your resurrection songs all through the season. (Sidebar: I’ve found there aren’t enough Easter songs to satisfy the appetites of young children. Which Easter songs do your children love?) You might find that you have more opportunity to discuss the true meaning of Easter with the children once the Easter bunny has faded away, too.


The Easter Season is meant to be one of overflowing joy and celebration. What do you find helps you maintain the spirit of Easter through the whole season?


For more blogs by author Ginny Chilton, check out all our blogs here.


Author – Adam Perez is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at Duke Divinity School.


Christ is Risen!

He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!


This past holy week, I was reminded of a song from Mumford & Sons’ triple-Platinum,[1] break out album Sigh No More (Glassnote Records, 2009). This folk/rock/bluegrass-inspired album is packed with religious material (both explicit and implicit). For me, popular music is often a great site for reflecting on the distinctives of Christian faith because it has a way of touching on very human desires and widely held notions of religion and spirituality. I’m thinking especially of a song on the album called Awake My Soul.” Here’s an excerpt of the pre-chorus and chorus:


“[…] In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die

And where you invest your love, you invest your life

Awake my soul [3x]

For you were made to meet your maker”


If you’ll pardon my somewhat literal (and possibly shallow) interpretation of these lyrics, you’ll see what I mean with the religious content and popular notions of religion and spirituality. The themes packed in to this little segment of the song include the life and death of the body, love and relationships, the duality of body and soul, and the nature and purpose of human life before God. There is much to commend to songwriters from this masterful lyricism, but maybe less to commend in the light of Easter where we celebrate Jesus’ life, death, and bodily resurrection. As the Apostle’s Creed summarizes, “I believe… in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

“In these bodies we will live / in these bodies we will die” and in these bodies we will be raised again to life everlasting. Christ is Risen!

But, for some reason, the resurrection of the body seems to be one of the hardest things for many Christians to believe in.[2] Maybe it’s a symptom of popular American Christianity’s penchant for concern over the condition of one’s soul and the “weakness of the flesh.” Admittedly, it is really hard to concretely imagine.

In both his incarnation (in Spanish: encarnación—literally, “enfleshment” or “inmeatedness”) and his bodily resurrection, Jesus affirms the significance of our bodies. I’m reminded of a passage from Luis Pedraja’s wonderful book on Christology, Jesus is My Uncle (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999) where he says,

“The Incarnation also makes it equally untenable to maintain that humanity can attain divinity on its own. It is only through God’s own initiative and action that this new reality can take place. But it takes place in human flesh… It also means that life in flesh and blood, our own incarnate reality, must be taken seriously as the place where we can encounter God… it affirms that our existence as flesh and blood is a part of God’s good creation—a part that is not alien to God.” (84)

What God affirms in the Incarnation, God fulfills in the bodily resurrection. If we thought human destiny was to ‘awake my soul,’ Jesus confronts us with his whole, embodied, new creation body. And, likewise, our bodies will be raised from the dead into the new heavens and new earth eschaton. This is a central hope of a truly Christian message at Easter and something truly worth singing about!

As the Apostle’s Creed summarizes, “I believe… in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

In particular, let’s sing more about the embodied encounters of the post-resurrection Jesus as a way of celebrating that Christian hope doesn’t look so much like the Mumford family’s dead body and ‘awakened soul.’ Rather, it is better expressed in song texts like  “These Things Did Thomas Count as Real” (Thomas Troeger), “Aleluya Cristo Resucito” (Luis Bojos), or “The First Place” (Matthew Westerholm). Sing—and write new songs!—about Jesus the apparent gardener, Jesus the Emmaus road traveler, Jesus who still has nail holes in hands, and Jesus the seaside fish cook.

And while we’re at it, let’s give thanks for the bodies of those labored to make our holy week (and every week) services possible in and beyond music:

Piano Tuning Tools

For all guitar techs, luthiers, organ tuners, electricians, and brass machinists who create and care for the instruments that allow make our music possible;

For the tired eyes, arms, lips, voices, and fingers of those who make music in praise of God and service to the Church;

Gardening Tools

For the gardeners and florists of our Easter Lilies and all the visual artists whose work enlivens our places of worship and turns our gaze toward God’s beauty;

For the farmers, growers, field workers, bakers, vintners, and cooks who offer us a foretaste of the Kingdom to come in the sharing of holy meals;

Communion Bread

And for all the bodies that make up the Church—shaking, plucking, bowing, beating, pushing, pulling, resonating, and otherwise making music to remind us that the hope we celebrate at Easter will one day be resounding in the fullness of our own resurrected bodies.

“In these bodies we will live / in these bodies we will die” and in these bodies we will be raised again to life everlasting.

Amen, may it be so. Hallelujah!



[2] See also this short article on the issue from Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:


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