As Newtown churches gear up for the holiest day of the Christian liturgical calendar, their pastors are preparing to deliver Easter messages of hope, encouragement, and forgiveness.
At Newtown Congregational Church, the Rev. Matt Crebbin is planning to focus on a Book of Luke story in which the disciples failed to recognize Jesus on the road to Emmeaus.
"We need to open our eyes to Christ in our midst," he says. "We're so busy, we're looking for the wrong things. We've lost track of how Christ is present in our day-to-day lives."
At the Newtown Bible Church, Easter is referred to as Resurrection Sunday. Last week, the Rev. Joey Newton spoke about why Jesus died in the way he did, and this Sunday will focus on what it means for Christians.
"His sacrifice atoned for everything," he says, referring to the sins of believers, adding that mankind did nothing to earn this sacrifice -- instead, it is a gift from God. "The evidence of faith is what the spirit produces in the heart—a hunger for righteousness."
Christ the King Lutheran Church will also have an early morning service followed by a Youth Group breakfast and egg hunt.
"Here at Christ the King, we start with a service at 7:30 a.m. that goes from darkness to light," the Rev. Gregory Wismar says, adding that it is symbolic of the journey from Good Friday to Easter morning. "It's a very gentle early morning service."
At the 10:30 festival service, Wismar plans to speak about the "new life in the promise of Christ."
The Rev. Bob Tarullo of the Community Presbyterian Church says there are no special services because his church does not have a formal liturgical calendar similar to other Christian denominations, emphasizing that every Sunday "is a celebration of God's great redemptive work."
Instead, the congregation will have its regular Sunday service at 11 a.m. A new sermon series that connects the Psalms, a book of the Old Testament, to passages in the New Testament will begin.
For Easter Sunday he plans to talk about the significance of the resurrection for Christians and how God will not abandon the faithful in times of trouble.
The Rev. Bob Weiss, pastor of Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church, has a similar message of faith.
"I know there are times when it feels as if God is not with us or that he is not listening to us, especially when we are stressed by these economically challenging times in our country or dealing with an illness or the breakup of a marriage or struggling with an addiction or any of the other issues that make life difficult," Weiss says. "But (God) is always there."
In addition to its regular Mass schedule, St. Rose will have a sunrise service.
At the New Hope Community Church, the Rev. Jim Solomon says that when crafting his Easter message, he tries to be mindful that not everyone is in the same place on their spiritual journey.
"I'm a former Roman Catholic turned agnostic turned Protestant Minister, so my style tends to be seeker-sensitive," he says.
The Rev. Mel Kawakami of the Newtown United Methodist Church says his congregation has many special events to celebrate Easter, beginning with a sunrise service at the Pootatuck River. Music is also part of the celebration, and on Easter the entire congregation is invited to sing the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.
"Easter is the high point of the Christian year," says Kawakami. "In some ways, we prepare for it all year. Every Sunday is a 'Little Easter.'"