Easter Sunday is one of those days where many folk will come to church who don’t attend regularly, so it’s important to choose some well known songs. However, it’s also a great opportunity to let them experience new songs where they can encounter God in a fresh way and see that the church isn’t a liturgical museum.
You can find a YouTube playlist here with many of the songs suggested below.
There are quite a few classic hymns which work well for an opening song. My go to option would probably be Jesus Christ is risen today (CH 410 / MP 357) as it calls people to worship while the Alleluias give a real sense of celebration. Come people of the risen King (MP 1267 / CCLI / Getty), Christ the Lord is risen today (CH 411 / MP 76) and Great things (CCLI) also work well as a call to worship the risen Christ while I have a real soft spot for This joyful Eastertide (CH 415) which is really uplifting with a congregation who know it. See what a morning (Resurrection Hymn) (MP 1105 / CCLI / Getty) picks up a lot of the Easter morning story in a way other songs don’t while King of Kings (CCLI) sets the day in its place in the whole story of Christ from the promise of the Word to the birth of the church.
There are also some great short songs which could be used as an Introit, as part of a Call to Worship or as your second song. The Lord is risen from the dead (CH 797) and Jesus the Lord, has risen / Surrexit Dominus vere (CH 794) are both simple rounds that would build a really joyful mood. Jesus is risen, Alleluia (CH 409) is a wonderful song from Tanzania which needs to have a feel of one in a bar and you can either sing the whole song or just use a single verse and chorus. You could also use your favourite Alleluia (CH 751 / CH 753 / CH 767) as a response or a short song.
This is the day (CH 194 / MP 691 / PFAS 118K / link) begins with verses from later in the psalm but there is a version with v2 “Open to us the gates of God” and v3 “You are our God we will praise your name” which fits with the verses in the lectionary and would work well for Easter Sunday. Oh, set ye open unto me (CH 78) is a good metrical option while vv.1, 6-8 of Come, praise the Lord, for he is good (Grace / CCLI) sung to How can I keep from singing would give you the right verses. This is the day the Lord has made (PFAS 118D / Hope) looks tricky in 7/8 time but actually feels natural if learned by ear.
There are two broad categories of songs to suggest for the middle of the service where you might use songs which are less familiar. The first are songs which tell the Easter story or parts of it. Were you there when they crucified my Lord (CH 403 / MP 745) is a classic here, taking us on a journey through the Easter weekend, while On Monday (Satellite) would be a less well known option, exploring what happened from Thursday to Sunday and then asks if we will follow Jesus on Monday. O sons and daughters, let us sing (CH 431) has many verses but vv.1-3 and 9 would fit well with the Gospel reading which focuses on the experience of Mary Magdalene, something which Comes Mary to the grave (CH 407) also does. Haven’t you heard that Jesus is risen (CH 433) starts with this Easter morning story in its first verse before exploring other encounters that the risen Jesus has with his disciples.
There are also some wonderful contemporary hymns that pick up on more general Easter themes and while they may seem long to learn they are well worth introducing. Christ is alive, and the universe must celebrate (CH 422) is one of the best of these, with some playful rhythms which gives a celebratory feel. Away with gloom, away with doubt (CH 418) was originally written in 7/8 time and singing it this way gives it a wonderful lively swing (you can do it simply by dropping a quaver from the first note of each bar). Earth, earth, awake; your praises sing (CH 420) is in a more conventional hymn style but has a very singable melody with a beautiful shape. Christ was raised (Resound) and We shall all be changed (New Scottish) both fit into that crossover point between contemporary hymns and worship songs which makes them very accessible for a whole range of congregations.
It’s important to have a final song which will raise the roof and which has words that look at the significance of the Easter story beyond the day itself. For many people it wouldn’t be Easter if you didn’t finish with Thine be the glory (CH 419 / MP 689) but there are other possibilities. The Saviour died, but rose again (CH 425) is a wonderful Scottish paraphrase which fits well thematically while The strife is o’er (CH 412 / MP 670) is one of the other classic Easter hymns. In Christ alone (MP 1072 / CCLI / Getty) is perhaps the best known contemporary hymn and its focus in v3 on the Easter story and v4 on what that means for us means it fits very well. Happy day (MP 1224 / CCLI) might be out of fashion now in some congregations but brings a brilliant energy while Glorious Day (CCLI) and O praise the name (Anástasis) (CCLI) are two more recent songs to consider.