The preaching pressure of Easter is real.
The pews are fuller, the faces less familiar, the music grander, the memories – and therefore expectations – vivid. Those gathered have both little expectation (they came because it will make their elderly parent happy) and large expectation (they have hung in all Lent for the big reveal). Couple that with the fact that for some, Easter is the Hallelujah Chorus, or Easter is the trumpet descant on “Lift High the Cross,” or Easter is the smell of lilies, or Easter is the sunrise service, or Easter is seeing all the children in their new clothes huddled on the chancel steps, or Easter is the grand procession of choir and worship leaders, or Easter is the reading of John’s account of the resurrected Jesus, or Easter is the booming proclamation, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” or, or, or…. Easter Sunday is a Sunday of incredibly high expectations, mixed with some in the pew with less than no expectations who’d like to be anywhere but there, coupled with a wide variety of competing opinions as to what it critical in order to make Easter truly Easter. (Many of those have little or nothing to do with the Gospel story. Egg hunt anyone?) The pressure on those presiding Easter Sunday is real.
Given that, here’s what I think is key: Focus on the text. Whether it be John or Luke this year, Acts or 1 Corinthians, focus on the text and just give me Jesus. Easter Sunday is a day to proclaim, not explain. Please, oh please, oh please, don’t try and explain the resurrection or detail a doctrine. Take a cue from the women and tell the terrifying, awe inspiring, inexplicable truth that Jesus lives and that makes all the difference in the world for the Marys and the disciples and for us. There will be skeptics who think it’s all an idle tale; but maybe your witness, your testimony, your proclamation will help motivate them to go and see for themselves. They may well be amazed even if they don’t yet believe. And surely, some will remember what Jesus said when you remind them of it.
Read the story and then re-tell it as you know it and have experienced it. Be the women, be the two guys in dazzling white, remember all that Jesus has told you and then tell it to others in the light of Christ’s resurrection.
Ask the questions asked of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joanna. Ask the rhetorical question: Remember? Remember what Jesus told you, those of you who’ve not been to church in a year or since your childhood? Remember the stories your Sunday school teachers taught you or the ones you learned in confirmation? Remember the Scripture read at your wedding or maybe the passages your mom requested be read at her funeral? Remember the Lord’s Prayer or the words of “Jesus Loves Me” or the 23rd Psalm? Remember the promises made when your child was baptized and the promises made on your behalf all those years ago? Remember?
They may well remember and in their remembering experience the risen Christ and the life he gives again. They may be amazed at what they see and hear and experience in the fragrance of lilies and the singing of alleluia and the passing of the peace and the prayer of confession and the Word read and proclaimed.
Ask the question: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Ask why they refuse to leave the graveyard when God is calling them to places of new life? Why are they anticipating endings when God is offering radical, new beginnings? Why are they looking for the dead among the living, writing off so much of what God is working on? Why do they think reconciliation is impossible, forgiveness improbable, scarcity, acrimony and war inevitable? Ask, and then remind again what Jesus’ resurrection might have to say about their answers.
I am reading Atul Gawande’s book “Being Mortal” and in it he tells the story of a physician named Bill Thomas who wanted to remake a nursing home. He was not only a doctor, he was a farmer. Gawande writes of Thomas, “From the first day on the job, he felt the stark contrast between the giddy, thriving abundance of life that he experienced on his farm and the confined, institutionalized absence of life that he encountered every time he went to work.” Thomas decided that the answer was “to put some life into the nursing home the way he had done in his own home – by literally putting life into it.” He managed to get a grant to bring dogs, cats and 100 birds into the nursing home. He encouraged staff to bring their children to work. They planted a garden, built a playground and started an onsite childcare center.
The result? “People who we had believed weren’t able to speak started speaking,” Thomas said. “People who had been completely withdrawn and nonambulatory started coming to the nurses’ station and saying, ‘I will take the dog for a walk.’” Gawande notes, “The lights turned back on in people’s eyes.”
So often we are not only hanging out in the cemetery looking for the living among the dead, we are going through life looking for the dead among the living. Easter should turn both those expectations upside down and inside out.
Remember? Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus is living water, the bread of heaven. Jesus came to save sinners, heal the sick, put people in their right minds and clothe them. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Even those who think these things are part of an idle tale when you proclaim them may be intrigued enough to go and see for themselves and be amazed at what they discover.
This Sunday put aside all expectations except the expectation of seeing not only an empty tomb, but the risen Christ. Remember all he told you and then proclaim it.
This week, let’s pray together:
Gracious and loving God, as we journey with Jesus on this last week of his earthly life we pray to follow closely, listen attentively and remember all he has told, taught and shown us. Even as we deny and flee, fear and hide, call forth from us the gifts you have given us and help us to share them boldly. May our weaknesses reveal your strength and power. Help us to rely on the Holy Spirit as we prepare and preside, preach and teach, pray and proclaim. Give us the words you would have us speak and the strength to do so with conviction. Grant us audacious courage and abiding faith, trusting that you will take what we offer, bless and use it. Come this Sunday morning, may our overflowing joy and gratitude be evident and unstoppable as we celebrate the new life we have through Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we make our prayer. Amen.
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