I’ve been reading a lot lately about how a preacher should go about dealing with the message of resurrection. You’d think that after having preached 40 years, I’d have the Easter message down. But the challenge for me in this season of the year has always been not so much what to say but how to say it. In other words, the Easter message is so familiar and the Easter crowd is always so large (swelled by the numbers of people who tend to come only that one Sunday in the year) that a preacher feels compelled to “prove” to everyone that the Resurrection of Jesus actually occurred! But somehow, “proving Easter” always seems to leave everyone a bit unsatisfied, both preacher and congregant, much like tasting an Easter dessert that everyone has been bragging about but that doesn’t quite seem to live up to its billing.
What I’ve been reading about Easter preaching tells me that, according to people in the pews, most folk just want to come to church on Easter to sing the songs and hear the story and bask in the wonder of it all. People don’t want something that appeals to the head as much as they want something that appeals to the heart. They want, as the song puts it, “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
That’s a good thing, because at the end of the day, Easter is something that can’t really be explained, much less proven. That’s because resurrection doesn’t square with anything else we know about everyday existence. There are no parallels, no equivalents. As I like to say, we don’t read “Resurrection columns” in the newspaper; we only read obituaries.
So, perhaps it is more the case that Easter explains us. Easter, as it were, “proves” us. When we show ourselves to be unfazed in the face of life’s challenges and setbacks, we give witness to a surplus of courage that only Easter can make possible. When we choose to take on the forces of evil because we know that the powers of darkness will not ultimately prevail, Easter makes such boldness possible. When we stand under that little tent at the grave of a loved one and lift up our grief-stricken hearts in the hope of a glad reunion, only Easter enables us to do so.
That’s why Easter is not only the celebration of a past event. Easter’s alleluias proclaim a beginning that determines even the remotest of futures. In Easter worship, the glories of eternity draw near in ways that gladden the heart as nothing else can.
I am looking forward to seeing you this Easter Sunday as we gather to sing and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. Rest assured, I’ll have a story to tell – the most wonderful story the world has ever heard. I won’t try to prove it, however, because for people of faith we have nothing really to prove. We have instead so much to experience; and through the abundance Easter worship always offers we have a witness that with the Jesus’ risen presence will most definitely move others to do the same.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you” (Matthew 28:5-7).