A few years ago, Working Preacher produced a video Easter is Coming with which many of you are familiar. Take another look. I return to this resource again this year because it reminds me of one of Easter’s primary truths — the empty tomb is less about proof and more about perspective.
We might know this already, but I am not sure the people sitting in our pews do. Our society likes proof, demands proof, insists that proof is what will solve that which amassing evidence can never explain.
Of course, the empty tomb proves that death will not have the last word. Of course, it proves that Jesus keeps promises. Of course, it proves that God’s power is always greater than the perceived power of empire. But I am not persuaded that what’s necessary these days is proof.
Proof assumes a case has to be defended. Proof is demanded when verification is necessary. Nor, am I convinced that God needs to prove anything that the resurrection claims. We are talking about God, after all. Furthermore, proof is easy to dismiss if you are not convinced of its corroborative effects. Instead, I find myself thinking that the most promising Easter sermon we could preach this year is that having a resurrection perspective of the world can make a difference.
Dear Working Preachers, this should make preaching on Easter Sunday a little easier. Not easier in terms of what’s at stake, but easier because it’s not your job to crack the case for resurrection. Rather, we preachers take our cue from Mary Magdalene’s first resurrection sermon, “I have seen the Lord!” Mary’s sermon is not an offer of proof but a proclamation of perspective.
Moreover, “I have seen the Lord” not only communicates that Mary’s perspective of Jesus has changed, that she is able view Jesus in all of the promises of his resurrected self, but also that her perspective of her very self has changed. Her first-person sermon suggests that she has confidence in her words and now in her true identity because in calling Jesus “Rabbouni” she views herself as a disciple. This is perhaps the oft-overlooked promise of the resurrection — it alters your perspective on your identity, who God wants you to be in the world, toward what God is calling you to do. All of a sudden you start to trust that who God said you were all this time might actually be true; that God might have something in mind for you that you have not allowed yourself to believe.
These days, the promises of the resurrection have to matter in more ways than they did before. Whereas resurrection could be comfortably confessed as our future salvation, as our heavenly security, or even our reward for church membership and commitment, you are going to require more than an empty tomb to convince people that any of that matters.
Resurrection has to be a change of perspective here and now, and not just how you imagine your empty tomb eternal life to be. Why? Because people need to hear “I have seen the Lord” when they only see violence, pain, hatred, despair, fear, corruption, lies, racism, sexism, homophobia, terrorism…. They have to be empowered to say for themselves “I have seen the Lord” in the midst and middle of all that which seems to be the opposite of resurrected life. We speak out “do not be afraid” because even that of which we are the most fearful no longer has power — even now.
Not proof but perspective means resurrection makes a difference beyond the call of the trumpets, the scent of the spring lilies, and a day on the calendar that demands church attendance. It’s the kind of stance that says this day will matter tomorrow, the next day, and the next week. It’s the kind of viewpoint that enables moving about in life able to call attention to resurrection moments, resurrection experiences, or those instances when resurrection changes how you might interpret the world.
In times like these, we don’t just need resurrection moments. We need resurrection interpreters. We need those persons willing to make sense of the world in ways that call attention to God’s sense. We need believers who will say, “what you see is not what has to be.” We need disciples, like Mary, to name what the world sees and then name how the resurrection enables us to see the world differently.
This Easter, our Easter preaching has to be more than proclamation of a past event; more than a statement that people will hear as a get-into-heaven-free card. I believe that our Easter preaching has to present the truth of Easter’s presence for how we make sense of our lives here and now. And when it does, future lives are not only changed by God’s raising of Jesus from the dead but lives now will be changed by seeing a resurrection reality.