Happy Easter, preachers! We have some resurrection matters to address.
I am torn. Mark or John? John or Mark? I am usually inclined to say that a preacher needs to choose one or the other. It’s too important to lodge an Easter sermon in an actual biblical text rather than offer bland and all-purpose claims about resurrection. Why?
Because resurrection in general means little until it’s recognized in the particular.
What do I mean? You can go on and on about the doctrine of resurrection. Quoting all kinds of scripture and theology and histories of interpretation to prove your point. But where resurrection really matters is when it matters for you. When you sit in the pew attending a funeral. When you look in the casket of one you have lost. When you face your own death. Resurrection is personal.
In this respect, this Easter I am drawn to two verses. “They said nothing to anyone for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). And “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18). What would happen if this year you put these two together? Mark and John together? In the same sermon! To what extant the two of them, side by side, offer our congregations a spectrum of response to the resurrection, possibilities for replies that taken alone limit and prescribe. Wow. You could open up space for theological imagination with regard to the resurrection that is verified and justified. I fear that all too often claims about the resurrection, assertions about the resurrection, even proclamation about the resurrection is approved, determined, defined. As if we have all the answers as to how God works. As if we have resurrection all figured out.
Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome in Mark, Mary Magdalene in John are particularized claims about the resurrection, personal responses, reactions that are not beholden to belief but arise from grief. There’s no attempt to prove, solve, or resolve. It’s only about their individual reaction, as individual as their names provided in the stories.
What’s yours? What do you think about the resurrection? You may want to ask this question of your parishioners. You may want to ask this question of yourself.
Because these two responses recorded in Mark and John represent the gamut of the human answer to the resurrection — saying nothing and saying everything. And these two very different resurrection stories then give permission for us all to fall into everything in between. In other words, rather than make sweeping claims about the resurrection, invite those present to witness to it, to respond to it, in all of their particularity of faith.
Then maybe the C and E people (Christmas/Easter) will actually come back. Because rather than tell them what to believe, you invite them into believing. And invitation is much more attractive than determination.
Suggest that their own reaction matters. That they don’t have to respond as dictated and determined by our liturgical restraints. That they are not required to acquiesce to the official response of the church, “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. Alleluia!” but are invited to imagine their own witness to the resurrection. That how they respond matters. There can be no single rejoinder to the resurrection. Why? Resurrection is personal. It makes a difference. It has to.
Because then resurrection matters really matter. Because it matters when resurrection really matters. When they attend a funeral. When they wonder about their own. Generic claims about the resurrection will not make a difference. At all. Because they see a husband in a casket. A friend in a grave. And imagine their own death, all too real and imminent. And no general churchy promise quoted by scripture, creeds, or confessions will suffice.
In the end, I do believe that is why the C and E people are there. To hear a truth that they will hear nowhere else. To hear that how they respond to the resurrection of Jesus might actually lay claim on their own. To hear that imagining a life beyond now makes claims on their present.
No place else will they hear that there’s something beyond now. No place else will they hear that those they love are not alone in the grave. No place else will they hear that the promise of resurrection is not only for their future but also impinges on their present. And this is where it matters. That we invite them into a resurrection life. A life lived now, fully believing in a future resurrection, but that also recognizes that a future resurrection has to matter now. To believe in a future, to make claims about God’s future for us means that now is different. Changed. Matters. Extraordinarily. And they get to express that truth in any way they want.
Then, really, resurrection matters.