When Resurrection Matters

"North moasaic 01 - Resurrection Chapel - National Cathedral - DC," Image by Tim Evanson via Flickr, Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Happy Easter, Dear Working Preachers!

As I write this, I am wondering which resurrection narrative you are preaching on and why. Luke or John? Back in March, I spent five hours unpacking John’s first resurrection narrative with an amazing group of pastors, Canadian, women. Shout out right now! Five hours on John 20:1-18. And, it was hard to move on. Five hours was not enough and never would be!

Whatever story you have chosen, it is the right one, to be sure. It’s the resurrection witness your congregation needs to hear this year. Or, it’s the resurrection story that touched your heart, your soul, this time around, and so, you simply have to preach it. No question.

I say this because, to be honest, I don’t know if it really matters on what you preach about the resurrection. If your interpretation, and all of its exegesis and research, makes a difference (I can’t believe I just wrote that, but, stay with me). If your take on the empty tomb will change lives or add something to the story. Why? Because, if you trust the resurrection, in the end, the empty tomb preaches itself. It really does. In that you can trust. When all else fails. When you feel like you have nothing left. When, as I have heard from many of you these days, this Easter seems more challenging, more difficult than years past.

Trust the truth. And trust in the women’s witness. Utter their words.

But that is so very hard. I get it. We feel like we have to have something unique to say about such an extraordinary event; the event on which Christianity is based, right? The event that seems to guarantee the potential and possibility for the church. At the end of the day, at least the church seems to have the resurrection going for it. Otherwise, on what can it bank its future? A lot is at stake, I suspect.

We assume that we should have some new perspective to share. Some new statement about the meaning of the resurrection. As if our claim on Easter might matter for others. As if our insights are those in which others are actually interested. As if our resurrection encounter is the end all of what resurrection means.

Easter Sunday preaching requires some serious self-reflection and some serious call to attention. Self-reflection on what, you might ask? Self-reflection on your response to the empty tomb. Whether or not you believe in the witness of the women. Otherwise, you will end up preaching what you don’t believe. And, if you preach a sermon in which you do not believe, well, do not expect anyone else to believe in the resurrection either.

That is, I think the key to an effective Easter sermon is to preach your own conviction. To preach a moment in the story, whatever story, that gives witness to your own belief in the resurrection. To preach a moment in the story that offers testimony to your own sense of why the resurrection of Jesus actually matters for your faith, for you vocation, for how you imagine your future life with God. Why you do what you do, as a pastor, as a person.

That is, what you preach this Easter Sunday is what you feel. Where you connect with any detail, any moment, in either story. Preaching Easter, I am convinced, means sharing your own encounter with the risen Christ. Trust that. Believe that. Preach that.

I know that this is extraordinarily hard. With all of the Christmas and Easter people out there, we want to have all of the answers. Even preaching to the choir, this is a day when you sense a kind of pressure to preach the kind of sermon that reinvigorates the regulars, inspires the marginalized, even invites the disinterested and the dis-involved. But, of course, no sermon, especially on a Sunday like Easter, as much as we wish it could, can do all of that.

As a result, Dear Working Preachers, when a doctrinal sermon on the defeat of death will fall on deaf ears; when an apologetic sermon defending the resurrection will seem vacuous and meaningless; when some sort of validation or justification for how an empty tomb really matters will seem interesting at best, here is what I think — preach your resurrection story.

What do I mean by that?

Preach the personal. Preach your personal. Because then you are actually a witness to the resurrection — and witness in preaching is something people hear and trust. Conviction in preaching is something people hear and trust. You are the women in Luke’s Gospel. You are Mary in John’s Gospel. You’ve seen the empty tomb. You’ve seen Jesus resurrected.

And so, preach that for all it’s worth.