Whatever You Do, Preach the Resurrection
Easter Sunday will soon be here, and I have a word of encouragement for preachers. We all know that this is the Super Bowl of Sundays. Attendance will spike. Families will gather. Visitors will be present. There may even be special events or songs during worship. Even in those congregations where nothing out of the ordinary is expected, there is at least an out-of-the-ordinary explanation for why everything will stay the same. So with all due respect to those who “consider every day the same” (Rom 14:5), can we agree that Easter Sunday is unique?
After nearly twenty years of preaching, I have one word of advice to keep a preacher focused on what ought to be done on this Sunday of Sundays: preach the resurrection. You may be involved in all sorts of special planning, outreach, advertising in the community, children’s worship and more. Those are all good; just do not forget this one thing: preach the resurrection. There are numerous articles that can advise you on how to reach out into the community, how to follow up with guests, how to make the most of the religious spirit of the season, and so on. I urge you to be creative and do what is most appropriate with your opportunities; but whatever you do, preach the resurrection.
It may seem as if I am stating the obvious, but I have learned not to take this focus for granted. We have here one of those “Mary vs. Martha” cases where busyness with many things can distract us from the one important thing (Luke 10:41-42). Do not blame the church, your leadership, or the worship committee if you are not fully prepared to preach the resurrection. You have the responsibility to tell the good news, so you may need to manage your own expectations and concerns first. How can you do this and stay focused on what is most important?
First, keep in mind that your sermon may be the first time someone hears about the resurrection and understands it. It might be a young person who is finally mature enough to grasp the significance. It might be a guest who has never heard the way you tell the good news of the resurrection. Do not worry that you must find a new way to preach the news. Just preach the resurrection.
Second, be specific about the significance of the resurrection. Too often the resurrection is placed on a high shelf outside the reach of ordinary mortals. Yet, that’s not how it is discussed in Scripture. For instance, Paul concluded his first letter to the Corinthians with a confident statement about the primary importance of the resurrection. Trace this back to the beginning of the book and you will find that the wisdom he gave in every practical matter concerning that congregation is shaped by the primary importance of the resurrection. What would you preach if you connected every practical matter facing your church family to the resurrection? What would be affirmed? What would be challenged?
Third, do not waste too much time deconstructing or challenging the cultural, secular, or neo-pagan experience of Easter. If there’s a “War on Christmas” then there seems to be a “Truce with Easter.” We are not giving up our egg hunts, spring wardrobe, and glazed ham anytime soon. Search #Easter on any media platform and you will be inundated with chocolate bunnies and recipes for deviled eggs. Yet, there is a religious layer to Easter that remains. Maybe the truce will end if ABC decides not to broadcast The Ten Commandments (1956), but the altar space for Easter seems to be resilient despite an increasingly secular and commercial culture. Go with it. The fascination with religious things is your opening to declare a word about the resurrection of Christ. Be ready to preach it.
Fourth, dispense with formulas. The resurrection is a reality that resets all categories. The writers of the New Testament never attempt to boil down the resurrection to a slogan. Instead, it is the wonder that is told at the end of the gospels. It is the new definition of life that is encountered in broken bread with crestfallen travelers and roasted fish with weary disciples. The writers of the epistles infuse the game-changing hope of the resurrection into their directives for Christians. A resurrection sermon need not be a standalone in a series. Unpack the significance of the resurrection on Easter Sunday and be prepared to continue the process for weeks (or years) to come.
Fifth and finally, preach the resurrection in your voice and with your conviction. In addition to formulas and slogans, dispense with imitation. In his classic book Preaching, Fred Craddock taught us that we “learn from preachers poor, fair, good, and excellent, but not one of them is to be copied. David cannot fight in Saul’s armor” (p. 20, 1985 ed.). In the genre of “Easter Sermons” there are a few popular pieces that can instruct us. For instance, “It’s Friday…But Sunday’s Coming.” But you should be cautious about borrowing the style and content of others as a substitute for your own conviction. There is no substitute for authenticity. The resurrection is proclaimed by witnesses. In its everyday definition, a witness is someone who provides evidence based on their experience. What is your own experience of the resurrection? What have you witnessed? What have you observed from the living testimony of Scripture? Preach that and you will be on the way to preaching the resurrection.