What to preach at Easter – and how to do it with vigour!
Easter is one of the busiest times of year for any Preacher. There is a sense of build-up through Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (silent Saturday) and Easter Day as we walk through the week of Jesus’ betrayal, mock trial, crucifixion and finally resurrection.
The “finally” gives it away, though. As a Vicar of a parish congregation I was usually exhausted by Sunday. I often felt that I had given my all, particularly as we paused and lingered at the foot of the cross. I often also found myself musing: Big crowds come on Easter Sunday, but isn’t the heart of the message the cross? How do I do as Paul did and resolve to “preach Jesus Christ and him crucified?” (1 Cor 1: 17f; 2:2) when the crowds are biggest and my energy is at its lowest?
Two simple thoughts have helped sustain me over the years:-
Preach the cross and the resurrection – a combined, powerful package
There has been a lot of discussion over whether the heart of the Gospel message is “the cross” – for it was there that Christ bore the penalty of human sin, becoming the sacrificial offering and scape goat. For others the heart of the Gospel is the resurrection – for if there is no resurrection Christ is rotting in a Palestinian tomb and we are people with no hope (1 Cor 15).
By all means follow the liturgical pattern of the Holy Week, but don’t miss the fact that Christ’s death and resurrection belong together.
- [David] spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. (Acts 2:31-32)
- You killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.(Acts 3:15-16, see also, 10:39)
- In Athens it was the thought of resurrection from the dead that turned the crowd against Paul but which also compelled others to hear more (Acts 17:31-32);
As these few examples from Acts demonstrate, it also means that on Easter Day – indeed every other day too – I preach the resurrection as a celebration that “the price is paid”, his one perfect sacrifice is accepted by the father; and I preach the reality that “he is alive” – today, among us.
Remember that the cruciform pattern is: Strength through weakness
When Paul told the Corinthians that he resolved to “preach Christ and him crucified” I think that his point is that the kind of Christ he preached was not a “super apostle” type of Christ but one who hung on a tree, one who was abandoned by friends and ultimately by his father. This is the Christ we preach.
This message is apparently weak; but so too is the messenger. Not with wise or clever words; not in human strength or vitality, but in weakness, fear and trembling – that’s how Paul summed up his preaching (1 Cor 2).
Paul had learnt the lesson that when he was at the end of his human resources God was most likely to act.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:8-10)
Preacher, as you crawl out of bed to preach, often exhausted, sometimes discouraged:
- remember that it is your weakness that God seems to use more than your strength; and
- make sure you preach the whole package: the cross and the resurrection. And, oh yes, in your weariness, allow this great Gospel to refresh your own soul, seeping into the marrow of your being, before you preach it to others.