I’ve been in a really confessional mood this week. So indulge me one more time: I’ve almost got this Sunday’s sermon finished, and it’s not that great.
The Easter sermon is the hardest one to write. It’s nearly impossible. And I struggle with it every year. It’s not for lack of effort. I began planning this year’s Easter sermon way back in the fall when Bill Humble was taking us through the seven churches of Asia on Wednesday nights. He used racks and racks of pictures and slides from his numerous trips to those ancient sites to capture our imaginations as he taught us. And it occurred to me then that, if I showed you pictures from my tour of the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem, I could stir you to experience the thrill of the Resurrection that I experienced. But it’s not working like I thought it would. The pictures are great. They’re spectacular. Powerful. But my words… my words are not enough. Not even close.
Reinhold Niebuhr is quoted as saying that he would always attend a “high” church on Easter Sunday where there would be great music but very little preaching. In his estimation, “No preacher is up to the task on Easter.” I think he’s probably right.
John Updike’s poem “Seven Stanzas at Easter” beautifully and perfectly identifies the cause of every preacher’s frustration leading up to Resurrection Sunday. One of the lines is: “Let us not mock God with metaphor, / analogy, sidestepping transcendence… / let us walk through the door.”
Yes, it is a waste of time to try to explain the Resurrection. Some things can’t be reduced to an explanation and are greatly diminished in the process of trying. The task on Easter is proclamation, not explanation. On Easter, the preacher should only offer an invitation to “walk through the door” into a brand new world where the ultimate reality isn’t death, but everlasting life in the One who brought our Lord out of the grave. Accept it in all of its mystery and wonder. Rejoice in the powerful love and gracious blessing we experience at the empty tomb. Proclaim the Resurrection, don’t explain it. Proclaim it. That’s what the apostles did. And that’s what I’ll attempt to do this Sunday.