Easter is not like Christmas. The latter tends to go unmentioned for most of the year, then people come out with expectations of hearing familiar content and carols. Easter is the real ground zero of the Christian faith. We tend to, or should, return to it week after week. So what do we do when Easter comes around?
Some might try to get clever at Easter ... excessive creativity, abundant gory description, shocking video clips, etc.
Remember that regular church attendees need to hear the basic Easter story. Jesus left his disciples with a frequent reminder, an acted out parable that would help them remember Him: His body given, His blood shed. So don’t think we have to get clever at Easter. Those who know and love the Lord profoundly appreciate a carefully planned biblical presentation of the Passion.
They will appreciate a Matthew-shaped message, or one in the Mark mold, or Luke’s take, or John’s. They probably won’t even notice a harmonized presentation from multiple gospels. They appreciate Paul’s reflections, or those in Hebrews, or even a glimpse of the Lamb looking as though it had been slain from Revelation. Pick a passage and preach it clearly. No need to be clever. Believers need to hear the ground zero Easter story.
Remember that visitors need to hear the basic Easter story, too. Perhaps it is visitor season as families share holidays together. They may be interested, or they may be being polite. Whatever their motivation, what they need is clear and simple. They don’t need obfuscated “modern art” preaching or a creatively nuanced oblique side-reference to the gospel. Pick a passage and preach it clearly. Everyone needs to hear the Easter story.
I am not advocating being boring or predictable. I am not critiquing creativity. Let’s certainly seek to be as effective as we can be in our communication of Easter. And let’s remember that effective can often mean simply preaching the basics: Take people to ground zero and help them know the significance of what happened there.
Four gospels do not automatically mean four accounts of everything. In fact, most of the ministry of Jesus is told in less than four gospels (except for the feeding of the 5,000). But once you get into Passion Week, then you have four gospels giving their all to get the story across. This is both a goldmine and a potential distraction for preachers.
After all, we can piece together so many details of that first Easter. At the same time, we can easily lose the theological emphasis of whichever gospel we are wanting to preach.
It is good to check all the gospels for accuracy. You don’t want to preach from John and make an error according to Matthew or Mark. The passion narratives do harmonize, but it is not always immediately easy to see how. So be sure to check and be fresh on the historical harmonization, but ...
Preach the passage, not the historical harmonization. I am preaching from John this year. I want to make sure that the listeners hear what John intended to communicate. The gospels are not a transcribed video script; they are carefully crafted presentations of the history artistically woven to achieve something specific in the hearer. Our task as preachers is not just to tell the history but to trust that the Gospel writer knew what he was doing (since the capital “A” Author was fully at work in each of the Gospels) and to preach accordingly.
It is a privilege to have the Bible in our language and to be able to preach one of the accounts. Even if you rotate through the Gospels each Easter, it will be four years until you come back to this year’s Gospel. Be sure folks get to hear it this time around!
Crucifixion images tend to be sanitized. The reality was so much more shocking than we tend to realize. The frequency of reference, combined with serene artistic representations, has led many believers to have an altogether unrealistic mental image of the Crucifixion.
If you are preaching in the next couple of days, before the celebration of Sunday, how should you handle the Passion of our Lord? It is tempting for some to try to be as graphic as they can. The motivation may be good, but the net result can be lacking. Turning people's stomachs is not the goal of Easter preaching. By all means be as biblical and historically accurate as you can be, but always keeping in mind that your listeners are a mixed bunch.
Some of them may fill their minds with horrific images from movie and video games. But there will be others present who find the slightest hint of blood brings about faintness and nausea. The goal is to preach Christ and Him crucified, not to preach so that all people recall is the horror of crucifixion itself. So beware of excessive medical detail, overwhelming graphic description or repulsive projected images.
It is important to remember that people will be drawn by the work of the Spirit, not by the effectiveness of our storytelling and vivid description.
We need to find the right balance this Easter. Tell it well and help people to know the historicity and reality of Calvary. But be careful to rely fully on the Spirit to stir the heart, as opposed to simply stirring the stomach by excessive and unhelpful shock and awe tactics.
Related Preaching Articles
By Ray Hollenbach on Feb 4, 2014
"Try to imagine talking about your subject every single day for two years. If the idea still thrills you, you've found your topic."
By Mark Dever on Jan 13, 2014
Here's why the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church isn't interested in being cool.
By Chris Surber on Jan 18, 2014
A crowd of non-churchgoers just gathered in a church. Call me crazy. I don't know much. But perhaps you should tell them about Jesus?
By Sherman Cox on Jan 6, 2014
Sherman Cox takes up Will Willimon's challenge to preachers everywhere.