Preaching Articles

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.

Peter Mead is involved in the leadership team of a church plant in the UK. He serves as director of Cor Deo—an innovative mentored ministry training program—and has a wider ministry preaching and training preachers. He also blogs often at and recently authored Pleased to Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation (Christian Focus, 2014). Follow him on Twitter

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Patrick May

commented on Mar 30, 2015

Peter, thanks for sharing, but I wonder if Easter would stand out more if churches were walking through the season of Lent and experienced Holy Week from Palm Sunday all the way through Easter (Resurrection) Sunday? I noticed that you mentioned the crucifixion much in reference to Easter as well and I can't help but wonder if there's something missing there in regards to the resurrection of our Lord. Indeed, it seems when we read the book of Acts, the Apostles went out proclaiming that Christ was raised from the dead, and therefore Jesus is Lord. Your thoughts? Pat,

Rev. Phyllis Pottorff-Albrecht, United Brethren Communi

commented on Mar 30, 2015

What most people need to remember during the Easter season is not how did the crucifixion work - but how does salvation work. The best passages to focus on during the Easter season are passaged such as Paul's explanation to the Corinthians - Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation. To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. -- II Corinthians 5:17-21. And to the Ephesians - But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. - Ephesians 2:4-10. Especially if there will be those who are attending church for, perhaps, the first time this year or even for the first time in their lives, what they need to know is how salvation works - and NOT how the crucifixion worked. The important message of both Christmas and Easter is that we serve a risen Savior - He is in the world today.

E L Zacharias

commented on Apr 11, 2019

I used to preach to the critic or agnostic. I found that unappealing, for the reason you pointed out. We are preaching to those who believe in Jesus Christ, the same who was crucified and who was raised to life. There is no end to the joy in that; his death means our death to sin and his resurrection is ours, given in our baptism. What is better than that? Don't mess with metaphors of spring; that is the pagan message. Blessed Easter to all!

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