Preaching the resurrection of Christ
Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson
April 17, 2019
Spring is the time of year when flowers bud and it seems that nature wakes from the slumber of winter. It is also during Spring that we move towards one of the most celebrated events on the Christian calendar, Easter. Spring represents the resurrection of nature coming back to life after a dormant winter. As the Easter season dawns, there also emerges the task of preparing a message that is relevant and fresh. This task can be filled with expectation as well as tension.
The task of proclaiming the resurrection of Christ, however, becomes immensely important, especially when viewing the ills of the world today. Here lies the tension in preaching the resurrection of Christ. I must confess the challenge of preaching the resurrection has at times been difficult. It seemed to me that there were only a few texts that were appropriate for preaching on Easter Sunday. I also thought that those who would attend worship on Easter Sunday expected to hear about Jesus getting up on “the first day of the week…” (Luke 24:1; Mark 16:2b; Matthew 28:1a NKJV). Even after viewing the Common Lectionary, I kept going back to those same texts. There was something captivating for me about the “the first day of the week.” Unfortunately, I was not open enough to seeing the entire biblical narrative as a symphony that moved toward the resurrection experience. It was not until reading Philippians 3:1-11 that I saw the resurrection experience anew. It was what the Pauline writer shared in verse 10, that rocked my world and changed my perspective, giving me a new hermeneutic of the resurrection.
Theologically, I embraced wholeheartedly the resurrection of Christ. Unfortunately, in the early years of ministry I did not expand it beyond the celebration of Christ rising from the dead on the third day. It takes an expansive view to see the resurrection of Christ as more than a single event that happened on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion. The death of Jesus ushered in the resurrection experience. Preaching this experience has to intimately connect to the lives of the listeners. When preaching about the resurrection, it is the death that opens the door to the resurrection of Christ. So, when the Pauline writer expounded on the desire to “know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10 NKJV) I was able to see the entire biblical narrative as a resurrection experience. Even the opening of the Bible can be seen as a resurrection experience, God speaking life to that which was lifeless, in Genesis. In the beginning, God spoke. This was the same deity that spoke to Jesus. The same power that resurrected Christ. While biblical exegetes may disagree concerning the textual accuracy of that thought, we cannot disagree that God speaking in the creation narrative gave life to nothing. Is not the resurrection of Christ that very thing?
As we move towards the celebration of Easter, in a world that is filled with death, darkness and decay, I believe those who will be attending worship on Easter Sunday want more than just the story about Jesus rising from the dead. There will be those who have heard this narrative countless times and those who will be exposed to the resurrection experience for the first time. It is the preacher who has the arduous task of crafting a message that speaks to those who have heard and those who will be hearing for the first time. There will be a longing to hear how this story can provide fuel for a faith that may be tattered by life’s challenges. I no longer expect those who attend on Easter Sunday to only want to hear about Jesus rising from the grave. It is my belief that those who will be attending worship on Easter long to hear a word that connects the “power of the resurrection” to the vicissitudes of their lives.
I no longer expect those who attend on Easter Sunday to only want to hear about Jesus rising from the grave. It is my belief that those who will be attending worship on Easter long to hear a word that connects the “power of the resurrection” to the vicissitudes of their lives.
With this in mind, the hermeneutic of the preached word on Easter is vital to fueling the faith of believers. (1) It is also vital to shaping the faith of those who have not committed to any particular faith tradition. As we frame the Easter celebration, let us look beyond “the first day of the week” and at the same time think deeper than “the first day of the week.” It may be important to ask, what was the purpose of the resurrection of Christ? Was is simply to announce that heaven is real and those who believe in Christ will go to heaven? Could it be that the resurrection of Christ is more expansive than simply going to heaven? Could it be that the resurrection of Christ is the power of God in a world that is hammered to death, filled with loss, and frustrated by defeat? Could it be that the resurrection of Christ is broader than one denomination, affiliation, sect, or movement? Perhaps the resurrection of Christ is an opportunity to reveal that there is more to the biblical narrative than a history about a people who rose and fell, struggled and survived only to betray the one who came to show them a more excellent way?
As we look towards singing hymns like “He Arose,” may we be reminded that the entire biblical narrative is bursting with preaching opportunities for Resurrection Sunday. May those who will be preparing a message for Resurrection Sunday be open to the possibility of the resurrection experience seeping through from Genesis to Revelation. May we not be so narrow in our proclamation that we miss an opportunity to help those who will be listening see the possibility of connecting the resurrection of Christ to their lives.
May those who will be preparing a message for Resurrection Sunday be open to the possibility of the resurrection experience seeping through from Genesis to Revelation. May we not be so narrow in our proclamation that we miss an opportunity to help those who will be listening see the possibility of connecting the resurrection of Christ to their lives.
Connecting the resurrection of Christ to our lived experiences delivers hope. It also provides footing for individuals to step out of their comfort zones and be socially active concerning the condition of others. There is a need for preaching to expand the resurrection narrative beyond “the first day of the week.” May I dare say that there is a thirst for a relevant resurrection narrative that speaks not only of Jesus simply getting up on Sunday with all power in his hands. There is a thirst for a resurrection narrative that connects the power of Christ’s resurrection to lives that are falling and fading under that weight of injustice, inequality, suppression and oppression.
As I continue to preach, I am often reminded of my first-year homiletics professor at Virginia Union School of Theology, Rev. Miles Jones. Dr. Jones hammered in the concept of the authenticity of the preacher. The preacher has to believe the message before the people in the pews. It has to be relevant and real for the preacher in order for the preacher to convey it effectively to the listeners. And it was Dr. Samuel Proctor who effectively communicated Romans 10:14, “how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (NKJV). Proctor noted that within the preacher’s quiver are arrows and the arrows are God’s word. (2) These arrows need to be relevant. The resurrection of Christ is an arrow that is both relevant and comprehensive. It should be expanded beyond “the first day of the week.” These masterful architects of the preached word are deceased, however, they impressed upon me and many of my colleagues the power of the preached word. May we proclaim a relevant and fresh word concerning the resurrection of Christ.
The Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson is pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, Endicott, N.Y.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.
(1) LaRue, Cleophus J. The Heart of Black Preaching, Westminster Knox Press, Ky., 2000, 68.
(2) Proctor, Samuel D. “How Shall They Hear?” Effective Preaching for Vital Faith, Judson Press, Pa., 1997, 10, 34.
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