Easter can be a tough Sunday on which to preach. There’s very little new that can be said. It’s the same story every year.
The Revised Common Lectionary, which isn’t the one I’m currently using to plan my preaching, makes matters worse by assigning the same Gospel text—the one from John that we have before us today—every single year, even when one of the other Gospels is the one we’re focusing on the rest of the year.
The Narrative Lectionary is both better and worse on this front. On the one hand, it’s a four-year cycle and we get to spend time with each Gospel, instead of one year for Matthew, one year for Mark, one year for Luke, and then John sprinkled in here and there with not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to it. But on the other hand, the Narrative Lectionary only assigns one reading for each Sunday, so we don’t have the option of a different text, one from Acts or Paul’s letters, for instance.
We’ve been over this and over this, year after year.
If we’ve always gone to church, we hear the same Easter story year in and year out. If we mostly only attend church on Easter Sunday, we hear the same Easter story year in and year out. Even for folks who haven’t attended church at all, and are in worship for the first time on Easter Sunday, the story isn’t new.
And we preachers, although this may come as a surprise to some people, do eventually run out of things to say, and especially of original things to say. If we haven’t said it ourselves, someone else has, and we can’t improve on what they said. I once heard Walter Brueggemann say, quoting Harold Bloom, a professor at Yale, that Adam was the last person who ever got to say anything original. Everyone else (Bruggemann included, it turns out) is quoting. Especially on Easter.
But shouldn’t we try? I mean, we’re all going to get bored hearing the same old story again and again, don’t you think?
Well, I don’t know. Seems to me there’s a time for something new, and then there are times when that’s not necessary.
Christmas Eve is one of those. We don’t necessarily need a bunch of exciting new stuff on Christmas Eve; candles and carols are enough.
And I sort of think Easter is another one.
The earliest account of Jesus’ resurrection that we have in the New Testament is in 1 Corinthians 15. And even at that point—maybe two decades after the event itself—Paul already says he’s repeating something that was handed down to him.
Why would we preachers, here in 2022, delude ourselves into thinking we can and should come up with something exciting and original? Isn’t “The Lord is risen indeed!” exciting enough?
Our culture, and I suspect most cultures, at least as far back as Paul’s visit to Athens in Acts 17, are always on the lookout for the next big thing.
I remember when the first season of Top Chef came on, sixteen years ago, and in the first challenge the contestants were asked to prepare their “signature dish.” It was supposed to be something they were really good at and that clearly expressed their style and personality as a chef.
I consider myself to be a reasonably good cook, but that was the moment I knew there was no chance that I could ever hold my own in a competition like that—or even like MasterChef, a similar contest featuring home cooks, not professional chefs.
If someone were to ask me to make my “signature dish,” I’d probably make biscuits, or maybe chicken and dumplings. And the judges would say, “This is just ordinary, regular food, the kind of stuff everybody eats at home every night. What’s new and exciting about it?”
And the answer is, nothing. I make chicken and dumplings like my mom does, like my aunt Sue does, like my great-grandma Hulsey did. I’m sure Sue learned to make them from Grandma Hulsey, and my mom learned to make them from someone in her side of the family, and they probably learned from somebody else. There’s nothing new and exciting about chicken and dumplings, if you’re making them right.
I think the same is true with the Easter story. It doesn’t need to be new and different. Yes, we’ve been over it before, and yes, we’ll go over it again today and next Easter and the next one after that, and the story will be the same each time.
There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it’s what we need.
Just like how we tell the same story at the Communion table every Sunday, we tell the same story at Easter to remind ourselves who we are and why we’re here.
Let’s face it. If Jesus hadn’t been crucified and buried, and then on the third day got up and walked out of his tomb, none of us would be here this morning. If Jesus hadn’t been raised, Sunday would just be another day, a day to sleep late, or play golf, or work, or whatever we might decide to do.
If Jesus hadn’t been raised there would be no reason for churches, or preachers.
If he hadn’t been raised, we’d have little hope to lean on when a loved one passes away. We’d just bury them and cry, and assume everything about them that made them who they were is just gone.
Imagine what the world would be like if Jesus hadn’t died and been raised. It boggles the mind.
Do you remember MythBusters? I miss that show. Not even my high school chemistry teacher, who had holes all over his lab coat because he had a habit of standing too close to his Bunsen burner, could have made science as entertaining as Jamie and Adam did.
But that’s neither here nor there; what I especially remember today is a t-shirt Adam often wore. On the front of it, it said, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.”
No, it’s not delusion. It’s acknowledgment that some of the realities the world around us peddles are pretty terrible. Some of them are downright ridiculous.
And this is why we keep telling the Easter story over and over again, year in and year out; why this one little story, which Paul tells in fewer than one hundred words, has been passed down from hand to hand, written down, depicted in movies, pondered and talked about for two millennia.
We who bear the name of Christ, we little Christs, we Christians, are Easter people. When we proclaim ourselves to be Easter people, we are saying the same thing Adam’s t-shirt says.
We reject the realities of the world: the reality of individualism, and selfishness, and greed, and violence, in which the ultimate value is what we ourselves want or prefer; the reality where the forces of evil run rampant and the only things we can do are try to stay out of their way for as long as we can, and watch in horror as others are overrun by those forces; the reality in which death is the end, and we all die, no matter how hard we work to eat healthy or stay safe or how much we spend on cosmetics and plastic surgery to try and pretend we aren’t really getting older.
In their place we substitute a new reality, the reality we chose when we became followers of Jesus: a reality of community, and selflessness, and generosity, and peace, in which the ultimate values are Love and Grace; a reality where the forces of evil have been defeated by God’s infinite love, and all we have to do to keep those forces from eternally destroying us is to follow Jesus Christ; a reality of life, abundant life available to all, which cannot finally be ended by war, murder, sickness, or anything else—a reality in which even death is rendered powerless and will eventually be a thing of the past.
We who are Easter people do not live under the same reality as everyone else.
That’s why we keep going over this, why we keep telling the same old story, the one that was already old when Paul wrote it in a letter to a troubled church. Every time we do, we remind ourselves that in Christ we have rejected the reality of the world and substituted a new reality, which we have made our own.
So let’s keep telling the story. Tell it at church. Tell it at home. Tell it to your friends and neighbors. Tell it to your children. Tell it to your parents. Tell it to your enemies.
Tell it to Paul and Silas as they go about their business. Tell it to Mary, sitting quietly waiting to hear Jesus’ voice. Tell it to Martha, worried and distracted by many things, but above all by her fear that no one will love her unless she’s endlessly productive. Tell it to the Magdalene, desolately weeping around the tomb, appalled that the world keeps on turning when her world has come crashing down around her.
But don’t stop there.
The Easter story is our new reality. As we tell it, let’s live it.
Let’s not live as though the old realities, the realities of the world, the fatalistic, self-centered, empty realities that only end in annihilation, still have any hold on us. On Easter Sunday, God in Christ rejected those realities, and substituted a new one.
Now, let us Easter people choose God’s reality, the reality of Life, and Love, and Grace, and Joy, and let’s live under that reality, reflecting the Light of Christ into all the dark corners of the old realities, until eventually they are banished forever.