Easter As Gory Story?

If you are preaching in the next few days then I would hope Easter is in the mix.  Of course the cross of Christ is at the very centre of global history and God’s salvation plan.  A question we face as preachers is just how gory does the presentation need to be?

Crucifixion was incredibly graphic and deliberately so.  In a culture where people killed their dinner, and where blood flowed freely in the temple courts, in a culture so far removed from the clean and sanitized version of life that we enjoy today, crucifixion was still a massive visual deterrent.  While some today might not fear a few months in prison for committing a crime, the Roman cross was massively feared.

So should we seek to paint the power of the deterrent by the words we use to describe what Christ went through?  Different preachers might lean in different directions.  Some seem to delight in the opportunity to make people squirm, describing in graphic detail just what the nails did to the wrists and feet, the agony of every breath, the ultimate cause of death, etc.  Others go to the other extreme and paint a picture as beautiful as the stained glass windows where Jesus seems barely marked by the whole process.

The truth is that if we saw what Christ went through at the hands of the mocking soldiers and then at Calvary, I suspect we would all feel sick to the core.  But is that the point of our preaching?

Perhaps it is a good idea to stun and shock people out of a religious view of the crucifixion.  Or perhaps it is better not to overwhelm people with gore so they miss the real issue.  A few brief thoughts:

1. Who are your listeners?  What do they need?  What would be most effective for them?  Might they feel like they experienced something unexpected and before any watershed times that may still exist on TV?  It is possible to be deeply moved by the cross without being made to feel ill.

2. What is the text?  Remember you are preaching the text or texts, so what is emphasized there?  It is too easy in “familiar” bits of Bible history to leap from the text to preaching the event itself.  Maybe in this case that is legitimate, but don’t give up the distinctive value of each inspired text too easily.

3. What is your purpose?  Remember that there is more to preaching the cross than stirring a gut reaction to the brutality of what Christ went through for us.  At the same time, perhaps you prayerfully decide that the offense of the cross is needed by those to whom you will be preaching.  No hard and fast rules here, just a plea for prayerful sensitivity to God and those present.

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2 thoughts on “Easter As Gory Story?

  1. “It is too easy in ‘familiar’ bits of Bible history to leap from the text to preaching the event itself. Maybe in this case that is legitimate, but don’t give up the distinctive value of each inspired text too easily.”

    What would make such a leap legitimate? It seems to me that this central moment of redemptive history demands an even more rigorous adherence to the text, not less.

    • Thanks Dave – I agree with your comment. What I meant by mine was that some may choose to preach a “harmonised” version of the crucifixion based on all four gospels. Since the Cross is the central moment of redemption history, I can see the appeal of such a move. Nonetheless, whether we are preaching one text or four (or more if the epistles and Acts discourses are taken into consideration), I agree that we should be extremely rigorous in our handling of the text.

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