Easter is a critical season in church ministry. There may be people in church who would normally not be in church. There will be regulars who need to be captured by the Easter story afresh. Here are 10 pointers for preaching Easter:
1. Tell the story – whether people are first-timers, once a year attenders, or regulars, they need to hear the basic Easter story. Jesus told his followers to have a regular reminder in the form of communion, so we can be sure that Easter itself should include a clear presentation of what actually happened.
2. Pick a passage – while you can preach a blended harmony of accounts, why not pick a specific passage and preach it properly? At the very least, it will be a blessing for your own soul. For instance, Luke’s account of the trials, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is marked by his distinctive “two witnesses” motif . . . underlining the certainty of what took place. His use of the term “it is necessary” underlines the ‘must-ness’ of God’s plan.
3. Undermine familiarity – the frequency of reference to the death of Christ, combined with serene artistic impressions and popular jewellery, has made most people unaware of the reality of that first Easter. Carefully pick a fact or two to help bring it home: Jesus was probably crucified at eye-level; the condemned had to lift his body weight to take a full breath.
4. Beware of shock and awe – people won’t be drawn by your graphic description of gory medical detail. Rather, they will be won by the Spirit. Be sure to preach Christ and him crucified, don’t try to shock people into a response. Some may be hardened by exposure to Hollywood special effects, but others may grow faint at the mention of blood.
5. Recognize there is emotion in Easter – we certainly don’t want to manipulate emotions, but neither should we deny them. Easter stirs emotions. There will be sadness at what Jesus went through and why it was necessary (my sin). Yet also the joy and celebration of the resurrection – Easter mixes and stirs the emotions. Preach in such a way as to make evident the emotion within the text you are preaching, while engaging with the mixture of response from those listening.
6. Make clear the truth of Easter – it is hard to think of a good excuse for not making clear the truth of Easter, including the fact of the Resurrection. Apologetically this is ground zero for our presentation of the Gospel and Christianity. Don’t miss the opportunity.
7. The Resurrection is more than proof – be careful that the Resurrection does not become simply the proof that theologically Christ’s sacrifice was accepted, or apologetically that Christianity is true. Yes and yes, the Bible presents this truth and offers unparalleled historicity, but there is more. The Resurrection introduces the wonder of New Covenant spiritual life now, and hope for the fulfillment of God’s plans in the future, and so much more.
8. The Crucifixion is more than payment – just as the Resurrection can get reduced to a source of proof, so the Crucifixion can be reduced. Some will make it just an example for us. That is very weak. Some will present it purely as the payment for the penalty of our sin. This is stronger, but still incomplete. Consider John’s Gospel emphasis on the cross as the revelation of the glory of God’s character, or as the means by which people are drawn to Christ. (Obviously, if your passage is focused on satisfying the wrath of God against sin, then don’t fail to make that your emphasis!)
9. Clarify the ultimate identification – preaching any narrative will naturally lead to listeners identifying with characters in the story. The Easter story is full of potential points of identification: deserting disciples, denying Peter, doubting Thomas, betraying Judas, power-hungry Caiaphas, self-protective Pilate, hurting Mary, mocking soldiers, shouting crowds, repentant thief, etc. But don’t miss the central character: Jesus Christ came to identify with us, to bear our sin, to take our place, and to invite our trusting and adoring gaze in his direction.
10. Never lose the wonder – be sure that if you are preaching Easter to others, that it has first refreshed and thrilled your own soul.
Helmut Thielicke described Spurgeon’s humour as “Easter laughter,” that which comes as a “mode of redemption because it is sanctified – because it grows out of an overcoming of the world.” May Easter so grip our hearts this year that our preaching points others to the wonder of the cross and the empty tomb, and so that our own souls burst out in praise to the God who would make such an event the centerpiece of His glorious redemptive plan!