Tips for Easter Preaching – Year Round

As seen in Leadership Journal, Spring 1987

As seen in Leadership Journal, Spring 1987

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts for the Easter season on the significance of the resurrection for our faith and the church’s ministry.

I show a cartoon to my classes which has a man greeting the pastor at the church door after the service.  The sign in front of the church says “Easter Sunday” and “He is Alive.”  The man has a wry smile on his face and says, “You’re in a rut, Rev.  Every time I come here you preach about the resurrection.”

I tell my students that the cartoon has wisdom beyond the folks who come just on Easter and Christmas.  The people who attend regularly should also be able to say, “Every time I come to worship, you preach about the resurrection.”  We are resurrection preachers throughout the church year, not just during the Easter season!

Remember every Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection.  Every Sunday (even those in Lent) is a little Easter.  Easter is simply a big Sunday. So preach the resurrection – Christ’s and ours – throughout the year.

How?  Here are five “tips.”

1.  Pay close attention to the metaphors used by the text for the Gospel and the significance of those metaphors.  Many point to the resurrection.  As Lutherans we tend to turn every text into a Good Friday Gospel proclamation by running with the standard (default) legal/justification and sacrificial metaphors.  The Law accuses; so the Gospel forgives.  We’re guilty; so Jesus’ sacrifice declares us not guilty.  But the Scripture is filled with so many other vibrant metaphors that take us to the empty tomb.  Here are a few:  light, victory, hope, new life, birth, recreation, joy, power and inheritance.  The resurrected Christ brings us resurrection gifts, and these metaphors come up throughout the year.  Dig deep into the metaphors with resurrection eyes (see J.A.O. Preus’s Just Words [CPH, 2000]).

2.  Remember this difference between Good Friday and Easter.  On the cross Jesus did what we could not do.  He did it in our place.  On Easter He is the first fruits.  He gives us what He has already done.  We will rise from the dead too.  Our bodies will be glorified.  For example, salvation is a resurrection proclamation.  We are saved body and soul by Jesus.  The last day brings the fullness of our salvation when, like Jesus, our bodies will rise from the dead.  Forgiveness is a part of salvation, certainly.  So also is going to be with Jesus when we die (interim state).  But the fullness of salvation comes from His resurrection, which assures us that a resurrection like His will one day be ours.

3.  Preach the First Article from the stance of Christ’s resurrection.  On the last day, God’s creation, now so damaged by sin, will be recreated, fully redeemed (Romans 8:23-24).  That final day fulfillment calls for us to care for creation now, calls for us to live our vocations in this created world faithfully now, calls for us to be the Christian community that becomes the hands and feet for His providential care of His creation now (notice how this expands and deepens our sanctification preaching). If you have the opportunity to read the latest Concordia Journal (Winter 2014), I have an article, “Things We Do Not Fully Preach About:  Preparing to Die.”  The last section, “Glimpses of God’s Kingdom Coming Now,” speaks to how the resurrection – Christ’s and ours – pushes us to care for God’s creation now because the rest of creation will also be redeemed at the end of time.

4.  In that same article, I also have a section that calls for preaching the final resurrection of the body to a much greater degree than the interim state of the soul with Jesus.  When preaching about eternal life or heaven or our future hope, if the goal is to die and be with Jesus, then the resurrection loses much of its force.  However, if the telos we preach is the final resurrection, then Jesus’ resurrection becomes essential every time we preach about the life to come.  And to be true to the Scriptures that is what we will preach.  You will find few passages about the life after death in the interim state, but you will find most all Scriptural hope directed to the final day of resurrection, what N. T. Wright in his book Surprised by Hope (HarperCollins, 2008, p. 148) calls “life after life after death.”

5.  Preach the miracles as resurrection events.  Too often they are spiritualized:  just as the man who was blind could see, we who are blind in sin now see through faith.  Rather, see the miracles as glimpses of the power of Christ that will be fully displayed on the Last Day.  The health He gives in the miracle will be given to us on that glorious day without ever having to feel pain or death, tears or grief, again.

Preach the whole year through resurrection eyes, for we are resurrection preachers.  We have been raised to new life in Christ’s resurrection.  We worship every Sunday as a little Easter.  We have hope and victory in the risen Christ.  And what He has shown in His resurrection will one day to be ours.  My prayer is that your hearers will lovingly say, “Pastor, you preach the resurrection every Sunday and it’s amazing!”

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9 Comments

  1. Steve Newton April 15, 2014
    Reply

    Dr. Nielsen,

    Very helpful and very timely!

    Thanks!

  2. Bill Hillyer April 15, 2014
    Reply

    Good Stuff! Thanks for the reminder that this is really all we’ve got as preachers to share. I love seeing the hope on people’s faces when we pastors are faithful in our preaching.

  3. Darrell Zimmerman April 15, 2014
    Reply

    As always, well stated, Glenn. I have a similar Easter Sunday cartoon on my wall. The man tells the preacher, “Maybe I’d come more than once a year if you’d get a new topic!” The world (and the Church) need all the joy we can get. Let’s “Give ’em heaven!”

  4. Al Doering April 15, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks Glenn.
    Good read for Holy Week.
    Al Doering

  5. Paul Appold April 16, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks Glenn! A great reminder. I love the cartoon.

  6. Steve Andrews April 16, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks Dr. Nielsen! These words are both helpful and encouraging. God’s blessings on your Easter season, and on your new life in the resurrection!

  7. Wayne Riddering April 16, 2014
    Reply

    Great article greatly needed in the LCMS!!

  8. Hank Simon April 16, 2014
    Reply

    Thanks, Glenn, for encouraging and helpful insights as Easter sermons are being prepared for this coming weekend! Your words will help me focus on the great Good News we preachers are privileged to share.

  9. Ely Prieto April 17, 2014
    Reply

    Dear Dr. Nielsen, thank you VERY MUCH for the friendly reminder, Resurrexit Dominus! Christian preaching was born in the resurrection of Jesus and resurrection is indeed for proclamation!

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