you conquered death
and opened the gates of life everlasting.
In the power of the Holy Spirit,
raise us with Christ
that we, too, may proclaim
healing and peace to the nations. Amen
Our readings for the week may be found here and include many choices!
This may be the busiest week of the year for preachers. Many of us will be preparing sermons not only for Sunday morning, the principal celebration of Easter, but also for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and (perhaps) the Great Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday. It’s enough to make the most stalwart among us quake a bit. But as the angel says to the women at the tomb (and isn’t this what angels always say?) “Do not be afraid.” Don’t be afraid because the Holy Spirit has our back. Don’t be afraid because we are here for one another. Don’t be afraid because, one way or another, it will all get done.
Preaching this Sunday is challenging for oh so many reasons: our congregations will be filled with those who attend only once or twice a year, it’s the end of a long week, it’s the high point of the liturgical year, and really, this week’s gospel is our raison d’être. Whether you choose John’s version with the famous, “Don’t hold on to me” on the risen Jesus’ lips, or Matthew’s version, where the angel tells the women who’ve coming to the tomb not to be afraid, the essential story is the same: Jesus is risen, he’s not there, death did not have the last word, it’s time to celebrate. The commentator at Working Preacher challenges us to leave our listeners with “a sense of awe and celebratory power” and I would add, expectation–expectation that the Risen Jesus is still here for us, ready to transform and empower.
The Hebrew scripture text, should you choose to use it, comes from Jeremiah. The prophet reminds the people of Israel yet again of God’s promise to be their God and their call to be God’s people. If you are looking for an alternate approach to Easter, this might be an opportunity to talk about how this promise still holds today, and that the fulfillment of this promise we Christians find in Jesus and the Easter event does not make the promise any less true for those who find God in Judaism.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles provides another window on our feast day as Peter succinctly summarizes Jesus’ ministry, and lays out the work left for the disciples and followers, “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.” And finally, our excerpt from the Letter to the Colossians, in three sentences, sets our for us an inspirational message for life in the new reality of the risen Jesus.
Of course, if you are like me, and have to think about sermons for the week sequentially, you may still be focused on the Maundy Thursday readings found here, the Good Friday readings found here, or the Great Vigil readings found here. The challenge for all reading (and liturgies) s is to provide a fresh take on what are very familiar texts. As always WorkingPreacher has some great commentary for Thursday, Friday and Sunday. In another place, I’ve had some interesting discussion of the potentially anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish slant in some of these texts. If you are looking for some help with that, I highly recommend the Jewish Annotated New Testament available in Kindle and paper editions.
Wherever you are in your preaching prep, join the discussion. The company is good, and you never know when one person’s offhand comment or reflection or pondering will serve as another’s inspiration.
And remember: the Holy Spirit has our backs!