Easter 2020

I delivered my first Easter Sermon in the spring of 1974. I was excited and up very early for the event. We had a 50 mile drive to the church where I was serving as a licensed supply minister. This was during a gas crisis, so fuel was hard to obtain and there were no gas stations open on the weekends. I had put a lot of work into that sermon. I can’t remember the sermon. I may have kept it in a file somewhere, but I haven’t ever looked back and re-read it. The we were off to Seminary and I didn’t give another Easter Sermon until the spring of 1979. Since then, however, I have delivered an Easter sermon every year. That’s 42 sermons - 43 if we count the one in my student parish. Actually there are many more. There are many years when I officiated at multiple services on Easter Sunday and delivered multiple sermons. And the reality is that in the church Easter is a 50-day season, so there are seven Easter sermons each year. I may not have preached all seven every years. Some years I was rotating sermons with other preachers. Some years I took vacation after Easter Day.

I’ll admit that Easter Day is probably not my favorite day for delivering a sermon in church. Up until this year, we could count on a full church for Easter Sunday, though attendance dropped off visibly last year when the school district decided that the week before Easter into Spring Break. No school meant a lot of families traveled and were not at home. Even with spring break, the church would be full and there would be quite a few people who we only see infrequently.

Expectations run high for Easter sermons. They should be emotionally engaging, and not overly intellectual. They should be intelligent enough to engage the mind, however. They should be short - everyone is planning a special dinner afterwards. They should be substantive so that people can remember them and talk about them later. The real show on Easter belongs to a lot of other players. The Altar Guild has worked hard on the Easter Lily arrangements and the appearance of the sanctuary. Special banners have been hung. The choir has been rehearsing for weeks. The organist has prepared special prelude and postlude music. And in the midst of all of this the preacher is supposed to really deliver. The sermon should leave every listener wanting more.

My problem with Easter sermons is that resurrection is a very difficult concept. It isn’t easy to wrap our brains around such an idea. You can see how hard it was for first-hand witness to understand. The leaders of the temple wanted a guard at the tomb, because they were afraid of body snatchers. The women who went to the tomb to anoint the body couldn’t believe their eyes and the disciples didn’t believe their stories. The first resurrection appearances are reported by the gospels with those who had been closest to Jesus not recognizing him when he appeared to them. It is fairly clear that resurrection is not resuscitation. It is not just a simple reanimation of a dead body.

I was taught that a good sermon has a clearly defined beginning and a clearly defined ending with a pithy and meaningful bit between. When I was working hard at developing my storytelling skills, most of my mentors and teachers had me focus on the beginning and the ending. I should know exactly where I was going with my story. Some suggested that the first and last lines of every story told publicly should have memorized first and last lines.

The message of resurrection, however, is about eternity and eternity doesn’t have an end.

I’ve tried to put together seven-sermon series on resurrection. Very few members of the congregation hear all seven. Those who do don’t remember what was said from week to week. Each sermon has to be a stand alone presentation. There will always be at least one person in attendance who will only hear one of the sermons.

I have, however, been looking forward to Easter this year. Our 25th Easter in this congregation. Our 42nd Easter since ordination. The last Easter in this church and perhaps the last easter of my active working career. Although I hope to continue to serve some church in some capacity it is entirely possible that I will not be the senior minister in a congregation at Easter again. And, as I learned in my intern years, the senior minister always delivers the Easter sermon.

Like everything else in the midst of this worldwide pandemic, things are not how we expected. I will be preaching to an empty church, recording video for a livestream. My congregation will not be seen by me and they will not all view the video at the same time. Worship always is an exchange of energy and though the congregation might not know it, we preachers receive a lot of energy from our congregations. I can look into the faces of those in the pews and know when I’m doing a good job. I can tell from their reactions whether or not they are listening. I get a lot of energy from those who come to worship. And we’ve been doing the livestreams long enough that I know that I will be exhausted after leading worship in an empty sanctuary.

I’m not alone. Churches will be empty around the globe. The Pope celebrated mass in an empty St. Peter’s Basilica behind closed doors.

With the US death toll from coronavirus at 20,000 and growing rapidly, it clearly is a time when a potent sermon about resurrection is deeply needed. As I pastor I have a message that is critical to the times and circumstances in which we find ourselves. My work is as meaningful as it has ever been. The simple fact that I have developed relationships with the members of this congregation over a long pastorate and that we have shared so many experiences over th years means that I am in a unique position to deliver a message of hope.

It won’t be easy, but the task is clear. Fortunately part of the message is that we are not alone. Even when we are separated from one another, God is with us. Love transcends the distances between us. As is always true, I need to take my own message very seriously.

A blessed Easter to you. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!