The Pastors Workshop
The Peculiar Task of Preaching on Easter
But Easter preaching involves more than evangelism. The majority of people hearing Easter sermons already believe. Many of them have heard dozens of Easter sermons. They are hoping for something more than the basic good news. They would like to grasp some truth they have never touched before. They may be hoping to experience in a fresh way the joy of the resurrection. So, Easter preachers try, in one sermon, to speak to unbelievers who know very little about Christian faith and, at the same time, to believers, some of whom have been Christians for decades. No easy feat!
Then, there are a few other unusual features of preaching on Easter. The addition of extra services on Easter often requires preachers to be unusually attentive to sermon length, even briefer than normal. Plus, in my experience, on Easter some visitors aren't comfortable leaving their young children in the church nursery. At Irvine Presbyterian, it was almost inevitable that, during my Easter sermon, some visiting infant would be serenading the congregation while I was holding forth from the pulpit. That would be distracting for the listeners and the preacher.
So, given the peculiarity of Easter preaching, what ought preachers to do? Let me offer a few practical suggestions.
First, Easter Sunday is a time for preachers to present the basic Gospel. Yes, many in the congregation will have heard it before. But it surely won't hurt them to hear once again about the love of God poured out in the cross and the victory of God demonstrated in the resurrection. Don't we all need to be reminded of this on a regular basis?
Second, after laying out the basic Gospel, preachers should invite people to put their faith in Jesus Christ—either for the first time, or in an act of renewal. This can be done in different ways, according to the traditions of a given church. But, in my opinion, no preacher should leave off a clear invitation for people to respond to the good news of Easter in faith.
Third, preachers should bear in mind the unusual diversity of their Easter congregations. While making sure to communicate the core of the Gospel, they can also add some observations or applications that will help mature Christians to grow in their faith. As a regular Easter preacher, I always made sure I had something in my sermon for those who had been Christians longer than I had been alive.
Fourth, when preparing Easter sermons, preachers should be absolutely sure to do well that which every sermon deserves. I'm thinking here of careful exposition of the biblical text, thoughtful consideration of the lives of the congregation in light of the larger culture, and heartfelt prayer for God's guidance. If there was ever a time for preachers to ask the Lord for gifts of wisdom, knowledge, teaching, and prophecy, Easter is such a time. We who preach must remember that the impact of our preaching is not primarily dependent on us, but on the Holy Spirit who speaks through us and who stirs in the hearts of our listeners.
As I prepare to preach on Easter this year, I have been praying: "Lord, what do you want to say through me to the people this year? How might the good news of the resurrection speak to their deepest needs and longings? Use me, Lord, as a faithful channel of your grace and truth. May my mind and heart be attentive to you. May I seek, above all, to honor and glorify you through my preaching. May your kingdom come this Easter, on earth as in heaven. Amen!"
Mark D. Roberts is Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, a retreat and renewal ministry in Texas. He blogs at Patheos and writes daily devotionals at www.thehighcalling.org, and he can also be followed through Twitter and Facebook.