I know they tell us not to overlook Good Friday, but I feel like we’ve been stuck on Friday for more than a year! I’ve had enough of all that Friday represents: depression, disruption, defeat, danger, and death. Plus: isolation, insecurity, and waves of irritation. Did I mention anger, and loss, and grief?
Yes, this year of Fridays has had some bright spots: for the country, the best election ever—more people voting and better election protocols; for our county, a sustained response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery—with ministers organizing for change and voters dumping the district attorney; and for me personally—the launch of a radio show and then a television version. There were indeed some bright moments in this dark year of Fridays.
But mostly, I’m glad it is over.
I’m ready for Easter and sunshine and flowers and choirs and the grandest story of all time: how on the first day of the week, the women came to the tomb and discovered it empty; how later the men came and found it empty; and how Jesus came and found that small band of believers stunned by disbelief and disorientation.
I want to hear that story again, every piece of it: the familiar narrative, the memorable language, the surprising turns of events—all of it. I want to say to preachers everywhere: just tell the story. Tell all of it or pick a part of it and tell it slowly.
No need to moralize about it or theologize about it or speculate about it. What we need to hear, in word and song, is the story.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell some version of the story. Pick a version and tell it.
I’m as content with Matthew’s story of the angel— “his appearance was like lightning and his garment as white as snow”—as I am with John’s story of the footrace— “and the other disciple ran faster than Peter and came to the tomb first.” Tell one or the other or both, and if that is not enough for a sermon, tell them again.
Which reminds me of Billy Graham’s first sermon. It was a Sunday night service (Easter of 1948) and the teenager brought with him not one, not two, not even three, but four 45-minute sermons memorized and went through them all in eight minutes!! Which reminds me that Pope Francis has recommended to his preachers around the world that eight minutes is about right for a sermon!
Mark’s gospel, scholars tell us, is a summary of Peter’s preaching about Jesus. His account is the shortest, but what is better than the reaction of the three women who were first at the tomb and first to hear the words, He is Risen! — “They fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.”
That is what I want to be this Easter: astonished, and fearful, even trembling. I want the good news of Easter Sunday at the end of a long hard Friday to grip me again, to astonish me, to set me trembling inside and out, to overwhelm me as to take away my disposition to talk! Yes: I want to quit talking and once again listen to the stories of that eventful day some two thousand years ago.
There have been many astonishing things this past year; and there are many astonishing things recounted in the Bible. But the early disciples, apostles, and preachers were right about this: at the top of any list is this mighty mystery: “This Jesus whom you crucified God raised from the dead.”
That’s the way Simon Peter put it a few weeks after the Resurrection.
That’s the way preachers, teachers, and friends have been putting it for all the weeks since that most important of all days. That’s the way for Easter sermon and song to put it to those of us who have heard it for 71 years and to others who will hear it for the first time: in some sanctuary, on some podcast, or by some disciple seeking, like those first followers, to recount a story that is, quite frankly, incredible and inspirational at the same time.
I’m glad it is Easter! Aren’t you?
PS: I am the gospel preacher for Easter at First Baptist Church of Carlisle, Kentucky. I’d better pay attention to my own advice!!