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notes for Easter: sermon preparation

April 3rd, 2007 by isaac · 3 Comments

Easter is the big one. Preaching on Easter requires shifting into 5th gear. It’s the game day sermon. It’s make it or break it time. So, I started my sermon preparation for this big Sunday last week. And after much study and prayer, all I know is what not to preach. In God, Christ, and Us (2003), Herbert McCabe sums up the warning that I will surely heed (p. 89):

we have to beware of thinking that the cross has been replaced by joy: as though while on Good Friday all was gloom and defeat, not it is all different, masterful heaven intervened, the deus ex machina has given us a happy ending after all. This is the wrong way to put it because Easter is not a cancellation of the cross. It does not, in any important sense, celebrate anything different from the cross. It is the meaning of the cross…. Easter is how to look at the cross.

McCabe goes on to offer an Easter way forward (although still hazy for me) that doesn’t cancel the cross (pp. 89-90):
Faith, the celebration of Easter, is a looking further into the cross, seeing in and through it to the mystery of love which is what it really is. It is not an alternative to the cross…. Seen in faith (that is, seen without the customary distortions and evasions), the cross is the best picture of the resurrection.

That last line appears in McCabe’s earlier work, God Matters (1987), p. 106. But in that older work he goes on to talk about the ambiguity of the defeat and triumph involved in the cross and resurrection (p. 109):
The cross, then is an ambiguous symbol of weakness and triumph and it is just as important to see the ambiguity in the resurrection. If the cross is not straightforward failure, neither is the resurrection straightforward triumph…. The pure triumph of the resurrection belongs to the Last Day, to the Parousia, the final consummation when we shall all share in Christ’s resurrection.

Triumph is delayed until the end. The Resurrection doesn’t annihilate the cross, but it affirms the cross as the place through which we come to the ambiguous presence of God. Easter turns our eyes back to the cross, and calls us to a contemplative gaze at that ambiguous symbol of God’s mysteriously love—a love whose triumph is weakness. McCabe again (God Matters, p. 112):
Christ is present but ambiguously present; what we see, the presence we experience, is the presence of each other. Our resurrection at the end of time will mean that we are no longer sacramentally but unambiguously present to Christ; but in the meantime his presence is also a kind of absence—’We proclaim his death until he comes.’

That last part is something I thought about a few months ago—and I haven’t found any theologians other than McCabe that pick up on this. When we celebrate the eucharist, we say: “We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.” What does it mean that our decisive practice should form us as people who proclaim a death? What does it mean that we end our Easter celebration with a practice that calls us to preach to the world the death of Jesus?

Here’s a random passage from an essay I read recently by Nicholas Lash. Maybe his talk of Sabbath rest might offer a way to think about what the Easter celebration is about. The essay is called “Friday, Saturday, Sunday” (New Blackfriar, March 1990):

According to Scripture, when the work is done, God rests. The work, however, is not yet done, and God does not yet rest. Nor therefore can we… This is why the proper prayer to make, in remembrance of creation, is: ‘Thy kingdom come.’

Tags: sermons · theology

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 nicki // Apr 8, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    this was fantastic to teach me all about easter

  • 2 isaac // Apr 13, 2007 at 10:19 am

    Nicki,

    Thanks for checking out the site and for the kind comment. I am still learning about Easter—every year there’s something new I discover about our faith.

    peace,
    isaac

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