I’m not preaching resurrection this Easter.
It’s not that I won’t be preaching. I am grateful that even in this strange season the pastors at my church have still invited me to preach. So, I will be preaching (Lord willing), but not on resurrection.
Our lives, our nation and world are experiencing death. More than ever in my life we can commiserate with Israel in Ezekiel 37: “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off” (Ezek 37:11). Death has cast its pall with new power around the globe. Every news bulletin carries shots of ambulances, emergencies and coffins. My twitter feed is filling with people mourning their friends, colleagues and parents.
A Generalised Hope for a General Panic
Meanwhile the pandemic is strangling societies. Like never before, we watch businesses and economies collapse. The main street of my town already has a series of covered windows. I’m sure there are more to come. While people pull together, there are also shocking stories of racism and misdirected and undirected anger. The tension is tangible, and psyches are fraying. Who could have imagined the states of Australia closing their borders? That is being repeated around the globe. The age of globalisation may have ended in just a few weeks. We are trying desperately to stay connected to each other, but some relationships are already fading. Which institutions, organisations and traditions will still be standing on the other side of COVID-19?
Literally and metaphorically—we are dying. That will tempt preachers next Sunday to turn the resurrection into a metaphor for survival.
It could go something like this:
This is the bleak wait of Holy Saturday, days of grief, confusion and fear. Like the disciples, we are shell-shocked. Our expectations are inverted. We are scattered, lonely and afraid. But this is not the end. There is hope. Easter Sunday assures us that life triumphs over death, light breaks through darkness, joy replaces sorrow. Hold on to resurrection hope this Easter.
That sermon is “We will get through this”, in Christian imagery. It has a kind of truth but only when it rests securely on Jesus.
“Christ is Risen” not “Resurrection”
We need to hear “Christ is risen” not “resurrection”. The hope of the world always was and always will lie in him. It is not that he inspires us to hang on through the terror, but he has faced the terror and overcome. He has the victory over sin and death.
We need to hear about the exalted Jesus who spoke to John in his exile on Patmos, as the churches in Asia Minor faltered and faced a wave of persecution. Jesus stood before him in unimaginable glory, dazzling with God’s presence like the divine messenger of Daniel 10. John was overwhelmed and fell at his feet.
Jesus reassurance was not “It’s OK, you will get through this”. He pointed to himself. “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1:17-18).
Our security is not in the idea of resurrection, but the reality of the Risen One. He has died for the sins of his people and risen to inherit the kingdom which he shares with us (Rev 1:5-6). So, he holds the keys of death and Hades.
The True Keyholder
In John’s world, Hekate was the goddess of witchcraft, magic, the moon, creatures of the night and doorways. She kept guard of Hades, the realm of the dead and held the keys to the underworld. Jesus reassures John and his readers that Hekate and her forces are not in control. He has died and risen again and he now rules. He looses death into our world (Rev 6:1-8) and he releases us from death. The future holds promise because he holds the future.
This Easter will be a Saturday experience. Most of us will share in shock and confusion and sorrow like never before. Sunday is coming. Not because we can get through it, but because Christ is risen and ruling.
So, I’m not preaching resurrection—I am preaching the Risen Christ.
First published at theologyinteralia.net