Proclaiming the Word
There is a buzz in the air, preparations reach a fevered pitch. The Saturday before was a “work day,” men and women busily about the church, planting flowers, cleaning off winter’s neglect. There’s a sense of anticipation. It’s the big day. The day when the sanctuary will be flooded, the regulars and those that dawn the doors a hand full of times a year. Everyone is in their best. Kids are dressed uncomfortably in that outfit that will be worn once that year. Music has been planned, the children’s choir to perform their song, in hopes to draw in a few more of their relatives to that morning service. This is the morning that helps the pastor’s average for the month. This is Easter.
Pastor strides to the pulpit that morning with a polished message of “good news.” Humor has been added to ensure that attention is kept. A few illustrations, an altar call, handshakes at the door, “good sermon pastor” is heard over and over again. The sanctuary empties. It was a record day. But if we aren’t careful, all the fervor and the hype will make little difference.
Preach boldly my friends, for the rebellion is at hand…
Unfortunately for the gospel, Easter has become a marketing campaign for the church, the opportunity to extend our market share. It’s a time when “get out of hell free cards” are doled out in mass. It’s a time when hope is spoken of, certainly, but that hope has become a Hallmark hope. It’s sentimental. It’s safe. It’s sedate. The promise of life after death…that’s great! And… Or the promise that things will just get better in a rough season of life…great! And…
Because Easter has been co-opted by the status quo, because it has been allowed by the “powers that be” and baptized for all its pomp and circumstance (not to mention the money made on new dresses, candy, and bunnies), the radical message of Easter has been lost. At the end of the day, little will change. For those on the underbelly of society, those on the margins, broken and fragile, their worst fears are confirmed, the resurrection doesn’t mean that much. They are locked in their spaces of suffering, offered a little bit of sentimental wishful thinking. For those high on the pecking order, their most selfish assumptions are confirmed, the resurrection doesn’t meant that much. They are safe to pursue for another year their self-interest. Guaranteed their “salvation” they place again their hopes in pundits of Imperial politics, the expensive promises of military might, and the captivating allure of consumerism. At the end of the day, Jesus may as well have stayed in the tomb. Little has changed.
Preach boldly my friends, the rebellion is at hand.
But in a few pulpits around the world, perhaps even in yours, something else is announced. Instead of striding with a motivational speaker’s bravado to the pulpit, the preacher comes with the prophet’s angst. She looks out upon the unsuspecting congregation, those seduced by the status quo, those who have unwittingly surrendered to the belief that things shall remain as they are, and announces, “Friends, the rebellion has begun.” With a few side glances to one another, the congregation is stunned. What can she mean? She continues. “Today we preach of hope and hope by its nature is rebellious. Not Hallmark hope, but Christian hope. Christian hope says to the world, things will not remain as they are. The status quo has failed. Your investments in the present order of things have been misplaced. Christian hope is rooted in this day, the day of the Resurrection! Today we are reminded that a new era has been inaugurated!”
Everyone is unsettled by this announcement. Could this be true? Easter is neither safe nor sedate? It is the day that should perhaps be the most threatening to the world. It is the day in which the church has the brashness to remind the “powers that be” that they have been limited. They tried their powers against a carpenter from Nazareth and ended up with an empty tomb and a world-wide movement. Easter is a limiting day. It unmasks the dubious promises of Empires and the violence required to maintain them. It says to evil, “You can come this far and no further.” It announces to sin, “Your grip has been broken.” It mocks death and says, “You no longer have a sting.” But Easter is not only a limiting day, it is an expanding day. Here, the Kingdom of God has come to earth. Here, those that have suffered under the brutal weight of abuse and evil have been vindicated. Here, the foregone conclusions are neither closed nor predictable. Here, there are no lost causes. Here, Jesus emerges from the bowels of hell’s darkness with a flamboyance that scoffs in the face of the status quo and says, “The Father’s future is at hand.” The future of God’s good order has broken into the present and turned the world upside down. Here is the rebellion
Preach boldly my friends the rebellion is at hand.
When the fires of faithful tenacity have all but gone out, when the church can barely keep its embers lit, here comes Resurrection Sunday once again. Fuel is tossed onto the glowing embers. The church is set ablaze, with the Christian Hope that the resurrection has made all things new. With a new boldness, it stands as Resurrection Rebels against indifference, seduction, ambivalence, and complicity in a world order that has been undone by Easter!
Preach boldly my friends, the rebellion is at hand.
-Jeff Starks serves as the Senior Pastor of Erin Church of the Nazarene in Erin, TN