Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day)

January 26th, 2014
This article is featured in the Stuck: Now What? (Feb/Mar/Apr2014) issue of Circuit Rider

The following is an excerpt from the Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary: Preaching Year A edited by Paul Scott Wilson.

The Lessons in Précis

Acts 10:34-43

The proclamation begins with a sermon from Peter to the household of Cornelius. Jesus was raised for all. This is a stunning confession: God does not play favorites when it comes to redemptive activity and the desire to save. Jew, Gentile, and all are raised with Christ, because he is Lord of all. Peter is coming to see, and proclaim, that Jesus’ resurrection casts a definitive light on all that they had come to know about God.

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

In its original Jewish context, this psalm functioned as an entrance liturgy to the temple, used at the festival of Passover. It proclaimed God’s deliverance from Egypt and from exile. The tone is jubilation. In the resurrection, we too are delivered by God, so now Christ empowers us, transforms us, and pulls us out of death’s grip.

Colossians 3:1-4

The claim here is that those who are being addressed by the letter have also been raised with Christ. The letter is written to people who have “died” (v. 3), and their “life is hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3). Christ is their life. They are in him—with him—and he is “above” (v. 1), “sitting at God’s right side” (v. 1)! This text connects believers to the resurrection and guides them to an ethical response.

John 20:1-18

All three disciples see the empty tomb, but Mary stays long enough to “turn around” (v. 14) and see Jesus standing there. She turns away from the desire to find him in the tomb, and then Jesus encounters her. Jesus guides her away from the desire to cling to him, so that she might go and tell others what has happened, following him into the new creation.


God raised Jesus from the dead. God the Father raised the crucified Son Jesus from the dead. The Easter celebrations are the high point of the church year, but even the seasoned preacher can be surprised by the difficulty of preparing for this day. Isn’t every Sunday a little Easter? Didn’t we preach Easter at every funeral, every wedding, and every baptism over the past 364 days? So how do we up the ante for the actual feast? Perhaps we don’t. Perhaps the challenge is simply to be awestruck.


The theological challenge is several-fold, one must attempt to explain the unique nature of this event and not reduce it to something tame and familiar. Theologically speaking, it is too easy to run (as did the disciples) to the empty tomb expecting one thing and finding another, and then to lapse into the familiar again. After all, don’t the disciples themselves need to be reminded, even by Paul years later, of the meaning of God raising Jesus from the dead? Part of the problem is that the resurrection has no real analogue. The event defies logic. It remains outside of human expectation, religious interpretation, and even subsequent reduction in something mystical or supra-natural in Word and Sacrament. But perhaps that is the theo-logic that is needed. In God raising Jesus of Nazareth there is something that uniquely remains mysterious, or unknown in God. Nonetheless, God, in sovereign pleasure and as a manifestation of God’s mercy, extends that mysterious grace to material, finite, and human life. Thus, Easter morning is indeed the model of God’s dealings with materiality, finitude, and human life.

On Easter morning, with the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, God demonstrates that the Immaterial Creator is not disinterested in the material but is joined with it through overcoming it. What is natural is superseded by the supra-natural. Likewise, the “end,” in this case Jesus’ death, is not the final word but instead he is sustained by the eternal Word. And finally, God declares that it is now impossible to speak of humanity without God and God without humanity, because the resurrection, as the disciples would come to know, is the proper form of that relationship between God and humanity. Neither humanity nor God can accurately be described without reference to the other. God is no longer completely Other, nor is humanity completely God-forsaken, but in the resurrection, with the destruction of the enemies of God in sin, death, and Satan, God and humanity are found to be fundamentally intertwined, thus deepening the story God initiated with Jews centuries before in the election of Abraham.

That someone is raised from the dead in itself is an astounding but not unique event, as others in the Biblical narratives have indeed been raised. But God raising Jesus from the dead stands unique, as it validates the distinctive life, ministry, and work of Jesus of Nazareth such that he is understood to be the Christ, defying the pious, hopeful, and even skeptical. This is the uniqueness of his resurrection—not only is Jesus raised, but Jesus will not die again, and the enemies of God, particularly death and finitude, are now defeated by the work of God. In a very real way, humanity and God are changed that Easter Sunday.

Of course, part of this must necessarily remain a mystery. The eventual understanding of God as Triune begs consideration of Jesus’ death and his relationship in life to his deity. Is it even possible for God to die or experience death? Can the Father experience the Son’s death, or are they sealed in two distinct compartments in the Incarnation? Does Jesus’ human side die but his divinity remain somehow intact does he experience a pseudo-death? However these questions are answered, they seem to highlight both the mystery and the limits of theological thought. The death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is interpreted as an affirmation that: (1) God is eternally Triune; (2) Jesus the Son is differentiated from God the Father and God the Spirit in his joining of humanity to Himself.; (3) and the death of Jesus is also a victory in God.

God raising Jesus of Nazareth from the dead shows God overcoming everything that seems to be anti-God—death, sin and the Devil—and that occupies a space of non-being in terms of God’s purposes for created reality. All creaturely realities live only in the permission of Divine Will, but more importantly are found judged and naked so that everything anti-God can be defeated by God. Humans are reminded in the resurrection that reality, including sin, death, and the Devil, is actually theo-logical − a reflection of the truth that God reveals about Himself. The Church, in Word and Sacrament, testifies to this theo-logic but must also remain humble in what it can claim to know and instead allow itself to be lifted into the mystery of God in Christ.


Our aching need is for the wild and merciful God to bring to fullness this reconciling work. In the face of death—hurricane, tsunami, flood, drought, earthquake, war, disease, disorder—the victory of Easter can be difficult to “see.” We cannot see the full promise of the empty tomb, yet. At times there is a Holy Saturday quality to the life lived in faith (Lewis, 2003). Easter preaching can address this need by pointing to the silence of God while Jesus is dead in the tomb, which precedes the utterance-for-life which raised Jesus from the dead.

There is very little explaining needed. A gift from the pulpit on Easter Sunday might be to strike the Passion Narrative gem in a way that allows it to break open anew. Evoke the full promise of an empty tomb. The disciples find new life in God, a new creation in the risen Lord, by not finding what they were looking for. Maybe the preacher can help worshippers not to find what they are looking for as well.

What do they not find? A corpse. After such a loss, hope clings to the idea that we can see the loved one “one more time.” Hope clings to the idea that once more we can touch him, see him, find him. But no such luck. God doesn’t want our hopes to be that small.

What do we not find? What desires are frustrated by this action of God then and now, and how does this open totally new possibilities ex nihilo, “out of nothing.”


In Colossians 3:1-4, the baptized are reminded that we have “died”, and our “life is hidden with Christ in God” (v. 3). We are in him, and he is “above,” “sitting at God’s right side” (v. 1). The mark of this reality, and the means by which it becomes a practical reality, is the human heart transformed to love. The aspects of our character and behavior that do not conform to the love of Christ are stripped away. In the resurrection of Jesus, the new world has already broken in, and we are given a hope that will not tolerate anything outside of this new reality. This takes continuing conversion to the fullness of the Easter good news. Our response to the Easter proclamation can be to plunge into the struggle against evil knowing that in Christ victory is possible, probable, assured! This is the strongest kind of hope because it gives the strength, courage, and endurance necessary to follow Christ through the fray. A struggle continues, but Jesus is Lord and someday even the powers of evil will admit (confess!) this. So we do not have to “cling” to the Lord, we simply run out to meet him in the new creation. Our response is to trust what we hear and live accordingly.


Of course, the cross is the central Christian symbol around which the faithful gather to find the presence of the Lord. God took the dead Jesus and raised him to life. God wants to do the same thing with us—to encounter us and to raise every kind of deadness to life. Not only does God want to—but also God has done and will do this. It is our hope; it defines a life lived in Christ’s name; it opens to all a “world” of salvation. Easter is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!


Alan E. Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday, 2003.

Written by:

Todd Townshend, Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Huron and Lecturer in Homiletics and Contextual Theology, Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario

Darren C. Marks, Assistant Professor of Theology and Jewish Studies, Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario

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