Easter after Resurrection Sunday

One of the challenges of the Christian calendar for pastors is that we often put so much energy into Holy Week, that by the time we reach Easter Sunday, and particularly, the afternoon of Easter Sunday, all we want to do is rest: either by vegging out on the couch or maybe just taking a long nap. Our bodies are so exhausted that we usually take at least a week off after Easter. It’s not for nothing that the Sunday after Easter is unofficially called Associate Pastor Sunday or (where there aren’t associate pastors) Retired Pastor Sunday (or maybe Elder Sunday).

In other words, those of us who have worked tirelessly through Easter, have little left to offer when it comes to the weeks that come after. And while it makes sense practically (we only have so much energy to give), it doesn’t exactly send the right message theologically. The Easter message of resurrection is not just a message, but the message of the Christian faith. 

Living the Resurrection

And whether we preach through the Christian calendar or do our own thing, it would seem to me that what and how we preach following Resurrection should be a message about what it means to be a people who do not merely believe in Jesus’ resurrection, but a people who practice or live the resurrection.

I once heard N. T. Wright, the renowned New Testament scholar, describe this phenomenon above, and he argued that the Easter season should be a season of parties, of celebrations, one after another, as we relish in the reality that the one who was dead is now alive—and, therefore, Christ’s own people (the Church) were dead and are now alive. You may not feel much like partying after Easter—but that doesn’t change the theological reality—and though resting a little is understandable, we need to look beyond that rest to what living in light of the resurrection means and how to guide our congregations in doing it.

When I began to think about preaching the resurrection, my mind immediately went to the two books by Eugene H. Peterson. I have pulled out a couple of the themes from Practice Resurrection on which I would like to focus.

An image of a first-century tomb with a rolling stone door.

Preaching the Resurrection Starts with an Event

Watch a few movies and you’ll get the impression that, as Peterson puts it, “true enjoyment of life comes from discovering your inner self.”

But the resurrection pulls us in a different direction. It is a historical event: a Jewish man from the Galilean village of Nazareth named Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross like a common criminal, only to surprise his followers—and the world—by rising from the dead after three days. This is the foundation of resurrection life: an event that really took place. 

Eugene Peterson points out the importance of that truth: that resurrection life is something that comes from outside us—it is not first and foremost about self-expression, the god of liberal western society.

Rather, as Peterson puts it, 

We live our lives in the practice of what we do not originate and cannot anticipate. When we practice resurrection, we continuously enter into what is more than we are.

Practicing resurrection is not about what is in us already. The resurrection says that there is something greater (much greater) than than the self-sovereign life of modernity/postmodernity. That before we were even born there was a God who loved us, who shaped us in his image, that we might belong both to God and to church. But living the resurrection is not merely being “in Christ,” as great as that is. There is power as we enter into the life of the triune God.

A Nonviolent Embrace of Life

Western culture has a strange relationship to the subject of death. We do everything we can to avoid even thinking about it until there are no alternatives. But living in a world that constantly ignores death has its ramifications. This is not the way of the church. Peterson writes,

The practice of resurrection is not an attack on the world of death; it is a nonviolent embrace of life in the country of death. It is an open invitation to live eternity in time.

In other words, when we preach the resurrection, we remind our people that this death is not the last word on our lives, our challenges, or our great heartbreaks. Rather, we are called to see each of these moments as commas, not periods. When grasped as fully as possible, it changes the calculus for our lives–what matters and what doesn’t. 

When we preach resurrection we remind our people that they are not merely waiting to experience the kingdom of heaven, but that the kingdom of heaven can draw near so long as we are open to the resurrection life. 

Prayer as an All-Involving Way of Life

Finally, in order to preach resurrection, we have to acknowledge the centrality of prayer as the doorway into that life. Peterson puts it this way:

The primary language that we use to grow up in Christ, which is to say as we practice resurrection, is prayer. But if we are to practice this resurrection prayer, a further renovation of imagination is required: we need to have an existential understanding of prayer as an all-involving way of life.

What does this look like? Interestingly enough, the teaching on prayer is both essential and yet always limited. That is to say, the interior life of prayer cannot be prescribed like a script of medicine. Rather, it is a lifelong process in which our thoughts, desires, and experiences are continually reimagined through the lens of our relationship with Christ. 

As Peterson describes the centrality of prayer, he shares a story from his own life of meeting a “spiritual giant,” a “Dr. Follette”,  from the pentecostal tradition in which he grew up:



A weathered display case with a sign which says, "Jesus says, Behold, I am alive for evermore, Revelation 1:18"

Tentatively, cautiously I approached the hammock [in which the holy man was either sleeping or praying] “Dr. Follette, can I talk to you about prayer?” He didn’t open his eyes, but he spoke, “I haven’t prayed for forty years!” 

I stood there. Stunned. That was it. I left.

I wandered off into the woods, puzzled and then scandalized. The venerable Dr. Follette–hadn’t prayed for forty years!…Five or six years elapsed before what had taken place dawned on me. He was, in fact, wise and holy. He knew intuitively that the callow adolescent that was me that day would have swallowed whole anything he said slavishly imitated it. 

No matter what he said, no matter how wise and holy, it would have sent me off for years of trying to be Dr. Follette at prayer–wasted years of imitating an icon–when I needed to be experimenting, practicing, internalizing the way of language that would bring me into God-initiated conversation that is prayer.

Closing

I don’t know if you will practice resurrection by throwing party after party to celebrate the life-changing reality of Easter. But I hope we can, at the very least, begin to internalize the message of God’s great love and hope and new life that has been offered through his son. This practice starts with an event outside of ourselves, and has the ability to lead to ripples of kingdom life wherever it is embraced.

Preaching the resurrection also is a reminder that while our work here on earth has eternal value, that nothing we experience here is final, that the great redemption work that has started in us will continue to the day when Jesus returns for us. And finally, preaching resurrection requires us to remind our people that life is more than oxygen or food, to-do lists or ladders to climb, but it is an opportunity to enter a communion with God at every moment in which we are willing to turn our attention beyond ourselves and to the creator of the universe. And yet, no matter how central this practice is, it is not one in which we can lay out a “5 Step Plan,” but rather must come to us as we struggle, as we progress in our prayer life with God.

Stuart Strachan Jr. is an ordained Presbyterian Pastor as well as the founder and lead curator of the Pastor’s Workshop. His primary passion is equipping the saints for the ministry of the church (Ephesians 4). He loves preaching, teaching, and helping churches cast vision for what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st Century. He has served churches in a variety of capacities in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Stu is married to Colleen, who currently serves as a spiritual formation lead at Compassion International in Colorado Springs. Stu and Colleen have two children (Jack and Emma) whom they love deeply.

In his free time, Stu enjoys gardening, golf, reading a good book, and watching baseball.

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