The central task for the preacher on Easter Sunday is to proclaim Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world and for the life of each person gathered this morning. I know all about the other goals that want to wedge their way in from the periphery and take the focus but let us keep the main thing the main thing.
That said, the other objectives are all reasonable and good. Apologetics helps us highlight the reasonableness of our faith. Showcasing all the musical groups and children’s ministries demonstrates the vibrancy and creativity of your congregation. Designing a Sunday morning experience around all the visitors is a loving expression of hospitality. Chances are you are feeling all kinds of external pressures (as well as internal ones) to perform this Sunday and accomplish all kinds of good and godly goals. I thank God for your pastoral heart and concern for the many tasks related to shepherding the flock of a congregation in a community.
As a brother in Christ and in the ministry, I want to invite you to take a breath. Easter is the most significant Sunday, but not because of your work or creativity or the number of people who will show up to church. Easter is the most important Sunday because Christ is risen, death is defeated, and all of God’s promises find their fulfillment in Jesus.
So, by all means, consider all the unique circumstances of your context this weekend. And then, take a deep breath and let us consider how we might proclaim Christ. The most important thing you will do this weekend is proclaim Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world and for the life of each person gathered.
Alleluia (with or without the H) is a call to “praise the LORD!” It is an invitation to worship. Many congregations observe the tradition of abstaining from singing the alleluias through Lent (even if the previous Sundays have been “in” rather than “of” Lent). But on Easter, we let the alleluias ring. It is a call to and an expression of worship.
It is most fitting to worship the Lord for all His faithfulness, for keeping all His promises through Christ, and especially for raising His Son from the grave! But we can highlight another connection between our sung, spoken, and shouted alleluias and Easter itself. In Matthew 28:9, the women worship Jesus. As they encounter the resurrected Christ, they worship. In continuity with the women on that first Easter Sunday, we worship, as we raise our alleluias! But we do not worship a generic deity or merely with a vague gratitude to “the Universe.” We, like the women on Easter, worship Jesus, the Christ, the man from Nazareth, the crucified and risen One.
We, like the women on Easter, worship Jesus, the Christ, the man from Nazareth, the crucified and risen One.
Note the specificity and definiteness of Matthew 28:1-10. It begins with lots of time qualifications: After the Sabbath; toward the dawn; of the first day of the week. Two actual women, with names, go to the tomb of Jesus. This Jesus is identified by the angels as the “Jesus who was crucified.” The angels announce He has risen and is making His way to Galilee. You might also notice how often Matthew records “Behold!” in this reading. “Look here!” “See this!” It is not an abstract, “Contemplate this idea...” Rather, it is a call for specific focused attention.
Then, the specificity and definiteness of the text becomes most scandalous. Jesus appears to the women who are running with fear and joy to share the news with the disciples. Jesus greats them and then the women “came up and took hold of His feet and worshipped Him.” You can make a case that looking into the human eye feels like looking into someone’s soul or into eternity itself. You can argue that the tender touch of someone’s hand is intimate and deeply personal. But the feet? That is earthy. The women grabbed on to this man’s feet, and that is where they worshipped. That is whom they worshipped.
Their alleluia was directed at the actual physical feet of this single man, Jesus. Like Thomas will later articulate verbally, their gesture declares, “My Lord and my God!” There, gripping the feet that were cold and colorless the day before, the feet that once again are warm with blood flowing through them, there the women worship. And in that moment, they were upholding the First Commandment. They were fearing, loving, and trusting God Himself above all things, as they gripped the feet of Jesus in faith.
Our God is that specific, that earthy, that alive. He is worthy of being praised and worship, and not just for His abstract qualities of holiness and transcendence, His omniscience and omnipotence. We sing the alleluia and give our praise and devotion to the man who belongs to these feet, because He was crucified for our transgressions and raised for our justification.
Your congregation may participate in some variation of, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!” If that is the case, I invite you to consider how you might help your people experience the moment as more specific than just, “Praise the Lord!” Load this traditional call and response with images and theology which will help focus the worship of God’s people. Yes, we praise the Lord, but we do so by celebrating that the Lord has visited and redeemed His people. Having been crucified for us, He walked out of the grave on His own two feet. Alleluia!
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 28:1-10.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 28:1-10.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 28:1-10.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. David Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 28:1-10.