Beverly: “The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!” Pastors across the country and around the world will greet their congregations on Easter Sunday with this glorious affirmation of God’s greatest work on our behalf. Tradition has it that Saint Augustine of Hippo called every Sunday “a little Easter,” suggesting the significance of the Lord’s Day for the Christian community as we gather to recall God’s saving grace in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. Now, however, we’ve arrived once again at “the BIG Easter,”—or, as liturgical scholar Laurence Hull Stookey puts it, “Every Easter is a great Sunday.” On this “great Sunday,” the day concluding our Lenten journey with Jesus into the wilderness, along the paths of ministry, and through the days of his passion to the morning of the resurrection, we arrive at what is surely the most important liturgical celebration of the year. This is the day, the celebration, which defines us as the Christian community.
My colleague in ministry, Steve Hodges, and I had some conversation about the appointed RCL texts for Easter Sunday. Since Steve planned to preach on the first reading from Acts 10:34-43, our conversation focused on that text. The text is Peter’s sermon to Cornelius, the devout Gentile centurion, and his household. There are a number of powerful claims in Peter’s sermon, including: God’s impartiality toward believers; Christ’s divinely-appointed life and work; the truth of the resurrection as witnessed by the apostles; Christ’s rule and judgment over all; and the responsibility of those who have heard the good news of God’s work in Jesus Christ to testify to its truth.
Juxtaposing our campus Lenten theme of “Who is my neighbor?” with this text, Steve and I saw several connections and homiletical directions that centered on our responsibility as Christ’s modern-day apostles. As those who have been “chosen by God as witnesses” (v. 41) to the world today, our job is to proclaim the great news of this day to our “neighbors” without judgment or partiality. We are called to point to places and ways where Christ’s resurrection continues to break into our desperate lives and world, trusting God to change the minds and hearts of those we encounter.
Steve is going to share a sketch of the sermon he is working on for the “great Sunday” of Easter based on Peter’s sermon in Acts 10.
Steve: “Who are you?” or “Oh! Is that my neighbor?” If we do not say it out loud this morning some of us may ask ourselves such questions. We’ll ask this when we catch sight of the strangers. The reason being is that today is Easter Sunday. As a humorist said, “Easter is the only time it’s good to put all your eggs in one basket.” To this point many flock to our churches on this glorious day each year with hope to get right with God, or at least get right with whoever dragged them to church and now sits beside us on the pew. So this morning we may have a number of reasons to ask, “Who are you?”
Peter stood before a gathering in Caesarea, looked around at the people and may have wondered, “Who are you?” Peter was surrounded by strangers. Peter was invited by Cornelius the Roman centurion to come and share what he had been commanded by the Lord. I find that this may be an extreme version of what we will experience this Easter morning. As Peter looked out over the gathering he was inspired to say what must have grabbed their attention, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.” (Verse 34) Someone in the gathering just may have responded, “Who are you?” Peter continued.
Peter let loose with the Good News of Jesus Christ, the one appointed by God, who rose from the dead. Peter said to Cornelius and this crowd, “everyone who believes in Christ receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Verse 43). Peter preached to all the people. There seems to have been no hesitation by Peter for the listener’s origin, upbringing, language, social rank, or religious affiliation. With Peter’s words he revealed an inclusiveness of the gospel. From my perspective Peter let it be known that to God it does not matter who you are, for we are all “neighbors” in the kingdom and work of God who raised Jesus from the dead.
This text demands that we step up boldly and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. We’re called to proclaim the message and stand firm in our Christian faith that God shows no partiality to anyone–especially to the people God has set before us this day, for all are welcome to God’s table of grace and to the ministry of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our risen Lord.
Beverly: I think Steve identified well one of the challenges of preaching on Easter Sunday: the variety of worshippers who will be present in our churches. Preachers look out upon and worshippers sit among the faithful, the seeking, the skeptical and everything in between.
Peter’s sermon reminds us that God invites ALL to hear and accept the great news of Christ’s resurrection. Our job as those who have heard and believe is not to judge but to bear witness to the truth of God’s goodness. It is as simple—and as challenging!—as that. And so on this “great Sunday” of Easter, go out into the world among the “neighbors” God has given us, proclaiming—and living—the news that “The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!”
We praise you that your glory has dawned on us,
and brought us into this Day of Resurrection
We rejoice that the grave could not hold your Son,
and that he has conquered death,
risen to rule over all powers of this earth.
We praise you that he summons us into new life,
to follow him with joy and gladness.
By your Spirit, lift us from doubt and despair,
and set our feet in Christ’s holy way,
that our lives may be signs of his life,
and all we have may show forth his love.
Praise, glory, and thanksgiving to you, our God,
forever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Worship)
Writers: Steve Hodges (M.Div. 2005) is pastor of Providence Forge Presbyterian Church in Providence Forge, Virginia;
Beverly Zink-Sawyer is the Samuel W. Newell, Jr. Professor of Preaching and Worship.