Except for a couple years when I was in the wilderness, I have partaken each Easter in at least one liturgical celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As a cathedral chorister, I have often assisted in the celebration of four or five in the year, beginning at 9 PM on Easter Eve and stretching to 5 PM the next day. So I have heard about – let’s see – about 114 Easter sermons. Never once, in any of those homilies, was the fact of the Resurrection ever directly addressed. They generally spoke instead about God’s love, and his power – working in us, of course – to make things in the world all nice and fair, and to heal broken relationships. At most, preachers refer to the Resurrection as the context for their message of hope for renewed worldly life, as if it were a literary device or a metaphor. They never grapple with it directly.*
This has always amazed me. On Easter morning, preachers have their best opportunity of the year, after Christmas, to tackle head on one of the biggest stumbling blocks to faith, before a large audience of unbelievers, or proto-believers, or quasi-believers, or wannabe-but-don’t-know-how-believers, or those who have fallen away from the faith but remember their homeland with nostalgic affection, and would like to return if they could see a way to do so. It is, i.e., a fantastic opportunity for evangelization – not to swell the attendance rolls, but to save souls. Yet they all seem to shy away from the main thing that Easter is about: a dead man come to life again. To a typical modern, the story of the Resurrection looks like – well, it looks like sheer nonsense, crazy talk about an impossibility. And that apparent insanity at the heart of Christianity makes the whole religion incredible, empty, vain, as St. Paul knew (I Corinthians 15:17). Credence in the Resurrection is crucial to conversion; without it, there is no such thing.
But preachers never talk about this difficulty. I cannot resist the conclusion that – perhaps because they are themselves typical moderns – most preachers simply don’t know how to think about the Resurrection, any more than their skeptical auditors on Easter morning. They may believe in it, but they don’t know how to talk about it.
This is a sad state of affairs, because there is nothing especially difficult about the Resurrection.