Whose face do you see when you write the Easter sermon?

Well, it’s that time in Holy Week when I’m staring down the first draft of my Easter sermon, considering throwing the whole thing out, googling “great Easter sermon illustrations”, going back and reading awesome Easter sermons from the Great Masters and wishing I could be like them, and wondering if we could get away with a Lessons and Carols Easter.

No, too late for that.

So this is the point where I remember that I am called to serve a particular congregation, and while others whom I don’t know will show up, this is a Sunday for the congregation. And as I always do when I write a sermon, I picture these people in my mind’s eye.

I picture the family and friends of two members who died today, and wonder what on earth I could possibly say that could give them any measure of comfort, and remind myself that the best comfort comes not from words but from the community itself.

I picture my friend who comes to church on Christmas and Easter, and maybe once or twice in other times of the year, and wonder why she is there, and what she is looking for, and if any part of the service will find her.

I picture some folks who I think will worry that I’ll get political in the Easter sermon, because they brought their relatives who would disagree with anything I might say, making for an uncomfortable Easter brunch.

I picture those who don’t think a woman should ever be in the pulpit, and I don’t give them a second thought.

I picture my daughter, who has told me that our sermons lately have been downers and could I please say happy things this week since it’s Easter?

I picture the choir, sitting through the sermon twice, looking at my back for the whole of the sermon, and I say a prayer of gratitude for them, and for George Friedrich Handel, who wrote a pretty good piece called the Hallelujah Chorus.

I picture other members, getting on in years or fighting some crappy disease, knowing this may be their last Easter.

I picture the families, the parents who struggled to get their daughters into scratchy Easter dresses and their sons to wear clip-on ties because Grandma would like a cute picture, parents who worry about their kid acting up, or throwing a fit, and I want them to know that we understand kids get fussy and act out and we’re still so glad they are here.

I picture the staff and the volunteers who have worked so hard this week with extra services, doing so much to be hospitable and offer some spiritual depth.

I picture Jesus and Mary in the garden, and regret that that image is too informed by Warner Sallman and the pre-Raphaelites.

I picture the stranger who has come out of obligation.
I picture the friend who has come despite her grief.
I picture that faithful saint who has come because he believes all of this so deeply.

It’s a good audience, that crowd in my mind as I face down the lap top.

Who do you see when you write your Easter sermon?

 

Advertisements

A Century-Worthy Sermon?

future wesminsterThis week, our congregation is celebrating the 100th birthday of the dedication of our sanctuary.  It should be a festive day with a few fun extras planned, but since it’s the anniversary of a building, and not of the congregation itself, we are limiting the festivities to just Sunday. A task force has been at work planning this, and we had the opportunity to watch some stonemasons dig around behind the building cornerstone to unearth the time capsule (actually, a lead box) that the congregation had set in one hundred years ago.  We weren’t sure what we would find.

In it were papers, photographs, and a Bible – a little damp and moldy but all still very much readable.  They included the roll of the church,various rolls of Sunday School departments, a list of those who were on the planning committee, a list of the founding members of the church, the history of the Women’s Missionary Society, the Oregonian from the day they placed the time capsule, and photographs of the previous locations of the church.  What was not in their time capsule was interesting:  no program from the service of dedication of the sanctuary or laying of the cornerstone (we have those elsewhere) and no remarks by any pastor.

So our task force has been thinking about what we will put in the new time capsule that will be set in behind the cornerstone, hopefully to be opened in the year 2114.  A membership directory, which is about as close as we can get to the official church roll.  The bulletin from the 100th anniversary worship service.  A book about our needlepoint pew cushions.  A copy of tomorrow’s Oregonian.  And a copy of my sermon.

I’ve wondered all week what the people of Westminster in 2114 (if there is a Westminster in one hundred years) will think of my sermon.  Will it be one for the ages?

Probably not.  I can count on one hand the sermons I’ve read that are for the ages, at least for me: John of Chrysostrom’s Easter sermon.  Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  Fosdick’s “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”  C. S. Lewis: “The Weight of Glory.”  James Forbes “The Battle of Bethlehem.”  Frederick Buechner’s “The End Is Life.”  Yes, it distresses me that there is not one sermon by a clergywoman there and I promise to work on that.

For the most part, I think sermons, or at least my sermons, are for the moment. They might have impact in the hour that they are delivered, or maybe for the day  or even the week, but after that, their “use by” date passes and it’s best to let them go like old mayonnaise.  I’m fine with that – truly – because God is always doing a new thing, so why should last year’s sermon matter in the context of a new day?

But I think too about language and images and metaphors I use today, and how they will be received in one hundred years.  I quote two people: John O’Donohue and Winston Churchill.  I refer to two anthems the choir will sing.  I make a joke about bikram yoga.  Will anyone still be doing bikram yoga in 2114?  Will everyone be doing it?  Will they think the sermon is awfully long or inadequately short?

It’s one thing to write a sermon and picture various people you know responding to it; it’s another thing altogether to imagine people who aren’t born yet, who live in an unknown future, responding to it.

In the end, I suppose the audience that most matters is God, whether yesterday, today, or tomorrow.  I wish that caused more fear and trembling in me than it does.  Fortunately, God has better preachers – many of whom never use words – to get the message across.  That will be true a hundred years from now, so Amen and Amen.photo-2