Every year as Easter comes around again I look back at my record of sermons to see what Gospel I spoke from last year when I again retold the familiar account of Christ’s resurrection. I’m not sure why I do this, why I want to vary the Scripture text even though the story and its meaning is always the same. Besides, I am pretty sure that no one will remember what Biblical passage I spoke from a year ago. I suppose I am trying to maintain the familiar but do so without sounding repetitive and redundant. Is there something lost in the retelling? Do we allow the well-known to become just old-hat and no longer capable of moving us or changing us?
We do have a limited record. The story of the resurrection is written down only in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Certainly it is referred to in other places and the Apostle Paul writes quite extensively on the topic in 1 Corinthians 15, but the actual account is recorded only in the final chapters of the four Gospels. And since no one was present to observe the actual event what we have is eye-witness reports of seeing and speaking with Jesus after his resurrection. These stories vary slightly in the details that they contain although not in any areas of great consequence. Their concise brevity as well as their agreement testify to their authenticity. They are not the kind of tales that were made up over time, written to impress or grandstand. They demonstrate instead an attention to detail along with the personal admission of confusion and/or disbelief.
And now I find myself every year trying to find in these bare accounts something hidden, something that I haven’t noticed or mentioned or reported. It is as if I am trying to make this story even grander so that no one will fail to believe it. I want somehow to uncover something that will make the old and familiar seem new and more attractive. In one sense I suppose this is the role I have as a pastor to try and make sure that nothing is lost in the retelling, but the fact is I have no new information.
I am reminded of two things. The first is that just because something is known doesn’t mean that it is lacking in content. I know how old I am but I still appreciate those who remember my birthday. Lois and I have been married for forty-seven years but that doesn’t give me the right to neglect our anniversary or to not remember and retell the story of our wedding. Just because something is well known doesn’t necessarily mean that it no longer has value or appeal.
The second reminder I have comes from the singing of old gospel hymns. Church music, which I hated as a child preferring the tunes of the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, has nevertheless contributed to me a good model of Christian experience. So the words to two songs, both part of the same poem by A. Catherine Hankey, have been running through my mind as I think of the Easter story. Let me share a few verses with you.
I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love;
I love to tell the story because I know ‘tis true,
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest;
And when in scenes of glory I sing the new, new song,
‘Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.*
Tell me the same old story when you have cause to fear
That this world’s empty glory is costing me too dear.
Tell me the story always, if you would really be,
In any time of trouble, a comforter to me.+
So yes, I will be using the same Biblical story this Easter as always. The facts remain true and they also provide the only answer to the questions of life. On Sunday mornings I will be focusing on the accounts recorded in the Gospel of John, but the other passages will show up at some of our other meetings during Holy Week (see Calendar and Events page). Perhaps you too can benefit from reading and hearing again the old, old story of Easter. I pray the familiar will never get old.
See you in Worship.
* “I Love to Tell the Story,” A. Catherine Hanley, 1866.
+ “Tell Me the Old, Old Story,” A. Catherine Hanley, 1866.