Monday, April 13, 2015

Preaching Repentance in Easter

If you come to church this Sunday and pay attention to the lessons, you might think that we’ve gone back in time to the season of Lent:
  • Peter says to the crowd in the temple, “You rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life…” (from Acts 3)
  • John writes, “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” (from 1 John 3)
  • Jesus says to the disciples, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (From Luke 24)

Some churches omit the confession in Easter, citing a connection with the Council of Nicaea, which in Canon 20 decided that everyone should stand to pray during the Easter Season. (See Steve Pankey’s post from last week about why St. Paul’s, Foley, decided not to do that this year.) But, this week, I’m thinking that we should not only confess our sins but even start on our knees with the Penitential Order, Decalogue, and Exhortation. All of this week’s readings seem to focus on sin.

Of course, all of these are Easter or post-Easter readings. Peter is speaking with the power of the Spirit he and the other disciples received at Pentecost. John is writing to his people about the power that the resurrection has on daily life. Jesus is speaking to his disciples as the resurrected one and sending them out in the power of his risen name. But, even those these are stories about or get their basis from the resurrection and even though this will be the Third Sunday of Easter, we’re invited to contemplate our sin.

Perhaps a clearer focus for these readings is repentance. Peter calls upon those who unknowingly murdered the “Author of Life” to repent “so that [their] sins may be wiped out.” As they wait for Jesus’ return, John urges his readers to “purify themselves, just as [Christ] is pure.” And Jesus’ commission to the disciples is about taking good news to the ends of the earth—the good news that the resurrection proves that repentance leads to forgiveness and thus to new life.

Easter isn’t a season to omit the confession. It’s a season to embrace it. These fifty days aren’t a time to pretend that there is no consequence for our sin. This is a time to declare that the consequences of our sin—the cross upon which Jesus died—isn’t the end of the story. We can’t proclaim the good news of the resurrection without also proclaiming the reality of our need for it—the reality of our sin.

So don’t fret if your preacher sounds a little Lenten this week. Don’t worry if the sermon starts out with a heavy dose of sin. By the end, it will be a story of resurrection. It’s still Easter after all.

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