There are, of course, lots of directions to take when preaching on Easter. No doubt you’ve done quite a few. As discussed in the Planning Notes, this is a day for tradition. It is a day for telling the story as powerfully and dramatically as you can. Whether you choose John’s gospel account with the 100-yard dash between Peter and John or Mary’s tears in the garden or Luke’s account with the women “perplexed” over the loss of a dead body and the two men dressed like Las Vegas performers—either way it is a story worth telling again and again.
Perhaps, however, this year you’d like to try something different—not to neglect the story, but instead to consider what the story did to those who first heard it. What if we were to consider the impact of the story on those who were witnesses and lived their lives bearing witness to that story? What if we were to turn to the Acts of the Apostles and reflect on how to be a witness to Easter, not just on this one glorious day, but every day? Sometimes you tell the story best when you see what the story did to those who heard it—like Peter. Acts 10:34-43 is the Easter story borne witness through the life of one who heard what happened that day when God raised him. “We are witnesses to all that he did…” Acts 10:39
My daughter Maddie was for a time involved in competitive ballroom dancing. So we ordered her a dress online through my account since I was paying for it. And for years after that I would still get emails and posts and ads running on Google and Facebook, assuming that I wanted to buy more dance dresses. You know how we used to worry about the government keeping eyes on us and knowing more about us than they should? Well, George Orwell, it isn’t the government; it’s the Internet. Google and Amazon and Facebook remember what I bought a lot longer than I do. And they want to sell me more.
Dance dresses, for example. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t look good in the kind of dresses they’re trying to sell me. Not as good as Maddie anyway. A little too slinky and smooth and feathery and slit open and flowing for my use. Preachers should stick to the little black number that we sometimes wear. Right? Mind you, I’d love to dance like that. Some Sunday mornings seem to call for it. Light and airy, the good news is about lifting us, like we could float, walking on sunshine. Easter is a dancing day, don’t you think? On the other hand, some days are dark and heavy, weighed down by sinfulness, brokenness, a dirge, a lament longing for a Savior who could come and set us free. Or confident, a waltz or rumba reminding us that we are loved and capable of loving. Or a square dance that’s all about changing partners and including all, from one to the other and back again, enriched by the whole community as we dance together. Yeah, that’s what we need in worship, a little more dancing.
If any of the disciples had two left feet, it was Peter—always tripping over his own shortsightedness, stumbling around in his misguided certainties, leading with his sense of self-preservation instead of following the lead of the one he called Christ in a flash of grace that surprised even Jesus (“flesh and blood didn’t reveal this to you”; i.e., there’s no way you figured this out on your own, Peter!) No, Peter wasn’t Lord of the Dance; he was a back row chorus line member at best. Yet, here he is, leading, headlining, finding the spotlight and trying to follow the lead of the Spirit, who still has new steps for him to learn.
Peter was preaching. Actually, he was giving his testimony, giving a witness to what he knew was true and how it had changed him. It was his own story that he was turning into a sermon that day. Back up in chapter ten of Acts and you’ll see the story that he was telling. The vision on the rooftop that seemed to be about the dietary laws, but actually was about who was worthy of the gospel. Peter was a good Jew. He knew who he could hang around with and who he had to avoid. (We’ll come back to this later in the series—stay tuned!) Sure, Jesus kind of messed with his head for a while there. He was still processing all of that. But he knew where the lines were. He could follow the steps in this dance he knew from his childhood. But now his foxtrot thinking didn’t fit the salsa music he was hearing.
“I truly understand,” Peter preached, in what turned out to be a bit of an overstatement, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality!” What was wrong with that? Well, the “I truly understand” bit. He didn’t. Not yet. In the moment, yeah sure, he was swaying to the beat. But later, he’d want to sit this one out; and Paul would beckon, and they would have a dance off, to re-teach him what he truly understood for a moment. That’s later. Let’s give him his due now. He’s got it down. That flow from the Spirit that takes him farther than he thought he could go.
He says that he was commissioned to preach to the people. He was commissioned by the life and death and Resurrection of his Lord, the living Christ, the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, yes, he knows the name now. He was reclaimed from his doubt and fear. He was gathered up from his denial and disappointment. He was called to preach to the people. What he still had to learn was who the people were.
See, he thought it was his people—the people like him, the people who looked like he did and spoke like he did and danced like he did. But Jesus opened his eyes to the people—all the people, the wonderful panoply of people, the glorious, created collection of people and traditions and languages and dances that there would be no way he could master without throwing out a hip! But he could watch and then learn and laugh and clap his hands as he welcomed them into the family.