The Rev. Praysalot, known also as Pastor Smiley, sat at his desk and stared at the scripture text. The words and thoughts were just not coming, even though the text was an old friend, the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the gospel of Matthew. He had preached on this lesson many times and it had brought comfort and strength to many who were grieving. This scripture story had been requested for a funeral homily (sermon), but the reverend could not seem to move forward with preparing a message. Pastor Smiley was experiencing what his ministerial colleagues called “sermon block.”
Perhaps the sermon block was due to the general let down from all the services of Holy Week and the rush of Easter Sunday. Goodness knows the pastor was worn out from it all. But Pastor Smiley sighed to himself knowing that this was not really the reason for his sermon malaise.
These last few weeks as he talked to people he realized that they were saying much of what he had been reading in the paper and watching on the news. Things are getting tough all over and people are having a harder and harder time coping with things. War and violence, crime and persecution continues without letup; terrorism and bombings seem to be never ending; the economy is in tatters, people are losing their homes; the costs of gas, health care and even food are rising. Add unemployment and high taxes, and life is getting very hard to endure.
People have been asking him, “When will things get fixed — will things ever get fixed?”
The pastor mused on how people try to turn things around, make things better, fix things. He asked himself, “But what about the things that can’t be fixed, when there is no healing, when there is no recovery. What do you do when things just can’t be fixed?”
Maybe what is needed is some resurrection. The things that can’t be fixed can usually be described as death and dying experiences. With this being the case, the only thing to do is to look to Christ for resurrection power. When people long for and seek God’s resurrection power, then it is not a matter of fixing things, but it becomes an occasion for new life.
Continuing to think along these lines, Pastor Smiley began humming the words of a contemporary praise and worship song, “Behold, behold, I make all thing new, beginning with you and starting from today.”
“Yes, that is where we go, back to the one who was crucified but is now raised from the dead, Jesus, the Savior of the world.” With this self-exclamation, Pastor Smiley realized he solved the problem of his sermon block. He was grieving more than he realized over the death of his friend, Nellie Nicety.
Nellie had been a warm, caring woman of faith with a delightful sense of humor. She had been the kind of woman that everyone wanted to refer to as Grandma Nellie or Auntie Nellie. Pastor Smiley knew that most everyone in town would be at her funeral and he was struggling with what to say to them.
It was this inner dialogue that helped him to understand what the real problem was. Nellie was more than a parishioner, she had been a trusted friend and Pastor Smiley would miss her terribly.
The scripture lesson for her funeral had been requested by her sister, Amelia. It had been one of her favorites. Pastor Smiley closed his eyes and pictured Nellie quoting the words from memory; “Now after the Sabbath, toward dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulcher. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it ... .”
Nellie always seemed to get quite a kick out of the image of the angel rolling away the stone of death and then using it as a bench while the Roman guards were shaking in their boots; Nellie had said as much to Pastor Smiley on many an occasion. But her real treasure was the rest of the story: But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee, there you will see him. ... So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Hail!” and they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Matthew 281:1-11
With these reminiscences of Nellie and with the powerful words of scripture, Pastor Smiley’s heart was much lighter, his spirits were uplifted. He thought if Nellie had been in his study, she would have had something witty to say at his expense. She would have said something like, “Pastor, have you forgotten that death does not have the last word for God’s people? God has the last word; it is a word of life, life in Jesus the Risen Savior. Get rid of this silly melancholy and get to work on your sermon; and make it a good one, but keep it short. Remember the mind can take in only what the seat can endure.”
Pastor Smiley bowed his head and prayed for a time; peace came to his heart and mind, the sermon block was gone, now the preaching task was much lighter. Life in general was clothed in resurrection power and Nellie’s funeral, it was not going to be a sad state of affairs, but it was going to be a celebration of life and faith. Faith is the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
(The opinions of this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Inter-Mountain, the Randolph County Ministerial Association or the author’s church affiliation.)