From a Christian perspective, Easter remains a celebration of the Gospel, in which the death and resurrection of Christ offers everlasting hope.
This weekend, in Kenosha and around the world, pastors face the singular challenge that comes at the end of every Lent — how to best share their message from the pulpit on the most important day of the Christian year.
The other challenge is carrying the Easter message to those who don’t usually attend services.
Pastors at several area churches say it’s their hope that those who attend infrequently will become active churchgoers, and they will make it a point to reach out to them during their sermons.
First United Methodist pastor the Rev. Susan Patterson-Sumwalt is presenting a sermon titled, “When is Easter this Year?” She speaks to the changing physical dates of Easter, ranging from March 22 to as late as April 25.
“As the writer of the gospel of John always wants his readers to see beyond that which is at face value, I, too, want us to look at the coming of Easter beyond the calendar calculations,” she said.
“In the Scripture story, Mary comes to the tomb and sees an empty tomb. She concludes that Jesus is not there, but she has not concluded that he has been raised from the dead and is alive.
“Easter has not yet come for Mary. It is not until she hears Jesus call her by name, and she’s able to respond with love and faith.
“Like Mary, Easter comes for us when we hear Jesus call us by name, and we receive his gift of life or of second chances and then respond in love and faith.”
With extra cars in the parking lot, Patterson-Sumwalt said her congregation is very conscious about guests on days like Christmas and Easter and spend more time working on hospitality.
“I want all guests, whether they are people who have not been around in a while, adult children home visiting or persons coming for the first or second time to feel welcome and comfortable,” she said.
“We have extra greeters, ushers, Welcome Center staff and special food. We have activity packets for children to make them feel special and welcome on this holy day. It’s also our ‘Sermon Bingo Sunday,’ so children and anyone else will be welcome to play bingo as they listen to the sermon and turn it in for a prize. We also have gift bags for our first-time guests.”
Rising after three days
At St. Anne Catholic Church, the Rev. Robert Weighner said he will reflect on the meaning behind the three days in the tomb and why it was three days.
“(I will be) including insights from the Talmud and Jewish theology as well as how the prophets apply this teaching to the spiritual life,” he said, adding, “finally, how Christ is the fulfillment of the covenantal promises of God toward his chosen people.”
Each Easter, Immanuel, Principe de Paz and Kenosha Korean United Methodist congregations rotate sermon responsibilities. This Easter, the Rev. Marino Chacon, pastor of Principe de Paz, said he will focus on Satan’s perceived win at the killing of Jesus.
However, most didn’t understand what Jesus meant when he told his disciples he’d rise on the third day.
“Jesus rises exactly on the date he had told his disciples. With his resurrection he was conquering death. Imagine the face of Satan when he saw that his plans did not go as expected,” he said. “Jesus was conquering death, rising again to never die again.
“With his resurrection he was giving way to an eternal life prepared for all those who came to him: ‘For as death entered through a man, also through a man the resurrection of the dead. Because just as in Adam all die, also in Christ all will be made alive.’” 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.
The promises of God
The Rev. Steve Neumann, pastor of Mount Zion Lutheran Church, said he will be focusing on the seven words of St. Paul in 2 Timothy 2:8, “Remember Jesus Christ ... raised from the dead,” and how easy it is in our busy, stressed-out lives to forget the promises of God.
“Jesus’ first-century disciples did the same, unfortunately, and that caused them lots of unnecessary grief — especially between Good Friday and Easter morning,” he said.
“But in addition to the Old Testament prophecies of Easter which they knew, Jesus had specifically told the disciples multiple times over the months before his passion that after being arrested, whipped and crucified, he would rise from the dead.
“The angels told the women at the tomb to go and tell the disciples that Jesus was alive and would meet them in Galilee as he had told them. They, obvious in their grief and confusion, had forgotten, and that only deepened their grief and pain.”
Neumann said we need to remember that Jesus fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy of the promised messiah, which is statistically impossible by chance — including minuscule details about his suffering and death.
“And we need to remember that the tomb was empty on Easter morning, which was the Father confirming what Jesus had said from the cross on Friday afternoon. ‘It is finished,’” he said. “Our sins were paid for, and the final enemy, death, had now been conquered too.”
At Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist, the Rev. Erik Carlson said he will “explore the significance of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, the many conflicting stories about his life, death and ministry, and the larger connections the Easter holiday shares with the Jewish tradition of Passover and other spring-time holidays,” he said. “Seekers of all faiths and perspectives are welcome.”
At River Ridge Church in Wilmot, Senior Pastor Kerry Bauman will offer a message titled, “He’s Alive,” based on 1 Corinthians 15: 1-20.
He explores why the resurrection of Jesus was so important and why without it, preaching is without purpose; faith is without forgiveness; death is without deliverance, and service is without significance.
“Because he lives, we too, through faith in our Lord, will also live,” he said. “And some day we will enjoy the benefits of a resurrected body just like his that is both imperishable and raised in glory. We admit, however, that a bodily resurrection is not something you see every day, and the notion of it can be hard to accept.”
In verse 20, Paul concludes, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
“First fruits refers to the first part of any harvest,” Bauman said. “For the Israelites, this meant that the first part of the barley harvest was offered to the Lord. It was a happy day when they offered the first fruits because it means that a much larger harvest was going to come.
“In the same way, the resurrection of Jesus almost 2,000 years ago is God’s way of saying, ‘One day all my children will rise from the dead. Not a single one will be left in the grave.’ This is our hope, our faith, our confidence as Christians.”