Holy Week Sermons: Choose Your Words Wisely (A Guest Post)

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Tripp Hudgins is an ordained American Baptist preacher who is currently a postulant for the Episcopal priesthood in the Diocese of California. Desperately trying to finish his dissertation in Liturgy and Ethnomusicology at Graduate Theological Union, he lives with his wife and son in an intentional community with four other families in Berkeley, CA. You can find his writing most recently on sonictheology.org, in the Anglican Theological Review, and in Bearings, the Online journal for the BTS Center.



Have you made your list yet?

You know, the list of ideas, inspirations, hopes, dreams, and words that you will use thoughtfully and prayerfully through out Holy Week?

To some, it may seem to be one thing too many given all the activities a priest will be responsible for during Holy Week, but I encourage you to think of it as a kind of spiritual scaffolding to help you explore and experience the narrative arc of the season.

As preachers, I want to encourage you to think about words you want to offer your parish...not concepts, though there may be overlap, but words

Choosing Your Words for the Season

In no particular order, this is my list:

Jesus, stone, women, alleluia, resurrection, saved, redeemed, blood, cross, weeping, darkness, death, life, peace, despair, freedom, quest, hope, vigil, prayer, song, coins, prophet, promise, responsibility...

There are more, but suffice it to say, I'm developing a pretty extensive list of words I want to make certain I use this year.

Why these words?

Well, they say something about how I am encountering the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection this year.

These are the words I take pleasure in saying.

They trip off the tongue in a certain way.

They sound right in the space.

They land a certain way on the hearts and minds of those whom I serve.

I enjoy their cadence, rhythm, and their spiritual impact. 

They are also words that I regularly use when I tell the story. They are not someone else's words that I am borrowing to tell the story. They aren't from a commentary. They aren't from a quotation I enjoyed saving from some of my devotional reading. No, these are my words. 

These are my words. I can deliver them with a sense of honesty where some other words fall flat.

I can deliver them with a sense of honesty where some other words fall flat. I can convey my own experience of my encounter with God through the story we tell in Holy Week with these words.

Other words just don't do that work. Not for me. 

The Power of Exploring—and Changing—YOur Rhetoric

Last summer I had the honor to teach at the Episcopal Preaching Foundation's event for seminarians at Roslyn in Richmond, VA. I had a small group of students I was responsible for.

They were to each preach a sermon they had developed previously either for class or their field education site. The other students and I would evaluate it using a specific set of guidelines. Then the students would, later in the week, deliver the sermon again reflecting their engagement with the feedback they had received.

Unlike the first time they preached, however, I would be interrupting them mid-delivery to ask them questions.

This was my favorite question to ask: "Why did you choose that word?"

This question was aimed not at some accidental slip of the tongue or a tangential remark. I asked the question of words they used to make the essential point of their sermon. More often than not the students could not tell me why. There would be follow-up questions like:  

What does this word mean to you?

Would this be a word you would use in any other context? Why or why not? 

Does this word sound like something you would say? (Usually not. They were trying to sound like the preacher they thought I was expecting them to be as opposed to the preacher they already are.)

Do you enjoy saying this word? 

Lastly, can you imagine how we are receiving this word?

We would then come up with new language, their language, for what they were trying  to say.

Backing up in their manuscript, they would start over.

We sometimes wish to be right more than we wish to be ourselves in the pulpit. One can do both.

More often than not, their classmates would nod or smile or even respond with a "Wow!" or an "Amen!" at the difference in what was communicated by this basic change in rhetoric. 

There is a temptation, I feel, during seasons like Lent, Holy Week, or Advent, to lose our own way of communicating God's truths, in favor of covering all of our theological bases. We sometimes wish to be right more than we wish to be ourselves in the pulpit. One can do both.

But it all depends on the words we choose.

Interested to hear more of the Rev. Tripp Hudgin’s insights about preaching through Holy Week?

The Rev. Tripp Hudgins will be speaking to The Collective+

this Thursday, March 28th, at 4:00 p.m. CST


Join The Collective+ now, and you’ll also enjoy our popular Holy Week and Easter Sermon Bootcamps free with your membership. Plus, you’ll be able to join us for our Seasonal Sermon Planning Session on Tuesday, April 2nd.

If you’ve been wondering if The Collective+ is for you, this is a great time to try it!