Mystagogical Preaching: Preaching to the Newly Baptized

Preaching throughout the season of Easter should be mystagogical, especially in a congregation that has a catechumenate. What does that mean? It means that throughout the Easter season the preacher should proclaim the paschal mystery, the death and resurrection of Jesus as seed of the renewal of all creation and the life of the world. The gospel readings throughout the season, especially in the three year series (but the one year series could also be approached in this way), examine different facets of the paschal mystery.

Preaching the entire story as a paschal story aims at the whole congregation with the newly baptized (neophytes) as the central symbol of that paschal mystery for the assembly. They serve as that central symbol because they have just experienced the death and resurrection of Jesus through baptism and now embody that lived experience of grace, mercy, and love. Mystagogical preaching will aim to teach so that all the people perceive living as a consequence of and within the death and resurrection of Jesus. Such preaching should draw the assembly and the neophytes along from paschal celebration to paschal celebration, each Sunday examining the diadem of Jesus’ pascha from a different angle, reflecting on its manifold richness and meaning. Part of preaching those different angles and perspectives will include: 1) preaching so as to “solidify” people’s notions of eternal life, and to correct erroneous notions; 2) preaching to evoke the imagination’s flowering as it flows from the biblical narrative; 3) preaching the embodied nature of human life and the physicality of the world in the present so as to evoke the substantive nature of the age to come.

Paul Hoffman in his book, Faith Shaping Ministry (68-83), refers to preaching throughout the catechumenate as formational preaching. Certainly the preaching during the period of mystagogy should be formational, both for the neophytes and the community. For Hofmann there are six characteristics of formational preaching:

  1. Intimately connected to the text or texts for the day.
  2. Embraces ambiguity and mystery. It does not attempt to give all the answers.
  3. Challenging both to preach and to hear (because the texts challenge us).
  4. Highly narrative, using narrative to connect the text to the daily vocation of the baptized.
  5. Honestly evaluates the human condition of sin and suffering and points to Christ on the cross as our only hope.
  6. Targeted more to the community than to the individual.

All of those criteria push toward preaching that forms and molds worshippers to see the Christian way of life through the prism of Christ’s death and resurrection. Such preaching helps the assembly and the neophytes to understand, interpret, and appreciate their initiation—baptism, anointing, and Lord’s Supper—into Christian faith and life and to see life itself through this lens. It is preaching that shapes a sacramental imagination so as to live a life of faith as reflective of that imagination. (For more on sacramental, mystagogical preaching see Craig Satterlee and Lester Ruth, Creative Preaching on the Sacraments, Discipleship Resources, 2001).