Wednesday, February 25, 2009

N.T. Wright on Easter

So, I'm finishing up Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright. He goes to great pains to divorce the Western Christian mind from linking the resurrection of Jesus with a simple belief in an afterlife. The resurrection of Jesus historically happened, and it means something entirely different than that an afterlife exists. It is the fulfillment of God's promise to redeem for Himself a people as well as all of creation. It is the demonstration that though the world fell through man's sin and is now in bondage to decay, He will not permit sin and death to have the final word regarding His good creation. All of this has huge implications for how we live our lives in this present world in every particular.

His focal point is not exclusively, or even primarily, upon the individual Christian, but rather the Church. This is appropriate since Christ came to save sinners, but to make out of them one holy Bride: the Church.

So, the last chapter is titled, "Reshaping the Church for Mission (2): Living the Future" and he begins with a question:

So how can we learn to live as wide-awake people, as Easter people?
His answer to this question begins in a place that many of us would not first consider: how we celebrate Easter. He words it better than I could, so here he is again:

I have come to believe that many churches simply throw Easter away year by year; and I want to plead that we rethink how we do it so as to help each other, as a church and as individuals, to live what we profess . . . For a start, consider Easter Day itself. It's a great step forward that many churches now hold Easter vigils, as the Orthodox church has always done, but in many cases they are still too tame by half. Easter is about the wild delight of God's creative power . . . we ought to shot Alleluias instead of murmuring them; we should light every candle in the building instead of only some; we should give every man, woman, child, cat, dog, and mouse in the place a candle to hold; we should have a real bonfire; and we should splash water about as we renew out baptismal vows . . . the thing aobut Easter is that it is neither ethereal or esoteric. It's about the real jesus coming out of the real tomb and getting God's real new creation under way.

But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday . . . and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day fesitval, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don't throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don't do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn't take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

This is our greatest fesitval . . . our greatest day. We should put the flags out.

In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again--well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative . . . Easter is the time to sow new seeds and to plant out a few cuttings. If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit (255-7).


So, if you made it through the end there, congratulations. It was a long passage, but I didn't feel I would do it justice by cutting it shorter than I did.

What should we do this Easter season? What will you do to celebrate the goodness of God's creation, the fulfillment of his promise in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the anticipation of His return to complete the work of restoring all things to the glory of the Father?

1 comment:

matthew said...

Finally getting around to starting this book, despite it sitting on my shelf for so long. Very excited about it. When I'm finished and you're in town, let's discuss.