I offer this short excerpt from a sermon I heard several days ago by NT Wright. He was speaking about the parable of the prodigal son, and he moved into this section talking about the elder brother’s reaction to the raucous party that was going on in the house upon the return of the prodigal.
If you can hear it in your head as your read this, Wright got more and more excited as he went. He began to speak faster and louder the nearer he got to his point near the end.
Wright is an Anglican priest. Anglicans are not necessarily known for their boisterous sermons or excitable pulpit personalities. But when this Anglican began speaking about the way we ought to be handling the resurrection he got an honorary stripe as a Pentecostal. Had he preached this in a church in my denomination, he might not have gotten as far as he did.
We know how to do lent, the forty days of fasting…then we get to Palm Sunday and do the whole thing with donkeys and processions and palm crosses and so on, then we go through Holy Week with special services…we come to the great three days and we do Passover meals and other Maundy Thursday activities, then we have more processions on Good Friday, carrying the cross and following the cross, preaching the cross, and even in some traditions kissing the cross – and let me say, we do well to do all this, to follow Jesus through those final days of His public career, to ponder the way of sorrow and suffering, His sad journey into the far country. You can’t miss all that out and hope to understand and believe and know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. The way of the cross is the only way to go.
We stand on Resurrection ground.
Easter is not only our greatest party – much greater by the way than Christmas, whatever you do at Christmas you ought to do 10 times as much at Easter – it is that Easter is the only reason that we’re here at all. Paul says in 1 Corinthians that “if Christ is not raised your faith is futile and you’re still in your sins”. Without Easter, Jesus of Nazareth would be a curious, historical footnote. Without Easter the world would still be divided into “waiting Jews” and “puzzled pagans”.
So why when we get to Easter Day do we not celebrate wildly, lavishly, gloriously, at great length, and with disregard for normal propriety? I don’t know how you do it here, but in my tradition today, alas, after forty days of Lenten fast and three days of deep and serious concentration on the meaning of the Cross, we have precisely one morning of Easter festivities and then people disappear, exhausted by the rigors of Holy Week, the clergy go on holiday, and the only celebration that’s left is eating up the remains of the chocolate Easter eggs.
No. We should make Easter a forty day celebration. If Lent is that long Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension. And we should meet regularly for Easter parties, we should drink champagne at breakfast, we should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing, and dance, and blow trumpets, and put out banners, in the street. And we should invite the homeless people to parties, and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration.
We should be doing things that would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?” And we would say, or sing, “This our Lord was dead and is alive again, He was lost and is found! And we with Him!” Face it, the angels are going to be having a forty day party, and we should be joining in.
– NT Wright