In his book Surprised by Hope New Testament scholar and Bishop of Durham (Church of England) N.T. Wright complains that we Christians, in general, don’t celebrate Easter properly. He writes, “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… we have a single day of celebration.”†
He believes that Easter, the high point of the Christian calendar, ought to mark the beginning of a celebration that lasts for days—including champagne breakfasts at church! O.K., I’ve never had champagne for breakfast, and I’m pretty sure that a church that uses the “pure, unfermented juice of the grape” in Holy Communion would frown upon it. But I get his point.
Think about what Easter means: God came to us in Jesus Christ. He assumed all the frailty and limitations of being fully human, faced all of life’s temptations, and yet lived a life of perfect obedience to his Father—even to the point of dying on the cross. On the cross, Jesus Christ, God incarnate—out of a love for this world that we can’t fully comprehend—willingly endured to the worst that the world had to offer—all of its injustice, all of its hatred, all of its violence, all of its fear, all of its evil.
On Good Friday it must have seemed like sin, evil, and death had the last word. It must have seemed like evil triumphed and good was defeated. It must have seemed like this Jesus of Nazareth, in whom so many people placed such great faith and hope, was just another charismatic, well-meaning, but ultimately misguided would-be Messiah.
But then Easter Sunday happened. God the Father overturned the world’s verdict against Jesus by raising him from the dead, thereby securing for us the victory over evil, sin, and death that we celebrate every Easter.
Paul joyfully mixes his resurrection metaphors in 1 Corinthians 15:20-26: First, the resurrection of Jesus is the “first fruits” of a harvest in which our own lives will come to fruition in resurrection. Second, Christ’s resurrection is the first and most decisive wave of attack against evil forces. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” The resurrection anticipates God’s ultimate victory in God’s plan to redeem and renew this good Creation.
I’m not a farmer, but some of you have experienced the joy of an abundant harvest, perhaps after a long drought. Easter is a little bit like that. Some of you also remember what V-J Day felt like—when World War II finally ended. Easter is also a little bit like that—but much more!
We’ve all seen that famous photo captured by Life Magazine, V-J Day in Times Square, in which an exuberant and uninhibited sailor in Times Square kisses a woman (whom he doesn’t even know!) the moment after President Truman announced the end of the war. One picture—one moment in time—spoke to the joy and relief of millions of people.
As we reflect on what God has done for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, may our Easter celebration capture at least a little of that exuberance! (Please, no kissing of strangers, though!)