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Living All Fifty Days of the Easter Season

I was surprised — no pun intended — to realize recently that N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope turned 16 only about a month ago. Though it was published in 2008, if I had been asked, I would have said it had been around for at least 20 years. I suspect my overestimation of its lifespan is due to the outsized effect it has had on my faith and on so many other Christians; and as the years go by, I believe the ripple effect it has had the church will continue to become clearer. Wright builds a masterful takedown of the evangelical emphasis on “going to heaven when we die,” as he takes on passage after passage of Scripture and reestablishes that if Christ is our pattern, then resurrection is our hope.

In Part III, Wright draws out the practical implications of recentering our hope on the resurrection, including a plea that the church deepen and broaden its observation of the Easter season. His appeal could potentially have a significant and practical influence upon the church’s celebration of Easter, were we to take his advice and flesh it out through a variety of festive and life-giving practices. Wright points out how we put lots of energy into observing the 40 days of Lent, but we often give only one day to a full-bodied Easter celebration, even though the church calendar spends 50 days on the Easter season. Andrew Peterson put it succinctly it at his recent Resurrection Letters concert held on Easter Monday in Nashville: “The feast outweighs the fast.” It follows, then, that our practices should center as much on Easter as they do on Lent.

Perhaps you feel inspired by the vision Wright casts for the Easter season, as I do; perhaps you want to take him up on the suggestion that “we take a hard look at how we keep Easter, in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system.” However, like me you might also struggle to come up with practical ways to live this out. There’s a lot of common knowledge out there about ways to observe Lent — giving up dessert, fasting from meat on Fridays, giving up a bad habit, reading a Lenten devotional — but we are largely at a loss when it comes to Easter practices. I reckon this stems mostly from a lack of imagination. To get some practical ideas about how to live into the Easter season, let’s unpack the ideas Tom Wright shares in Surprised by Hope:

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. Of course you have to weed the garden from time to time; sometimes the ground ivy may need serious digging before you can get it out. That’s Lent for you. But you don’t want simply to turn the garden back into a neat bed of blank earth. 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. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving.

If Lent is a time of negation — disciplining ourselves through self-denial, sacrifice, and fasting; renouncing the sinful desires that draw us from the love of God (BCP, p. 302), and repenting of and reducing the habits from our lives that impede our spiritual lives — then Easter is a time for addition — filling the space we have hollowed out during Lent with the good, growing things for which God has made us. Having spent a season allowing God to strip away what needs to go from our lives, we emerge from Lent renewed in the power of the resurrection, eager to live more fully into what God made us to be and do.

This is a beautiful vision, setting up a helpful contrast between the complementary purposes of the cycle of fasts and feasts in the church calendar. It is still, however, an analogy; how are we to bring this down to earth and make it practical? Wright gives an outline of some concrete ideas, both in Surprised by Hope and in his book released in 2013, Scripture and the Authority of God.

He puts special emphasis on the role of creative work and expression in the way we celebrate Easter: “[W]e should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival.” Creativity, according to Christian thinkers like Dorothy Sayers, is one way in which humankind demonstrates that we are made in God’s image. Therefore, it is fitting that we use our creative gifts to proclaim the good news of Christ’s resurrection through any vehicle available to us, whether poems, songs, or stories.

As Christians in a sacramental tradition, we recognize the power of using the languages of all our physical senses to hear, tell, see and feel the greatest story year after year. This could look like enjoying a special dessert each Sunday in Easter, creating floral arrangements for our kitchen tables all season long, or listening to Handel’s Messiah regularly, especially the neglected music of the second and third parts, which focus on Christ’s passion, resurrection, and ascension.

When in Scripture and the Authority of God he casts a vision for the Christian observation of the Sabbath, Wright gives us an unexpected complement to his description of Easter season living. The link between Sabbath practices and Easter practices might not be immediately obvious to us; but the connection comes to light in Wright’s insistence that any practice of Sabbath in Christian communities must reflect the reality of Christ’s resurrection. The practice of the Sabbath in the Old Testament, he says, served as a signpost looking forward to the new age God would inaugurate; now that Christ has come, “to continue celebrating sabbaths [would be] to focus on the signposts when we have already arrived.” Instead, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection transform the Sabbath, enabling Christians to enter into Wright calls “celebration rest,” combining the joy of remembering Christ’s resurrection with the rest that Jesus has won for us — peace with God and “rest” from our ancient enemies — sin, death, and the devil. Christian rest, therefore, is not found primarily in a temporary physical rest, according to Wright; rather, in Christ, Sabbath rest takes on a “perpetual” and “eternal” dimension that reflects the freedom and peace we find in being reconciled to God.

While that sounds rather abstract, he paints a picture of what “celebration rest” might look like, practically speaking, and it sounds a lot like the ways we can celebrate the Easter season for all 50 days. Wright describes celebration rest as “a way of recognizing in creative ways, in music and art and dance and family life, the fact that heaven and earth have indeed come together in a new way in Jesus, that the ‘rest’ of the old sabbath has been replaced by the ‘celebration’ of the new.” Here he extends the description beyond the creative realm to add a few other motifs: “the meal, family, service, peace, justice, love — these are the notes of Sunday for those who see the fulfillment of Sabbath in Jesus.” Communal meals play a central role in Christian feasting, and take on a particularly Christian dimension when families include our brothers and sisters in Christ who are single, widowed, or distanced from their biological families, reflecting the reality that we are part of the family of God.

I would take Wright’s phrase “family life” to mean something akin to what the Roman Catholics call the “domestic monastery” — the insight that families can function as their own type of religious community, with daily and weekly household rhythms, including prayer, reflection, and teaching that cultivate the spiritual lives of its members. This can be a place to “keep the feast” through daily prayer, devotional reading, and seasonal music. Finally, including service to others in this list hearkens back to the teaching of both the Old Testament and of Jesus that, if someone is in need on the Sabbath, God’s people should put aside their religious practices to help them. In doing so, Wright would say that we create new signposts, pointing toward the future where God will wipe away our tears and bring healing to the nations (Rev. 21:4 and 22:2).

While this Easter season has already begun, it’s not too late to try taking on a new practice; it might lean toward creativity, meals, new household rhythms, or serving others, all in the spirit of the joy and rest Jesus has won for us in his victory over the grave. Below you’ll find a list of some resources that may help you keep the feast during this Easter, whether individually or as a family. I invite readers to share their ideas in the comments on this post. And may Easter become for us a season when, to borrow language from The Collect for Sundays in the Morning Prayer service, God makes us glad with the 50 days’ remembrance of the glorious resurrection of his Son our Lord. (BCP, p. 98)

Host an Easter Feast in the Company of the Saints:

Dining with the Saints

Cooking with the Saints

Follow your meal with a viewing of Babette’s Feast.

Put on an Easter soundtrack:

Handel’s Messiah, especially Parts II and III

Rise Up My Love — Healey Willan

Easter Oratorio — Bach

Andrew Peterson’s Resurrection Letters, Prologue, I, and II

Read an Easter Book/Devotional during Easter:

Bread & Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide by Sarah Arthur

Living the Resurrection by Eugene Peterson

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

John Mark Comer’s description of how his family observes the Sabbath sounds a lot like “celebration rest.” See his chapter on Sabbath in Part III, “Four practices for unhurrying your life,” as well as his corresponding online workbook, How to Un-Hurry.

Pray Through the Stories of the Resurrection:

Many of us have some familiarity with the Stations of the Cross, but few of us are aware that Pope John Paul II developed the Stations of the Resurrection, 14 stations that help Christians enter into the story of our Lord’s resurrection with as much devotion and detail. You can follow along with a video version of the Stations of the Resurrection.

The passages from Surprised by Hope are from pages 256-57, Kindle edition.

The passages from Scripture and the Authority of God are from pages 143-74.


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