Tag Archives: NT Wright

Easter’s here – it’s time for celebration

Western Christianity’s 40-day Lenten trek is almost over. Sunday is Easter, which means wonderful celebrations at many churches. Easter and Pentecost were the earliest celebrations of the Christian church, and the only two holy days they observed until the fourth century. Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection, where sin, death and Satan were conquered. Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit’s descending on believers as recorded in the Book of Acts, shortly after Christ returned to His Father.

At the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., Easter Sunday was finally declared so as to regularize the date of observance. Previously, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was commemorated around Passover, as many of the early Christians were of Jewish descent. Many scholars believing the Last Supper was actually a Passover meal.

Some pagan customs and nomenclature have seemingly crept into Easter celebrations over the years; but many scholars contest this, maintaining those claims and practices are overstated. Scholars debate the degree to which customs from outside Christianity have become incorporated into Easter celebrations, but clearly, and unfortunately, these customs have been given life by churches to such an increasing extent that, as with Christmas, the real and the fantasy become blurred. By this I’m referring to Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, egg-laying bunnies, elaborate feasting, personal clothing and gifts, all of which make Easter the fourth-largest spending occasion of any U.S. holiday. Easter should not be about us; instead it should be about celebrating humanity’s release from the bondage of sin by a loving Savior in a miraculous shower of grace through his personal sacrifice.

If you are a parent, Easter provides teachable moments to share the true story of Jesus and his life with your children. Past those parenting years? It’s a great time to reconnect on a personal level with the truth and power of the Passion narrative described in the Gospels. Has it been awhile since you’ve attended a church service? Easter is a great time to go. Regular attendee? Why not invite a friend to accompany you. Welcome people you don’t recognize; they could be guests or regular members, but what a great conversation starter. It’s not complicated; just approach someone you don’t recognize and say, “Hi, my name is such and such, and I don’t recognize you. I just wanted to welcome you to our church. Happy Easter!” It’s a friendly thing to do, sure to start a conversation and leave a smile. Try leaving nearby parking spaces for guests and infrequent attendees, if at all possible. (Pastors, your church communications team should have already suggested  this to members). Easter and Christmas are the times of the year when churches receive the most visitors.

Having doubts about the resurrection? Don’t fret. Personally, I believe the arguments for Christianity based on manuscript evidence and textual scholarship to be most compelling. Many wonderful books are available to build your faith in the veracity of biblical scripture. I highly recommend “The Resurrection of the Son of God,” by N.T. Wright, an Anglican bishop, and Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.” A list of these and other faith-building titles are on my website.

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said?,” writes pastor and apologist Tim Keller in “The Reason for God.” “The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” In another book, “Surprised by Hope,” Wright declares, “Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins …”

Locally, I’ve experienced wonderful Easter celebrations but tend to steer away from services where the pastor adopts a self-aggrandizing approach, appearing larger than life. Easter is very important to me but gets lost when it’s treated as a subject for entertainment or self-building. The services I’ve loved have been warm and personable, with pastors loudly proclaiming “Christ is risen!” to which one replies, “He is risen indeed!” Participative hymns of celebration are wonderful. A 100-plus-decibel praise band usually drowns out audience participation with its blast of noise. Easter celebrations should be on the same level of personal intensity one would give a winning Super Bowl or World Series team. Sermons reminding us of the love God has for each of us through Christ’s gift of grace reconnects me to the meaning of it all. Easter should not be a time for private, personal agendas of any church or pastor.

For many of my ADN writing years I’ve loved repeating a fantastic Wright quote from “Surprised by Hope” as it inspires a true re-examination of the way we celebrate. “Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday,” Wright says, “It ought to be an eight-day festival, 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?”

I’m looking forward to celebrating yet another Easter here with you. My champagne will be iced. May God’s grace be with you.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog,churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Easter is here — let’s celebrate

By the time most read this, Lent will be over, capping a period of self-examination, possibly prayer and fasting, and maybe taking up something new or giving up something truly harmful. This weekend Western Christianity celebrates Easter, while Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter (Pascha) a bit later due to differences between Julian and Gregorian calendars.

Does Easter need to be connected with spending?

One of the first things that came to my mind as I wrote this column is that Easter, despite its strong religious overtones, has become a major spending holiday for many Americans, with narcissistic displays of self-gratification. Easter is really not about us, is it? But according to the National Retail Federation, Easter spending places it in the middle of major American holidays. NRF notes shoppers are expected to spend more than $16.4 billion this year — or about $141 per person — with food, clothing, candy, and gifts heading the list. Easter spending positions it immediately after Valentine’s and Mother’s Day. That is a huge amount of money ostensibly honoring an event of religious significance, but really honoring oneself. In reality Easter is a celebration of the heart. Clearly Christmas and the other related winter holidays, which also have religious significance, score first place, topping $600 billion. Together, Easter and Christmas spending in the U.S. represents an amount larger than the national budgets of all but the nine wealthiest nations. Neither event really needs to be more than heartfelt commemorations expressing gratitude to the Godhead for dealing with the problem of sin.

What is Easter about?

For Christians, the resurrection of Jesus is the event distinguishing Christianity from all other faiths. In the events of Holy Week, culminating in Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the very last events of Jesus’ life are noted and commemorated. Easter is the capstone following the last week of Lent. The prophecies and the predictions of Jesus are fulfilled in the empty tomb. For Christians, Easter represents the ransom paid for sin, and believers in the promise can live without the burden of sin and guilt. Therefore on Easter, we celebrate this wonderful event with music, song, rejoicing and sharing the good news of a risen Lord. Some celebrate with Easter sunrise services patterned after Scripture references to the resurrection being early, and some celebrate in their churches at regular worship times. An excellent volume about the resurrection is theologian N.T. Wright’s weighty and exhaustively researched volume “The Resurrection of the Son of God.” If you are a doubter, this is book may well contain your answers. Wright notes in this book that “resurrection is never a redescription of death, but always its overthrow and reversal.”

Should Easter be only a one-day celebration?

Some faiths do not observe Easter, claiming their faith daily observes the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. A few other faiths note Easter’s pagan origin, or development over time that may have incorporated other non-Christian practices, as a reason they do not observe Easter.

Again, Wright —  in his wonderful volume “Surprised by Hope” — writes, “Easter ought to be an eight-day festival, with Champagne served after Morning Prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias, 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? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system.” In this book, Wright devotes many paragraphs to the ways we could be celebrating Easter. Few faiths maintain such enthusiasm for the celebration beyond the day itself, but it’s a worthy goal.

Easter celebrations of note

The Thursday, April 2 edition of Alaska Dispatch News features a two-page ad of various Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter celebrations being held in our community. I’ve found it a reliable source of information about the many service options being offered locally.

I discovered that ChangePoint and ChangePoint NE were holding Easter services at UAA’s Alaska Airlines Center with services at 9:30 a.m. and noon. Five services between the two congregations can be collapsed into two at this new and spacious event facility at UAA. Reaching out to Adam Legg, ChangePoint’s creative arts and communications pastor, I asked why they chose this venue for Easter services.

“First, we wanted to make it as easy as possible for our church family to invite their friends, neighbors, co-workers and family to join them on Easter Sunday,” Legg said. “Our vision at ChangePoint is ‘Life in Christ for every Alaskan and the world beyond,’ and we absolutely believe that every person who calls ChangePoint ‘home’ is involved in that vision. Second, this amazing facility allows us the space to welcome the community to join us. Last Easter we were at max capacity at two of our four Easter services. Third, we have already found that a neutral location may cause people who are typically averse to attending a church, to reconsider. For us to step out of our building, and go to a prominent location in our city, makes it easier for people to check us out. We absolutely cannot wait to join thousands of people at the Alaska Airlines Center next Sunday as we celebrate the risen Jesus!”

I plan on attending one of ChangePoint’s services, and also a sunrise service. If you recognize me, please come over and introduce yourself.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann, in his startling poem “Easter in the Very Belly of Nothingness,” concludes with, “O Friday God — Easter the failed city, Sunday the killing fields. And we, we shall dance and sing, thank and praise, into the night that holds no more darkness.”

That’s what Easter’s about. Happy Easter!

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

N.T. Wright, a New Testament Scholar Worth Discovering

As a follow-up to my story on St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, I want to introduce readers of every religious persuasion to N.T. Wright, a biblical scholar of depth who makes the bible so much more understandable. He is the Church of England’s (British counterpart of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.) Bishop of Durham.
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One of World’s Top Biblical Scholars
Bishop Wright is considered to be one of the top biblical scholars in the world. A New Testament scholar, he is an extremely prolific writer with dozens of books published. A religion professor friend recently observed, “He puts the rest of us to shame for the quantity and quality of his output.” His books are very readable, easily communicating a wealth of knowledge and understanding.

Wow, can he write

Several recent books of note by Bishop Wright are:
The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture
In this book, he shows how both evangelicals and liberals misread scripture and further shares how to restore the Bible’s authority today for guiding the church through its many controversies.
Surprised by Hope
For years Christians have been asking, “If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?” It turns out that many believers have been giving the wrong answer. Wright biblically argues it is not heaven.
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
Simply Christian walks the reader through the Christian faith step by step and question by question. With simple yet exciting and accessible prose, Wright challenges skeptics by offering explanations for even the toughest doubt-filled dilemmas, leaving believers with a reason for renewed faith. This book is the first book since C.S. Lewis’s Mere Chrisianity that simply explains what Christianity is.

A Treasure Chest of N.T. Wright Resources

N.T. Wright lectures widely. Audio or video recordings are easily available for download over the internet. His sermons, writings, and links to many of these audio and video recordings can be found at the Unofficial N.T. Wright Page. He was featured this week on the Steven Colbert show aptly providing a dynamic testimony despite Colbert’s comedic interjections. This link will take you to the clip. Click here to go to the N.T. Wright/Colbert exchange.

I urge you to step outside the box and explore the biblical insights of this major Christian scholar.