September 21, 2020

Let the Easter Parties Begin!

By Chaplain Mike

This excerpt is from a sermon by N.T. Wright, “Resurrection and the Calling of the Christian,” given at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church – Roanoke, Virginia, March 2007. The message is on Luke 15 and the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” which Wright explains is a paradigmatic story in Luke’s Gospel about the nature of the Kingdom. God and heaven are rejoicing that, through Jesus, “sinners” are hearing the Good News and receiving a lavish welcome home. However, the “righteous” are not getting it. They stand to the side and question what all the partying is about. The parable also implies the story of Jesus himself, who was cast out into the “far country” where he suffered, yet has now returned through resurrection. The Father is calling everyone to join in the festivities!

…one of the main things I want to say this morning is that we as Christians must learn how to celebrate Easter properly. We in the West aren’t good at this. I was talking to somebody over coffee who had been, for several years, living in Greece, and we were agreeing that the Eastern Orthodox do their Easter celebrations much better than we do in the West. We know how to do Lent, the forty days of fasting. Many in my denomination are taking Ash Wednesday more seriously; we’ve got purple banners and goodness knows what. And we have Lent courses for this and that; it’s a serious time and we take it seriously. Then we get to Palm Sunday, and we do the whole thing with donkeys and processions and palm crosses and so on. Then we go through Holy Week with special services. We sing the great Bach Passions, some of the finest music ever written. And 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 and preaching the cross, and even in some traditions, kissing the cross.

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 passes knowledge. The way of the cross is the only way to go.

But my friends, we are Easter people! We stand on resurrection ground. Easter is not only our greatest party (much greater by the way than Christmas—whatever you do on Christmas you ought to do ten times as much at Easter); Easter is the only reason we are here at all! St. Paul says in 1Corinthians, “If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile and you are 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 studied disregard for normal propriety?

I don’t know how you do it here, but in my tradition today, alas, after forty days of Lenten fasts, 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 is 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. 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 streets. 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 which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?”


  1. What a great idea! It reminds me of Peterson’s little book “Living the Resurrection”. Of course on the down side, Wall Street would also love the idea but for a different reason.

  2. now that is an Easter sermon- beautiful.

  3. I never even began to discover Easter until I entered the post-evangelical wilderness, so much more to experience!

  4. Splashing water everywhere? Blowing trumpets? Champagne at breakfast? Sign me up!

    In all seriousness, though, this is food for thought.

  5. Sounds good to me, too. But first I need to get in touch with the practical significance of Jesus’ resurrection.

    I know it all in theory, it’s been drilled into me for 43 years of pageantry, song, and rhetorical sermons. I’m bored out of my mind with it all. Just doesn’t mean anything anymore (a tragic thing to admit). Kind of like a piece of music that is so moving with its beauty — but if you hear it over and over again for a long period of time it is drained of its profundity (& starts to become a source of frustration.) Compounded by the fact that I know this is the last thing I am supposed to be frustrated by.

    I cringe so say this, but it is 100% pure & honest: Jesus resurrection…… so what?

    There, I said it — in the hope that I can get beyond it.

    So, practical applications anyone? of Jesus’ resurrection that I can get genuinely champagne-celebratory about? (emphasis on “practical”, as opposed to lofty & theological).

    • Pam, I hope you’ll join us for the series we’ll be doing throughout the next 50 days—”Living as Easter People.” We’ll be looking at NT texts that answer, “So what?”

      I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

  6. I’ve been a member at St. John Lutheran for about eight years now. This sermon was a culmination of several lectures he gave at different venues in the Roanoke area at that time. If anyone has the time, it is a sermon well worth listening to.
    There are many of us that hold this message in our hearts and try to make the Easter celebration last longer than one day, but for both the culture and the church, it seems a difficult task. It seems that at least for the church, sacrificial living is understandable during Lent, but Easter resurrection living is more difficult to understand. We need a better theology of the resurrection I think. Wright has been doing a good job in starting this conversation and challenging the way we think about what resurrection life looks like.

  7. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Easter season is celebrated for 50 days! Within the Church, it is reflected in our liturgy and in special studies, lectures, etc. But our priests have encouraged us to “do something joyful” for ourselves and others every day of Eastertide. It’s a wonderful celebration after a long, long Lent.

  8. I appreciate this post. This was the first year I didn’t have any desire (no, it was deliberate avoidance) of egg decorating, egg hunts and the like. My children didn’t miss it. I told my husband last night that it wasn’t with a legalistic spirit nor judgement toward others, but that the muddy-ing up of the meaning of Easter with silly things harmed me. I grew up knowing that the egg huntsand Easter bunny were not associated with the things of the bible (though we had egg hunts at church!), but I looked forward to them more than the church service. In some ways, I think the secular Easter influences clouded my vision of the cross.
    This year, I didn’t want any of it. And I didn’t miss any of it.

    I agree that Easter ought to outshine Christmas and any other holiday Americans and American Christians celebrate. Not, though, by egg hunts and ham…but by meaningful contemplation of the reality of what Jesus did for us by not only dying but rising. Evangelical Christianity (religion) led me far from where I find myself today. Phew.

    Just a sinner saved by grace, Kris

  9. Some great ideas Chaplain Mike!

  10. “We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place.”

    I have an image of someone firing off a Super Soaker from the pulpit. How cool would that be.