Chris Thompson: Easter asks for our joy, not our spending

Chris Thompson
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News Chris Thompson, church visits blogger, photographed in ADN studio on Thursday evening, January 23, 2014. Erik Hill

The march through Lent to Holy Week is almost over. Good Friday is remembered for the solemn terror of the crucifixion. As the annual pilgrimage to Easter now concludes, there is only one commemoration day left. That is today, Holy Saturday. Then on Sunday we'll remember the resurrection of our Lord, with thanksgiving and joy.

According to industry analysts Ibis World, Easter has become America's fifth most expensive spending season, mostly for candy, flowers, and clothing. It's unfortunate so many retailers take advantage of this, and Christian consumers let them. Like Christmas, Easter seems to have pagan origins for most of its symbols: Easter rabbits, chocolate eggs, Easter eggs and so forth. Clearly Easter has also been co-opted for commercial reasons just as Christmas.

There will be some who mock and scorn those who commemorate Easter and the resurrection, but Christian faith in the Biblical record is strong. Christians are entitled to our strong beliefs in the resurrection. Too many Christians roll over and play dead when Internet trolls attack these themes. Stand up and be proud of your beliefs.

In his book "Surprised by Hope: Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church," N.T. Wright shares that Easter "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." He goes on to ask: "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."

Sadly, one large, well-known local church is preying again on the human mind by reminding parishioners in special mailings that it's time for the "30 pieces of silver" offering, as if one could pay for salvation by loosening up the purse strings. "Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Easter is the time of year we honor Jesus by giving a 'Thirty Piece Offering.'" "To betray Jesus is unthinkable," it adds elsewhere. Interestingly, this church does not observe Lent, so they've not gone through 40 days of self-examination of the life and encountering our mortality. It might be different if they adopted Lenten practices.

Curiously, Jesus answered, when asked what one must do regarding the great commandment of the law, saying "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus wants our hearts, not our money. The "30 Piece Offering" sounds to me a bit like what Tetzel was peddling in Germany when Martin Luther proclaimed "The just shall live by faith."

In addition to the Bible, several books have significantly built my faith the past several years, especially with regard to Biblical testimony and the resurrection. In addition to the book mentioned above, there is N.T. Wright's "The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God," and Richard Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony."

Try to educate your family that the multiplicity of Easter practices you will observe do not really begin to represent the true significance of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Truly celebrate the meaning of Easter. Try those glasses of champagne as Easter's worthy of celebration.

Finally remember theologian Walter Brueggemann's words at a recent Church of the Brethren conference. "Act like Jesus was raised from the dead" and to "soar in Easter freedom."

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

 


By CHRIS THOMPSON
Church Visits