It was about a dozen years ago that I heard N.T. Wright preaching in person for the first time. My wife and I thought that it would be fun to take our first child, still an infant, on a weekend long camping trip of the parking lot variety. We had several friends that did the same along with us. We must have seen the Anglican bishop do his thing at 4 or 5 different venues over a few days. We might have gotten into some other mischief, too.
Man alive… it was a great time.
Many things left a deep impression on me during that jaunt. Chief among them was Wright’s assertion that we have become so practiced at being morose during Lent that we have completely lost sight of the celebration of Easter, of Resurrection Day. That idea has been like a seed within me that has continued to grow over this last decade.
One of the things that entranced me the most with the good bishop was how many different styles of rhetoric he could embody. In one session he would speak in an almost purely scholastic manner of discourse. Then, on a Sunday morning, he preached the paint off the walls, as my mentor, Pastor Doug, would say. Afterward in Q&A at any of the sessions he was an easy and charming conversationalist.
So, try and imagine an ordained bishop, at the time also seated in the House of Lords, speaking in an accent that sounded just a saber shy of aristocracy. Somehow, from those lofty airs of the Queen’s English, he performed something very much like what I can only think to call slam poetry toward the end of one sermon. It was so provocative that he was only a hype man and an entourage away from a hip-hop video.
And then he galvanized me with something that I would have thought unutterable within the walls of a church. Now I know better. I think Chesterton would have delighted in the flippant reverence that animated him, the mirth permeating and infusing all things in his expressiveness. In speaking to us about the climax of the Lenten season, about the most holy focus of Christendom, about the Resurrection itself, he said,
“And make no mistake – I am talking about champagne for breakfast!”
I have not learned yet when it was in Church History that the celebration of Christmas became more exuberant than the celebration of Easter. The life of the very early Church was nowhere near as obsessed with Jesus’s birth to a virgin as they were with His victory over the cross. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get too caught up in the weeds. Please, don’t hear me saying that we over-celebrate Christmas. However, I do most emphatically want to state that we under-celebrate the Resurrection.
Would you like to begin the practice of changing that with me? It will take time, of course, as all worthy endeavors do. As we go through the rhythms of discipline and devotion throughout Lent, let us do it with a view toward the celebration and vivaciousness at its fulness. It has always been up to us to be the covenant-keeping people that saturate their culture with the very best kinds of life.
So, I won’t tell you what I’m giving up for Lent, at least not yet. But I will tell you that I am planning on copious amounts of champagne with a riotous group of friends on Resurrection Day. Would you like to join me in this holy institution of a newfound tradition?
It would be so much more fun if you did. Sure, they might call us gluttons and winebibbers once they catch wind of the soirée. And that accusation would have us in very good company, indeed.
To the world that is to come!
-C. T. Giles