Today is the first day of Holy Week, though actually, it’s also a bit more than that: Palm Sunday is an interruption in Lent that manages somehow to lop off the next three days of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from the rest of Lent and then leave them, in a manner of speaking, just hanging there like a dangerous cul-de-sac of distraction and lost focus. But be that as it may, the triumph that Palm Sunday re-enacts is also a powerful counter-point to what lies ahead before week’s end. Palm Sunday’s re-enacted drama of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is for us Christians only a dress rehearsal of what will occur when the Christ returns as Lord of the New Jerusalem, of the new Heaven and Earth.
Such talk as this has not been much engaged in of late, of course. Understandably, there’s a certain squeamishness on the part of many Christians when we are forced to get down to the brass tacks of what we believe. Some–many, perhaps–of the fundamental elements of basic Christian thought are as susceptible to ridicule as they are hard to defend with logic. Moreover, we live in a christianized culture where one can function quite easily and fully without ever having to parade the defining particularities of one’s faith around for all to see. In truth, a lot of us out-right cringe at those Christians who do insist on over-much public display and parading of doctrinal positions. And then there is always the unfortunate fact that talk of end-times and second comings has been conducted, for the last forty years in this country anyway, not with dignity and prayer among the faithful so much as in popular books best known for their horrors and their ability to chill and thrill.
I’m not sure of the rules of blogging…or even if there are any operative rules at all. But I am reasonably sure that most folks who bother to read a blog would prefer for it to contain content itself rather than refer to content that is located elsewhere. By and large, I think that’s a pretty good and fair principle, if not a rule; so I try to adhere to it…but just not today. Today I want to talk about content to be found off-site and elsewhere. Today I want to talk about a book.
Talking about books is what I used to do for a living, more or less. It is certainly something I still do a lot of in conversation and lectures. But rarely, if ever, in all these many years of talking and writing about books, have I found myself so stunned and so persuaded by a book that I hesitate even to discuss it, lest I err by omission or, by some misstep, deter another from reading for him or her self. Surprised by Hope by N. T. Wright, however, is such a book.
Released in this country in conjunction with Lent, Easter, and the Great Fifty Days that follow, Surprised by Hope is a crystal-clear, powerful course-correction for all of us–Christian or otherwise–who think that eternity is somewhere “over there” or “in the sweet by-and-by.” It is a sobering call for Christians to return to the basic operating principle of a redeemed creation whose redemption began on Easter, is presently in process, and will be completed with the final Triumphal Entry. It is also somewhere between a death knell and an impediment to a whole lot of 19th and 20th century conversation about how life for the faithful is only a matter of journeying to somewhere else through a vale of tears and temptations that are to be passively endured.
In other words, and in my opinion, if you want to know what Easter is about, get yourself a copy of Surprised by Hope and hunker down for the read of a lifetime….literally.