Today is February 14, so naturally stores are filled with flowers, candy, and greeting cards for those last-minute Valentine’s Day shoppers. But this year, February 14 also marks a “holiday/holy-day” of far more significance for the Church–Ash Wednesday. However, many in my tradition (Southern Baptist) have little knowledge of or concern for Ash Wednesday. Unfortunately, I find this lack of knowledge and concern disappointing. The season of Lent has much to teach us–all the more in today’s materialistic and self-focused culture! Last year during the season of Lent I read two books that I highly recommend. The first, To the Cross by Christopher Wright, I read on a weekly basis leading up to Easter. The second, The Scripture, the Cross, and the Power of God by N. T. Wright I read during Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter) following his recommended schedule in the book.
To the Cross by Christopher J. H. Wright
In To the Cross, Christopher Wright has collected sermons he preached at All Souls Church on various texts regarding Jesus’ final week. These sermons are well-written, easily accessible, and insightful. A number of Wright’s points were powerful and impactful. For example, he emphasizes how the mocking thief tells Jesus to save himself and us, but Wright points out that this was precisely something Jesus could not do, since saving others meant giving up himself. Certainly the weakest part of Wright’s book is the insufficient clarity and precision in which he tries to speak of the separation of the Father and Jesus at the cross (78-79), something he seems to then more properly deny in the next sermon when he says there can be no separation between Father and Son in the outpouring of God’s wrath on sin (100-101). Overall, however, I found this to be an excellent resource to read for Lent devotionals and I highly recommend it.
The Scriptures, the Cross, and the Power of God by N. T. Wright
This short book by N.T. Wright is a collection of reflections for devotional study during Holy Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday and working toward Easter morning, these nine reflections (one per day, two on Maundy Thursday) look into Jesus’ final week and highlight, as the book’s title suggests, how Jesus’ death was both the fulfillment of Scripture and a demonstration of the power of God. Wright does a phenomenal job of exploring these texts in their gospel contexts while also providing profound insight into the meaning of these events in a larger biblical and historical context. He especially notes the way in which Jesus is the one who brings heaven and earth together, both at the cross (which symbolizes this union) and in his resurrection (which serves as the dawning of a new creation). This is an excellent way to reflect during Holy Week and to prepare for Easter celebration.