Lent is well underway and with Easter occurring April 4 this year, readers looking for new approaches to the season will find much to ponder in new titles that offer deeper looks at the humanity, characteristics, and resurrection of Jesus. There are also new Lenten devotionals and two titles for tots that take a biblical turn rather than featuring the usual bunnies and egg-baskets.
Timothy Keller, pastor and bestselling author (The Reason for God, 2008; Making Sense of God, 2016), takes a deeper look at Easter in Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter (Penguin, Mar. 9). He mentions his current battle with cancer in the Preface, saying, “During a dark time for most of the world, and for me personally, as we all long and grasp for hope, there is no better place to look that the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
“When you are so closely confronted with death, like Keller has been since his diagnosis, it has a way of prioritizing your life,” said Brian Tart, president and publisher of Viking and Penguin Books. “The Easter story is exactly the hope we all need coming out of the global pandemic. It’s the promise of salvation after death.”
Tart points to Keller’s central message through his many books as, “God is the only thing that will never let us down. God is the only thing large enough to never fail us. This is where hope lives.”
For readers interested in making more sense of Jesus, around whose death and resurrection the Easter season revolves, look for Diana Butler Bass’ Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence (HarperOne, Mar. 30). As she says in the chapter on Jesus as Savior, “Indeed, [Jesus’] death was senseless, stupid, shameful, evil. It meant little other than silence without the next act—resurrection—God’s final word that even the most deadly of empires cannot destroy salvus (salvation, safety).”
Kathryn Hamilton, editor for the book, said, “If the message of Easter is that Jesus is alive and still active and present with us today, then how are we experiencing him in our modern world? Diana’s book breathes fresh life into the dogmatic answers about who Jesus is and why he matters.”
She adds, “I felt a physical relief at this love letter Diana has written about Jesus. Instead of stifling our experience of faith, we are free to learn, grow, and see where Jesus is taking us and will meet us down the road.”
Jesuit playwright and priest Bill Cain places readers inside Jesus’ consciousness in this first-person account of his life, in which Jesus experiences emotions and struggles as we all do. The Diary of Jesus Christ (Orbis Books, Mar. 17) “far from being merely a series of stories leading to the crucifixion and the glorified event of resurrection, [the book] allows us to see Jesus in our own lives with all its suffering and joys, and ever so subtly, invites us to become part of his world,” said Paul McMahon, acquisitions editor for Orbis.
The book, McMahon says, “offers truly unique insights into the events of the gospel, especially during the Lent/ Easter seasons.”
Studying Up on the Holy Day
Several other titles can be used for Lenten study including Thy Will Be Done: The 2021 Lent Book (Bloomsbury Continuum, out now) by Stephen Cherry, dean of King’s College Cambridge and director of Studies in Theology, Religion and Philosophy of Religion. The book covers the Lenten disciplines of self-examination, penance and forgiveness using the Lord’s Prayer as a base and draws on a wide swath of cultural figures ranging from Karl Barth to Michelle Obama.
“Thy Will Be Done shows how Lent can have a meaning for all contemporary men and women. The book encourages readers to reflect and contemplate,” said Bloomsbury Continuum publisher Robin Baird-Smith.
Other devotionals include Journey to the Cross: A 40-Day Lenten Devotional by pastor, event speaker, and best-selling author Paul David Tripp, (Crossway, out now), which uses short readings to help focus our lives on the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus; and The Hope of Easter: 40 Days of Reading and Reflection (Zondervan, out now), which features a collection of texts from the Gospel of John, as well as short reflections, journaling prompts, and space to write each day.
For a more focused approach to Easter, there is Suffering & Glory: Meditations for Holy Week and Easter (Lexham Press, Mar. 24), a gathering of some of the best Holy Week and Easter articles from Christianity Today. Contributors include Nancy Guthrie, Philip Yancey, J.I. Packer, Eugene H. Peterson, and Tish Harrison Warren.
Available now is The Characters of Easter: The Villains, Heroes, Cowards, and Crooks Who Witnessed History’s Biggest Miracle (Moody) by Daniel Darling, senior v-p at the National Religious Broadcasters, bestselling author, and speaker. In Characters, Darling introduces the unlikely collection of folks who witnessed the miracle of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Two for Children
Finally, two books for children offer a more serious look at the season, which is often relegated to cute bunnies and candy-colored illustrations when it comes to kids’ books. ‘Twas the Morning of Easter (Zondervan, out now) by Glenys Nellist, illustrations by Elena Selivanova, uses the cadence of ’Twas the Night Before Christmas to retell the story of Jesus’ resurrection.
The Thief Who Stole Heaven (Sophia Institute Press, out now) by international broadcaster, author, and Fox News contributor Raymond Arroyo, illustrated by Randy Gallegos, introduces youngsters to the legend of The Good Thief, Dismas. In Arroyo's telling, Dismas meets the infant Jesus as a young thief, then meets him again as both hang on the cross on the first Good Friday. The thief, who hurt and killed many, finally finds heaven at the end of his days.