When you grow up going to churches that celebrate the big church holidays in the year in relatively the same way, it is odd spending those holidays in places that don’t celebrate or mark those occasions in the same way- or at all.
Christmas was odd. It was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and we didn’t do anything church related. The only reason that we got any church in on Christmas Eve was because Will and I sought out an Anglican church that happened to have a midnight service. At least we got a taste of our normalcy.
Not so with Holy Week and Easter.
The church that Will and I are staying at near Jo-burg is also a non-denominational church, loosely connected to the church we were primarily working with in Durban. Every year for Easter this family of churches puts on a production to bring people into the church and “see those far from God encounter the abundant life of Christ…”. There are movie clips that they film and testimonies. We put together banquet tables and there were free hot-crossed buns and coffee. It was really cool and hip and interesting and any other week could have totally impacted me, but is this really Holy Week?
On Good Friday, the focus story was about Cain and Abel. Though we would all like to be Abel, the devoted victim of [a] cruel and hateful acts, we are Cain. We are the attackers, the evil ones filled with hate. We are the condemned. We are not innocent.
Okay, I can get on board with that. We are all in need of grace. We are all sinners. But Abel wasn’t perfect either, which seemed to be the implication. And it’s Good Friday. Cain and Abel can be a really powerful story to prove the point that the pastor here was trying to prove. It was actually a pretty good sermon. The video that accompanied it had people in tears. It was great! But it was not Good Friday to me.
I don’t think Jesus’ death was mentioned even once. As Will wrote in his previous post, the grief in Good Friday is supposed to be there. Our God died that day. It’s important to sit in that. Without the death, what do we have? There was no resurrection without true, complete, undeniable, death.
Then on Easter, again, really neat things happened. I was even in charge of the food decor. There was a really impacting testimony of one of the congregation members that was beautiful and moving and a perfect example of the life-changing power of Christ. The Bible story that was preached on was about David welcoming a lame man, Mephibosheth, to his table for all time because he was Jonathon’s son. What an amazing story of generosity! And then it was tied into how we are welcomed, lame as we are, to the banquet table of Christ. Again, this was fairly well done and the message was incredible, but it wasn’t Easter to me.
There was no “CHRIST IS RISEN!!!” That fact was not even mentioned. Yes, Christ was already risen in the past. But we were all born in the past too. We still commemorate our birthdays. We still mark the 4th of July with fireworks. Some things are worth remembering and making a big deal of every year. We celebrate the risenness of Christ on this anniversary every year because it is important! Though we know Christ is already risen, the fact that he has completely come back from total deadness is the reason that we call him Savior. This is the reason we have Christianity. This is the reason we live and breathe and have new life!!!! It is important, nay imperative that we make a big deal out of Easter. We are Easter people.
Granted, as a “denominational” I have certain expectations that go along with Holy Week. I revel in hearing the earth-shattering story of all that happened to my Lord that week. That he was honored and adored on Palm Sunday for the glorious man/God he was. That he ate dinner with his betrayer and said that the salvific power of Holy Communion was even for him. That his friends both stood up for him and denied him. That he was beaten within an inch of his life and still would not deny the love he had for the world. That he promised the criminal he was dying with that they would be together in paradise. That God died…
….and then kicked death in the face and rose again.
This story is a story that I could never take for granted. A story that must be told over and over again. We must write it on our hearts and proclaim it with our lips.
Holy Week is not just another week. Easter is not just another Sunday.
It is the week for Christians. It is the Sunday for Christians
and for the whole world.
I’m all for creativity and am super impressed with the time, effort, and heart that was put into the production of last weekend. But I wish it would have been a different weekend.
The most important, the only message that matters on that day is this:
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!