01 May 2011

A Letter for Easter

I wrote this letter to my home congregation in Pennsylvania for the Easter Season.

Easter greetings from Durban!

My Easter holiday season has been absolutely wonderful so far. I attribute this in part to the fact that I have been 100% healthy the past few days and on the go ever since.

My Easter observance started when the Durban Central Parish Easter Rally started on Thursday evening. We had a Holy Communion service with a foot-washing ceremony included. Jesus provided a model of leadership based on being a servant to others. The foot-washing ceremony served as a powerful reminder to me of what my whole year in South Africa is all about.

Good Friday started off bright and early waiting for the taxi at 5:30am. The taxi didn't end up leaving until 6:45, but I got to the Ecumenical Good Friday service at the ICC just in time to hear the sermon. The most powerful part of the service was the procession through town to the city hall following the cross. I don't know how many thousands of people were marching through town with us, but it was certainly a unique and powerful experience for me.

Later on during the day, we had a service on the seven words of Jesus. Each congregation had one member reflect on one of the seven words for 10-15 min. The reflection that stuck with me the most was the one on "It is finished." The speaker cast it in the light of Jesus' work on Earth being finished. He then asked us to reflect on whether we have been true to God, become who we are supposed to be, and accomplished all that God has laid out for us during our time on Earth. If Jesus came today, would we be ready to go with him? Or would we have regrets of things we wish we had gotten to?

Easter Saturday began at noon for me and went straight through until 9am Easter Sunday. Now, this time wasn't all just one big church service. Most of Saturday afternoon and early evening was devoted to other, supporting activities. We had a time slot specifically dedicated to allowing groups to sing songs for the parish. During this time period, I offered a rendition of the Lord's Prayer. We also had a spirited debated on whether to classify social media as a blessing, or a curse. Now, my understanding was limited to the portions that were spoken in English (rather than isiZulu) and gauging the crowd's reaction to points made, but I gathered that both sides were making strong points. In the early evening, we watched a movie called The Cross and the Switchblade. The film was based on a true story about a small-town Pennsylvania preacher who went to New York City in the 1970's to work with gangs. The movie was a powerful reminder that love can always overcome hate and violence.

The serious praise and worship started around 10PM on Saturday. My favorite part of this time period happened at midnight. We started outside of the church in the grass near the road. We lit candles and proceeded to follow the cross back into the church bringing the light back. What followed was 30-45 min of pure exuberance as we sang chorus after chorus and everyone was dancing ecstatically. I wish I had had a video camera to record the pure joy of the moment. We had a long revival afterwards until about 5am. For those unfamiliar with what a revival is, it is essentially a period of time of singing choruses (short, repetative songs sung by the assembly for a few minutes each, usually including specific dances that go with them), with 5-10 minute testimonials or mini-sermons on various biblical texts given by various people within the assembly.

The main Easter Sunday service started at 5:30am. The service included the installation of members of one of the leagues of the church, IMbokodo.  The service was beautiful in many ways. The traditional Zulu service components made the service musically and spiritually beautiful. The sunrise gradually brightening the sanctuary made the service visually beautiful as well.

Overall, my Easter observance was long and exhausting, but worth absolutely every second! I was reinvigorated and felt the most alive I have felt in a long time. I have also had a chance to reflect upon what Easter is all about.

In Jesus' time, the Jewish authorities were obsessed with following a strict religious code. They felt that self-righteous adherence to this strict code would justify them and help to save them. Instead, they were missing the point of God's Law, which was to love one another and God as much as ourselves. Indeed, by trying to empower themselves for their own justification, they created a system which was oppressing others and going against the point of God's Love. Furthermore, no matter how hard they tried to justify themselves, they would always fall short.

Jesus' death and resurrection has provided a solution for the problems created with the self-righteous, self-justification system. We no longer have to worry about falling short of God's grace. Since nothing we do is ever going to be good enough to achieve salvation by ourselves, we are liberated from our bondage to our attempts at justification. Instead, we are empowered to love boldly without having to worry about whether our actions violate some strict religious code. Through grace, God has taken back the power of the Law which has always been love. I am grateful everyday for this wonderful gift God has granted us.

This Easter season is the perfect opportunity for us to take advantage of the freedom to love boldly. We should ask ourselves a few questions. How am I loving boldly? Is there any act of love I have the opportunity to pursue, but have been too afraid to do? What in my life is keeping me from loving others? God has granted us a gift; we should use it.

Peace be with you always!