Easter brings a 4-day weekend with Bank Holiday Friday (aka Good Friday when I lived in Manila) and Easter Monday (which, thank you God, is also a bank holiday!). Easter also brings a lot of chocolate and it’s been a tradition at the firm that I work in for the shareholders of the firm to give us Easter eggs before the office closes for the long weekend. Easter also brings a time for me to rest. I’ve not been a 100% per cent for a while, so I am thankful for the statutory time off!
Easter was quite different for me when I lived in the Philippines. If you didn’t already know, the Philippines is a predominantly Christian country, where approximately 86% of the population are Roman Catholic (I belong to the 2% of the population, I think, who are protestant – I am a proud card-carrying Methodist!). So Easter is a big thing in the Philippines – almost as big as Christmas. But I think, whilst Christmas is a celebration of blessings (both spiritual and fiscal), Easter is more solemn…more devotional.
The country begins it’s slow down on Palm Sunday and all but shuts down in the afternoon of Holy Wednesday. The proceedings begin on Maundy Tuesday, the evening when the ritual of the Last Supper is celebrated and everyone goes into a collective retrospective, spiritually contemplative and prayerful mood. When I was younger, before the introduction of the mainstream cable TV subscription, local TV stations would cease their usual telecasts and it would only be “religious” films on TV (mostly about the last days of Christ, and Father Peyton TV specials). Children weren’t allowed to play and we were all told to be quiet when we did laugh out loud.
When I started participating in my local church activities, the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday were very busy. There were choir practices for the services that would be held for the evening of the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday evening) where we would have the ceremonial washing of the feet, the Last Supper and the service would end by the congregation stripping the altar of all its adornments in preparation for the afternoon service during Good Friday. On Good Friday, there is a service in church where the focus of reflection is Jesus’ seven last statements whilst he was crucified on the cross. I have been privileged to offer a reflection before. There is a lot of hymn singing and the whole week is prayerful.
On Easter Sunday, most of the Catholic population celebrate Christ’s resurrection in an early morning (usually at around 4 or 5AM) ritual called Salubong (sah-loo-bong). It is, most probably, the imagined reenactment of Jesus and Mary’s first meeting after Jesus has risen from the dead. I’ve always known the Methodists (and other protestant congregations) to have an ecumenical (all are welcome) Easter sunrise service that usually starts at 5AM. There is much singing and celebrating and then we all go back to our local churches to have our Easter Sunday services. There is more celebrating via a church lunch following the requisite Easter egg hunt for the children.
The season of Lent is slightly different for me these days. Since moving to the UK, because I’ve never really properly attached myself to a church, I don’t have the same Christian fellowship during these times. I don’t have a choir to practice songs with, or a service to attend, during most times. I know I should try to find a church, to regularly attend a Sunday service, to find Christian fellowship. I find that whilst Easter still means a lot to me, because it represents the day Christ offered Himself to die for my sins, the day I became free from the shackles of death, it has become less contemplative.
I find that the life I live is more socially secular and more personally spiritual. But I think that because of this lack of Christian fellowship, something is missing in my life. I miss talking to people about my faith. I miss sharing how little things in my life represent God’s goodness. I miss talking about the instantness of God’s answers to my prayers. I miss talking about how blessed I am to have certain people in my life because they represent God’s unconditional and illimitable love for me. I miss talking about how amazing it is when I see God’s hand in the turn of events in my life.
While I lament the lack of opportunity to shout my faith from the mountaintops, I am also thankful for this personal stillness in my life. I am reminded of the time when, in church, our youth group decided to focus on the internal spiritual growth of the church youth. We decided that we needed to establish our fellowship first, before reaching out to other churches. Because we felt the need for the bonds to be strengthened internally first before we reached out. I think my move to the UK symbolised that as well. Because after years of serving in church, after years of sharing myself, I needed to look inwardly and reassess my faith. I needed to tend to my own relationship with my God and my Saviour Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never felt removed from God, there wasn’t a sense that I wasn’t connected to God. It was just I was letting Him do all the carrying (I don’t think He minded, but I know He would have loved it if I reached out to Him and carried my end of the yoke). It is a relationship I have with my God.
I mean, ultimately, it is a commensalist relationship we have with our God. Because whilst God can be without me (I am thankful that God loves me, and that this has never been a factor in His great plans for me), I am completely nothing without Him. I benefit because I am with Him. I am blessed because I am with Him. Life would be a lot less if I existed without Him.
But I want to continue building my relationship with my God. I stopped for a while. I focused on myself but wanting to establish myself without His guidance is an exercise in futility. Having my own way is what He has given us, we are free to make our own choices. But ultimately, if we are not guided by Him and if we do not surrender to His will, we might as well walk our life journeys in circles. When you do not have your internal compass you won’t get to where you need to go.
God has been waiting for me to properly come back, to pay attention to my relationship with Him. He has been a constant presence in my life, in the people He has put in my life to remind me that I’ve not been walking the walk. I am truly thankful that we have these Christian rituals during the year. Because they serve as good reminders – of God’s love for us, and our responsibilities to Him.