In a few hours I will be traveling to the airport to get on a plane to get back to the life I have in a country 6,754 miles away. While my visit was (too) short, it was (very) sweet. I got a chance to see my family, celebrate my father’s 80th birthday with him, laugh and bond with my brother and sister and hug my mum loads. I went to church and saw my church family and met the new additions to our growing spiritual family. I managed to see the dentist, stuff my face silly with food that might not be, for all intents and purposes, exactly ideal for a diabetic, experience Philippine traffic in all its stand still glory, learned to use Uber and Grab, melt in temperatures that I would usually consider a heatwave, see my hair snap into weird unruly waves, and marvel at how much the Philippines has changed (how we are considered a third world country with all these vehicles on the road and all these malls and condominium developments, I will never know).
I will be going back to colder weather and it is with a heavy heart that I leave my loved ones yet again (kung pwede lang magkasya kayong lahat sa maleta ko!). But my heart is full and my spirit is recharged. It’s trips like these that make me realise how much I have in my life and how blessed I have that the people in my life are in my life. For that I will always be thankful to God. I have new memories to tide me over until the next trip.
I grew up going to church every Sunday. I will even go as far as to say that I have 2 home churches, one that I grew up in and one where I grew up spiritually in. I went to Sunday school. I sang in the children’s choir. I eventually taught Sunday school and daily vacation church school. My summers were spent in church and I was there nearly everyday! I sang in the church chancel choir and completely immersed myself in all the church activities. I spent so much time in church that I think it would be natural for me to miss church at Easter.
I think it’s fair to say that Easter is one of the busiest weeks in the Christian calendar, apart from Christmas. Funnily enough, there is a Filipino term (Pasko ng Pagkabuhay) which translated means Christmas of the Resurrection. We start counting down to this week from Ash Wednesday. But it all starts unfolding on Palm Sunday, when Christians celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with a Palm Sunday service. The Catholics in the Philippines have their beautifully woven palm fronds blessed in church and they display this in their homes, mostly on their windows. I grew up in a Methodist church and while we didn’t have the blessing of palm fronds, children of the Sunday school class came into the church waving their palms to re-enact Jesus’ triumphant entry. This Sunday also marks the beginning of a very busy week.
I remember choir rehearsals in earnest because we would be singing during a series of services. Our church usually had a service for the last supper where we would have the washing of the feet ceremony. Our minister and members of the church would recreate the moment when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in a display of his humility and servanthood. We would have a communion service to commemorate the last time Jesus broke bread with his followers before his death and when he foretold of Judas’ betrayal.
One service that is closest to my heart is the Seven Last Words on Good Friday. We start off the service at one o’clock in the afternoon. We have seven speakers, a mixture of lay members and ministers, all speaking about the biblical basis of Jesus’ seven last statements. Interspersed with the short sermons are songs by the choir. The choir chronicles the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life with songs commemorating the kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ journey carrying the cross through the Via Dolorosa, His nailing on the cross, His message to His disciple entrusting his mother into his care and His subsequent surrender of His spirit and His life into His Father’s hands. Each song that we sings makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end because all the songs just underline the great sacrifice that The Lord undertook to save the world. And because the songs paint a picture of how it was to be there, it just shakes me down to my foundations. What it must have felt to be there!
We usually finish at three o’clock which is popularly believed to be the time of his death. After all the speakers have finished their messages, and the choir have sung all their songs, the church is stripped as a sign of mourning. Because Christ is dead and we are bereft without His divine presence.
Black Saturday is usually celebrated in silence, in contemplation. Nothing really happens on a Saturday. But the choir does try to sneak in a few hours of practice because we do have a sunrise service and an Easter Sunday service to sing in.
Easter Sunday is celebrated in so many ways. But my favourite is a sunrise start. We have an Easter sunrise service where messages of hope, joy and salvation resound in the sermons and the songs from the choir. As a Christian, it is lovely to greet the brand new rays of the sun with the reassurance that Christ is not dead, He is alive and sitting at His Father’s right hand and waiting to come back for all of us. We have an Easter Sunday service (yes, after the sunrise service, which is usually an ecumenical service with all the Christian churches in our community) that finishes with a lovely (and very traditional) Easter egg hunt for the children.
While I will enjoy the odd chocolate bunny and the occasional chocolate egg, and enjoy the bank holiday and the respite from the rat race, the reason for the season will always resonate in my heart. I will always know that Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, Christ’s ascension to heaven. It is the fulfillment of the promises in the Bible.
Easter will always bring me hope, joy and a wonderful reminder of my salvation by Christ, but I will always feel a twinge in my heart because I will be missing my church family and the fellowship of Christians that I grew up with. It is always wonderful to celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises with like-minded individuals.