This year, I had the privilege of celebrating Holy Week with our brothers and sisters here. There are lots of things in my life that are different from I’m used to, and that includes in the church. But overall this week, I found so many more things that were similar than different. It was comforting to find so many traditions the same here as they are in the United States. The truth that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again is the same in all corners of the world!
When I arrived for the Maundy Thursday service, I was delighted to receive a printed liturgy. Usually, we have a bulletin with the order of the service, but not a printed liturgy. For this service, we had a liturgy with familiar words, like “Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” I was slightly amused that during the pre-service song practicing time, the leader also took the time to make sure we would know how to participate using the printed liturgy. She practiced, “when the pastor says this….. you say:” and we all responded. The congregation caught on quickly, but it was probably wise to make sure we knew how it would work. On the other hand, there were several prayers during communion that were not written out but everyone (except me, it seemed) knew. One of them was Psalm 51 (or part of it) and the other one I never figured out what it was (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the Lord’s Prayer). I would have found it helpful if they were also printed or projected.
It was beautiful to take communion during this service, when we especially remembered Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, how it fulfilled the Passover, and Jesus’ death. I was very thankful that I was able to participate in this service. It is probably one of my favorites since I arrived here.
The church also had services Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, along with Good Friday services. The pastors and volunteers must be exhausted.
Then, Sunday morning arrived! In Chinese, Easter is literally “again alive festival.” The sanctuary was decorated with butterflies and beautiful calla lilies lining the front of the platform! The tone of the music was celebrative as we sang “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” “Low in the Grave He Lay,” “Because He Lives.” After the service, they gave everyone a boiled egg to take with them. It was appropriately festive and beautiful.
The highlight of the service was probably the large group of people who were baptized. In the photo above, the people facing the congregation are probably about half of the group that were baptized during that service. There were also baptisms at the three other services that day. I actually knew one of the people who was baptized in this service! I hadn’t realized he would be baptized (if my Chinese was better, I probably would have known, because we were talking about baptism last Sunday at lunch), but I was excited when I saw him at the front. He’s not in the picture though, because there were a couple of pillars blocking my view of him. This particular congregation baptizes by sprinkling, during the service. Some other congregations have separate baptism services and baptize by immersion, at least in the summer. In my congregation, people are supposed to have been believers for a year, be 18 years old, and finish a couple of classes before they can be baptized. They also had to attend a rehearsal on Sunday afternoon in the last couple of weeks to practice the mechanics. We went out to a Japanese restaurant in a nice hotel after the service to celebrate my friend’s baptism, and he described the great joy and peace he had when he was baptized! Thanks be to God!