….well actually, this year, we DID celebrate Easter.
And it was special.
We attended a moving Service of Shadows on Thursday night, followed by a sobering Good Friday service.
It was delightful to have our young-adult children stay with us over the Easter weekend. Together we went to watch the outstanding movie Risen in our little local theatre.
Then a joyous Resurrection Sunday worshiping with our lovely home church.
He is risen indeed!
Christ’s death and resurrection.
The cornerstone of our faith.
The reason we have hope.
God’s mind-boggling plan from the beginning of time.
And yet, amidst the joy of celebrating Easter with our parents, children and church family, there lingered a sense of unease. How DO we as Christians reconcile the massive onslaught of commercialism? Chocolate eggs, cute bunnies, more chocolate, Easter markets, Easter hat parades at school.
Do people, whether Christian or not, even stop and think about WHY we happily pay ridiculous prices for fancily wrapped eggs or rabbits?
Why are there eggs or rabbits anyway?
And if these things truly originated with worship of a pagan goddess of fertility and/or worship of the sun, should we have a part in it?
Then there’s the argument that even if the Easter celebration has pagan roots, it’s obviously since been Christianized, so maybe we should just rejoice and celebrate wholeheartedly because now it does have a Christian meaning.
Let’s call it “Resurrection Sunday” maybe, instead of Easter?
But if so, what about the big chocolate Cadbury’s Easter Egg at Woolworths that tempts me with its mouth-watering sphere of inconceivable calories?
If I buy it, am I not only perpetuating a pagan festival but contributing to the coffers of commercialism which blatantly exploit a spiritual celebration?
Or … am I simply making too much of this whole thing – just go ahead and buy the egg and enjoy it on my way to church!
Returning to one’s home culture after time in another very different culture always seems to spawn different perspectives and a basket of questions.
Are eggs and bunnies just a lovely part of our culture in 2016 and so I should embrace it along with “the real meaning of Easter” – my Saviour and all He did for me.
Or, possibly, is that just an excuse? And I’m in danger of being no different to tribal cultures who syncretise, or blend, the Gospel with their old beliefs?
You see, last year we DIDN’T celebrate Easter.
Around Easter 2015 I was so disturbed, saddened and moved by how some Filipinos celebrate Easter in the cities that I poured out my heart about it in my journal one night.
Some of the photos I’ve included below are shocking. They make me feel like sobbing. But we don’t apologize for including them, because the reality is even more appalling.
I hate to see anyone in pain, but I hate even more that these poor people think they are somehow earning extra favor with God.
Here’s what I wrote this time last year …
Lynne’s Journal – 6 April, 2015.
Why we didn’t celebrate Easter this year.
Last Sunday there was not an Easter bunny or a scrap of chocolate in sight. No-one greeted me at the church door with a jubilant exclamation “He is Risen!”
There was no poignant Service of Shadows the night before Good Friday, no dawn service to commemorate the crucifixion and no beautifully moving hymns …
Lo, in the grave He lay, Jesus my Saviour…
Rather, on Easter Sunday 2015 we sat squished amongst 150 or so Banwaon Christians in the mountains of the Mindanao rainforest for the weekly batbat – “believers’ meeting”.
The morning was warm and humid and I was thankful for any small breeze that wafted into the packed wooden meeting house with its split palm floor.
Just an ordinary meeting day in the village.
Great missionaries we are, huh?
Come to the ends of the earth to fulfil the Great Commission and most years, if we’re in the tribe at Easter time, we completely forget about it until someone sends an e-card via our satellite connection wishing us “Happy Easter!”.
And even if we do remember, we do nothing special.
The Banwaon church does nothing to celebrate the holiday either.
Yet as I sat squashed amongst the Banwaon believers on Easter morning, I looked at the faces earnestly listening to the Bible teaching.
Several of the Banwaon Bible teachers were taking turns preaching what God had laid on their hearts – some were passionate, some were quietly and simply expounding the Word.
And lo, before my eyes was the living celebration of the risen Christ.
Hundreds of precious Banwaon snatched from the power of sin and death – because He is risen.
Every day is cause for celebrating the risen Christ to those of us who believe.
So, why haven’t we organized Easter passion plays and special celebrations for this most notable of Christian holidays?
A major part is due to some mainstream traditions and misunderstandings involving God being dead, religious flagellants who whip themselves raw and every year those who are literally nailed to crosses.
But there’s another reason, too.
No Easter? … it’s not a tribal cultural holiday
The Banwaon people have their own culture. While there is no compromise when it comes to biblical standards and what the Word of God teaches, because we respect many aspects of their culture we are keen not to impose western ideas or customs, merely because that’s “what’s done” in Christian circles.
That’s why we sit on a split bamboo floor for church meetings rather than on seats in rows. Our backs ache by the end of the morning, but it’s how the Banwaon feel comfortable when they get together.
In Australia we thoroughly enjoy sitting on cushioned seats in church. But who says that’s the right way, the only way?
Understanding and respecting another culture is also why we haven’t introduced translated versions of hymns or contemporary Christian songs.
Many of the Banwaon still sing tribal chants. But instead of singing to the spirits they sing in praise and worship to God
They’ve also written their own songs
From their hearts, and in their own language.
Easter might be a wonderful Christian celebration. But it’s also a church tradition.
Will the Banwaon ever celebrate Easter as a special event once a year? Probably they will. But we pray that when they do, it will be because it’s a desire from their hearts as a church body not just because it’s something that’s expected.
No Easter? … negative association
As mentioned previously, Easter is celebrated in the cities of the Philippines in a big way.
Being the most Catholic country in South East Asia, each year the extremely devout carry crosses and whip themselves raw or are even nailed to crosses in an attempt to garner extra favor with God, or to repay or thank Him for a specifically answered prayer.
On Good Friday, which is known as Black Friday, it is widely believed that God is dead. Travel in many parts of the country ceases as how can one be protected on the roads if God is dead?
Our hearts ache for these precious people who annually inflict terrible pain on themselves thinking they are attaining favor with God! It’s tragically sad.
The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus paid for the sin of all humans once and forever. Salvation is by faith in Him and His finished work on the cross.
Nothing we do, no matter how drastic, will ever make us more acceptable to Him. He’s already done it all.
Death, separation from God, has been conquered.
The Banwaon have heard this message straight from the Bible, in their own language, and many have believed it.
The Easter holiday celebrated throughout the Philippines is quite different to the reality of the message of Easter celebrated each day in the lives of the Banwaon believers.
The Banwaon church is solid, maturing, growing.
But as a tribal entity they are still feeling their way in the murky areas of fitting in with the wider Philippine culture. Helping them navigate these tricky waters in a way that is wise and God-honouring, yet sensitive and respectful of both traditional Banwaon and mainstream culture, is often one of a missionary’s key roles.
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Is Easter celebrated in the Banwaon tribe as an annual public event?
Is the reality of Easter celebrated in the Banwaon tribe?
Yes! And a thousand times, yes!
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For those who’d like to read and think some more about how Easter is celebrated and why, here are some links….