For those of us living in the zone of the Western Church, it is Holy Week. Being in many ways bi-cultural, there isn’t a more obvious time when the differences between the two Christian cultures.

In Romania, Easter is such an important time of the year. In some ways arguably, even greater than Christmas. In growing up, Holy Week meant, fasting, attending evening meditations every night at church, Communion on Thursday and a set of very somber, introspective services on Friday. Then on Easter Sunday, everyone turned up at church in their new outfits and had celebrated in an exuberant way.

I loved it because it was a stop-gap from the mundane rush. It was an opportunity to walk daily along with Jesus in His last week. It was a way of deepening your relationship with God, through Scripture reading & prayer. Yet, though I miss it, there is something within me that feels that it was somehow habitual. And the trouble is that habits have a way of becoming meaningless rituals.

Why do I only do it during Holy Week? Why wait for that?

Yet somehow, I know it did my soul good! and I miss it…

Here, in the West, we don’t seem to have the same sort of structure. Things will be happening in small groups. Some public events on Friday. But somehow I always feel like we rush the devotional input to make room for some shopping and leisure. It seems like here we like to ‘clock in’ and then get on with our ‘real lives’.

And maybe that ‘pushes’ me towards a more personal, thoughtful initiative. Why not carve out time to use this season to let the greatest truths of our faith, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection come alive?

I have to confess that maybe the divide isn’t that great nowadays… As materialism and modernism takes it’s toll on the Romanian church, some priorities might have changed there too. I say this graciously, not judgmental.

I have some plans about using this week differently. Not as just a ritual. But because just as much as there are seasons in nature, there are seasons of differing focus for the soul too.

What are you going to do during Holy Week?
Here is a good motto that echoes Paul’s ambition:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.   PHILIPPIANS 3:10-11


4 thoughts on “CATCH 22

  1. “In Romania, Easter is such an important time of the year. In some ways arguably, even greater than Christmas. In growing up, Holy Week meant, fasting, attending evening meditations every night at church, Communion on Thursday and a set of very somber, introspective services on Friday. Then on Easter Sunday, everyone turned up at church in their new outfits and had celebrated in an exuberant way.”

    Cristi, I remember with great sadness my participation in the Romanian „way” of „doing Easter” and the days leading to it. Here is how I see the way things are/were done. I still live here, but I’m out of this „system” now… thank God!

    Yes, I remember attending evening meditations every night at church, as you say, with this culminating in Communion on Thursday and the Friday evening service… which was focused on the physical sufferings of Jesus, in a way aimed to make you feel very sorrowful, and to even stir pity for Him. Everyone had a very long, gloomy face… nothing to rejoice about… you practically had to be „mournful”. You couldn’t possibly actually rejoice, like you already knew the end of the story… No, that was reserved for Sunday. Then everyone had their smiles on and their best clothes, as you say. In fact, each year this was pretty much the focus for lots of young women (especially those in the choir) – what new clothes they were going to have a dress-maker sew for them, to wear at Easter… (This is not a bitter observation coming from someone who could not „keep up” with it – indeed I could not, but it didn’t botter me much… One of the pastors’ wives had commented to me at the time how disgusted she was by all this talk among the young women in the choir.)

    May I say how artificial and hollow this whole thing seems to me now, with all its appearance of spirituality (meditations each evening, etc.)?

    Does this seem like the kind of focus the early Christians had? Everything had to be re-enacted each year, as if Jesus was born each year, betrayed and crucified each year, rose again each year….? Isn’t it actually easier to follow this liturgic calendar than to really LIVE on the basis of that once-for-all event of the death and resurrection of Christ ALL THROUGHOUT the year? But isn’t the latter what the early church did?

    I’m not trying to judge or condemn people who genuinely try to keep this focus every day and feel helped by having special days set aside in the year … There are people I admire who do that. But the Romanian thing I remember was hollow in every way.

    In the Bible, I see people aware that Christ was born ONCE, that He died and rose ONCE AND FOR ALL, and who, from then on, preach Him crucified and risen, live in the light of that amazingly GOOD news and rejoice in it. They remember this every time they take the Lord’s Supper. And it’s not with a now-we-must-mourn attitude, but with joy that it was all done, all paid for, all atoned… You can actually rejoice EVERY day.

    Recently, I painted a wooden wall plaque that I pass by everyday, in our home’s hallway. It says, „The blood was enough.” The joy this gives me…. Thank God, it was indeed enough. My favorite book of the New Testament is now the Book of Hebrews. I just love the way God’s grace and encouragement shines on each page of it…. Exhortations to hold fast our confidence, to boast in hope, to hold our original confidence firm to the end… drawing near to the throne of grace with confidence… enjoying the Sabbath rest of resting from your works… keeping the full assurance of hope until the end, having a strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us, having a better hope, through which we draw near to God…. Christ being able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, securing an eternal redemption, having been offered ONCE to bear the sins of many…. who have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all… By a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified! So we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…. So let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith… Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful… Therefore, do not throw away your confidence….

    These were snippets from Hebrews, it’s just full of things meant to remind of the great reasons we have to keep on having full confidence and to stay encouraged … and to think how I used to hear it preached, to hit people in the heads with it (metaphorically speaking) and only cause fear…

    To me, this is/should be the focus of this time of the year and of every other time of the year, as I think of these things more and more:

    great gratitude for the perfect life of Jesus which alone pleased God (Mark 1:11)
    (so I don’t need to be up or down like a yo-yo, thinking now God is more pleased on the basis of me having a really good day and being spiritual enough – getting up early enough, early quiet time done, house work finished in time, calm and loving attitude towards my loved ones, etc.) or… quite displeased over me getting up late, nothing seemingly going well, me getting irritated and snapping a few times at people…. ugh…) ,

    and thankfulness for the death of Jesus for me, and His resurrection, and so much joy over the fact that all of my many sins and shortcomings, even the things I keep failing and messing
    up in SINCE I’ve become a Christian, are PAID FOR IN FULL, all of them! And I do please God, because I’m in Christ, and HE is the One who pleases the Father!

    That’s what it’s all about, as far as I’m concerned. Not abundant and fancy food (delicious as it is), not fancy clothes to parade in and possibly humiliate others with… not artificially concocted feelings of pity and sorrow and then sudden joy on Easter Sunday…. I am so sorry nobody shared this great joy and comfort with me all those years ago instead of this poor substitute … but I’m glad God opened my eyes in His grace.

    Sorry this got to be so long… And I didn’t mean to shout at anyone in the CAPS :-), just to emphasize.

  2. Very good points, B.
    I have been, however, arrested by the abundance of references to ‘remember’ in Exodus – Leviticus and as much as I don’t like my life defined by this or that festival, I had a niggling feeling that often we make too little of these opportunities to remember – like this week…
    I wasn’t nostalgic with rose tinted glasses looking at the past, that’s why the title. Still I have to confess that among the failings of that system, it has been the foundation that makes me the man of God that I am. I recognize the failings (and they are present in any system) but I still feel that the pluses outweigh the minuses. And I am sure that isn’t everyone else’s experience. Just the journey that God graciously took me on.
    I guess I would want to be part of a community of believers who remind each other and use every opportunity to grow deeper in their understanding of the Gospel.

  3. I agree with both of you; I see certain branches of Christianity where ritual becomes the substitute for real faith, spirituality and proper doctrine. Indeed, I remember listening to Radio 4 once where they were reading out the obituary of a certain bishop of the Anglo-Catholic stripe who played fast and loose with Christian doctrine, concerning the basics (Virgin Birth, Literal Resurrection, Uniqueness of Christ’s Atonement, etc) but insisted the ritual not be tampered with. Given that the doctrine is based on Revelation and the ritual on Man’s creativity this strikes me as very Pagan.
    On the other hand, ritual and sacrament does bring us inside the story and gives us a better understanding of what the Crucifixion meant for the disciples and what a breakthrough and game changer the Resurrection was and is. We are not perfect people. Sometimes we attend church on a Sunday not to worship but to see friends we haven’t seen all week. God still wants us there so He can speak to us

  4. Thanks… Cristi, as it probably comes across, for me the pluses definitely did not outweigh the minuses… Just about everything that is important to me now, the core of my Christian life…. I didn’t really get/learn while there and I could never go back and be part of it. But I do understand that God can make you into what He wants you to be …. even if not BECAUSE of the environment you are…. He can still do it IN SPITE OF it. That makes for much more relaxed parenting, I can tell you, and pastoring, too, I am sure. God doesn’t depend on us having it perfect. That’s freeing. 🙂

    To your last sentence I say, “Amen”.

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