Easter 2019: Christ is Risen, Alleluia!
Our Holy Week services and Easter celebrations here at Advent Church and St John’s University, Taiwan, were joyful, meaningful and full of symbolism. This included the Easter fire, which we lit at 8pm on Easter Eve, and from which all the candles in the church were lit.
All through Holy Week, the cherry blossom was out and it looked beautiful in the sunshine. It’s interesting that the cherry blossom was three-four weeks later than last year, but then so was Holy Week!
Sadly, this year’s Holy Week was marred by two events – the awful fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and then the terrible tragedy involving multiple bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. We pray for those killed and injured, and plead for God’s mercy and grace to prevail.
Here in Taiwan, Holy Week falls at the same time as the birthday of Baosheng Dadi, literally the “Life Protection Emperor”, a Chinese god of medicine worshipped in Chinese folk religion and Taoism. This involves huge parades and festivities (known as “da bai-bai”) and in this area, the celebrations went on for three whole days, all over the Easter weekend. The parade of trucks and people carrying deities moved along slowly in fits and starts, accompanied by a raucous banging of gongs, blowing of horns and endless fire crackers going off in all directions. All along the route, people set up tables of offerings and incense sticks outside their homes and businesses, to gain the blessings of the deities as they passed by. Traffic slows to a standstill. Trying to get home by bus, the lady next to me said, “Y’know, since I became a Christian, I have totally lost interest in all the ‘da bai-bai’ celebrations”, which kind of sums up the attitude of most of the Christians in Taiwan. We were happily focused on Easter instead!
Mazu is a Chinese sea goddess and, as this is an island with a lot of sea, there are a lot of Mazu temples. There is also a huge number of small shrines dedicated to Tudigong, the god of the land. On the Wednesday of Holy Week, one of Taiwan’s most famous businessmen declared that Mazu had inspired him in a dream to help his country by running for president. The next day, Maundy Thursday, we were rattled and shaken by a big earthquake, registered as 6.1 in Hualien, with fortunately no damage. Was it just a coincidence that these two events happened so close together or was the earthquake, people wondered, a sign of the land god showing his disapproval about the events of the day before?
From the beginning of time, people have wondered if natural disasters are a sign of God’s (or a god’s) displeasure. Certainly, the rise and fall of imperial dynasties in this part of the world over the centuries was often accompanied by a series of natural events, seen either as favouring the new dynasty (for example, years of good rains, abundant harvests) or as bad omens (typhoons, floods, earthquakes, droughts) precipitating their downfall. These days, natural disasters require an immediate response from the government and when that fails, it’s easy for frustration to boil over, sometimes into violence but more often into a general dissatisfaction with the current government. This can have long-term political repercussions – such is life on the Pacific Rim!
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (as they say), I’ve returned to live on the campus of St John’s University and a few weeks ago on my birthday, we held a “house blessing”. I invited our clergy, church members and student fellowship group to come along and celebrate. It’s nice to be back in the middle of all the action! However, sadly (also in Holy Week) water started dripping through the ceiling of my apartment, coming from a leaking air-conditioner unit in the apartment above. As nobody lives there at the moment, it was not easy to see how the AC was being switched on.
We cleared up all the mess on Friday only for it to start dripping again on Saturday. It turned out that the air-conditioner was switching itself on. No, it wasn’t the work of a ghost as many thought it might be; instead, it was just a mechanical fault but the walls and floor are still drying out. However, as bad it was, I can tell you from the experience of being in my last house that dripping water and a flooded floor is nothing compared to a ceiling full of termites coming down (hmmm, did I ever tell you about that?!).
And finally, over Holy Week and Easter my dear beloved aunt Heather (my mother’s older sister) sadly passed away at the age of 88. For as long as I can remember, she lived in the same house in the same town – the very lovely seaside town of Deal in Kent. I visited her at the end of August last year when she was fine, and then again at the end of January just before I left to return to Taiwan, when she had just moved into a nursing home and was already very frail. She will be very much missed, but I thank God for her life which was a wonderful witness to her faith in Christ, and for her support for me through thick and thin. For her, and for all of us who celebrate Christ’s resurrection this Easter season, it is truly appropriate to say: “Yes, Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!”
With many thanks for all your continuing support,