Happy Easter! 复活节快乐!
This morning I got up super-early because if church is totally packed every week, well, you can imagine Easter Sunday. I put on a nice skirt with flowers because, you guys, it's Easter! (Yeah but Chinese people don't really dress up for church. Everyone else was just wearing pants and a coat. The church doesn't have decent heating so you keep your coat on.)
So I took the bus and arrived at the church an hour before the service. Wow, perfect, there's still a lot of space! Or so I thought. In reality, I had stumbled across the secret kingdom of seat-savers. Every pew had 1 person and 2 bibles and 3 purses. I guess everyone sent their friend to church an hour early to save seats.
The back half of the church had a lot of non-saved (unsaved?) seats, so I sat down. The other people in my pew had found a mysterious umbrella and hypothesized that someone may be using it to save a seat, so every time another person came by and asked, they were like "Maybe there's someone in this seat, we found this umbrella, we don't know whose it is." (in Chinese of course)
I have to say, I'm totally not a fan of giving such respect to seat-savers, especially those who may not even exist! My opinion is, if you're not here, TOO BAD. (Readers, what do you think?)
SO ANYWAY. A lot of people pray before church starts, and I looked up the hymns for today and started reading over them. (While listening to speculation over the umbrella.)
Half an hour before the service, a huge influx of people came in- including all the seat-savers. Also, one of the church staff went up front and led us in singing the songs for the day, plus some extra ones also related to Easter. We sang the Chinese versions of "Up from the grave he arose" and "Christ the Lord is risen today." Sweet!
|"Up from the grave he arose"|
Finally church started. A pastor announced from the front, "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life.'" That's different- usually they start church with "Brothers and sisters, peace to you."
We all stood up and sang a song about Jesus and how he's alive, and then the pastor prayed. Then we sat down and did another song. And then it was time for the Scripture reading.
The passages for today were all from Luke and John- you know, the end part where [spoiler warning] Jesus comes back to life. The reader in the front announced the references and then we all read them out loud together. Good stuff.
Then the choir sang a few songs to us. And then the pastor came to give the sermon.
First she told us to say to the person next to us, "Jesus has risen" so we did.
She said the theme of her sermon would be this question: Do people find God or does God find people? First, she talked about people looking for God- specifically, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John.
So, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb when it was still dark, and Jesus wasn't there! She was so sad, and what did she do? What do you do when you need help? What do you do? Hmm, I heard some of you say pray. Anyway, Mary didn't know Jesus had risen. She went to get Peter and John.
Then when Peter and John came, they looked in the tomb and saw just the cloths. The bible says that John "saw and believed." What did he believe? Did he believe Jesus had risen? (Some of the congregation says yes, some say no.) No! Or why would the next verse say they didn't understand that Jesus would rise from the dead? (Uh, but actually I didn't catch the pastor's interpretation of "he saw and believed" so, I don't know.)
Peter and John left, but Mary stayed there, doing what? Crying. And why did she stay there when the others had left? (This sermon had a lot of rhetorical questions. Some Chinese sermons are like that.) Because of love! Now, is a tomb a good place or not? No. We don't like death. We don't even like the word "death"- we use other words instead. What do we say when the emperor dies? [some Chinese euphemism for death] What do we say when an old person dies? [she rattles off a bunch more Chinese euphemisms that I don't know- but English has the exact same concept.]
Okay so the point of this part of the sermon is that Mary Magdalene was looking for Jesus, but she couldn't have found him if he wasn't also looking for her. She didn't even recognize him at first. Using her eyes, what did she see? Just the surroundings. But when Jesus said, "Mary," then she knew it was him. Not using her eyes, but using her heart.
And remember the 2 disciples walking on the road to Emmaus? They didn't recognize Jesus at first either. And when Jesus showed up again in John 21 while the disciples were fishing, and they didn't know it was him until he said to put their nets on the other side, and how many fish did they catch? 153.
And I think at this point in the sermon there was also some mentioning of people who just know a lot about Jesus- history and information and stuff- but we really need to know him with our hearts. I didn't quite catch all of that.
So anyway, we need God to find us.
And no matter if you know it or not, no matter if you feel it or not, God is with you. He is Immanuel- it means "the God who is with you."
Now let's look in Luke 24. The angel asked Mary, "Why are you looking for the living among the dead?" If you look among the dead, will you ever find life? NO! [At this point the pastor gets really excited and animated.] You will NEVER find the living among the dead! And there is a path of death, and it only leads to death. And there is the path of Jesus.
We need God to find us. Remember when Lazarus died and was put in the tomb, and what did Jesus say? "Lazarus, come out!" And he came out! And God is calling your name and calling my name, saying, "Come out of there! COME OUT!" Out of death and hopelessness and some other Chinese words.
All right, so that was the sermon. There are probably some parts I'm missing but I think I've got enough to give you an idea of what Chinese Christianity is like. Like I said last week, it's not "watered-down," even though this church is okayed by the government. (But I bet there are some things the church is not free to do.)
Happy Easter! He is risen!
See also: Palm Sunday in Chinese