Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday in Chinese

Image source.

I'm so happy I went to church this morning. And I'm so happy I get to tell you all about it.

So I get there a half hour before the earliest service starts. And the church is already packed. I said good morning (早上好 zǎo shang hǎo) to the greeters at the door, and started walking up one of the side aisles looking for an usher who would help me find a seat. One of them saw me and waved for me to keep coming forward (with a palm facing down- different from how Americans gesture "come") and got me a seat between 2 old women. It's the earliest service, so the majority of the people here are old and like to get up early. (I go early because I work on Sundays.) And there are definitely more women than men.

Meanwhile, everyone's got their hymnals open, and they're singing "十字架,十字架 [shízìjià, shízìjià]" which means "the cross, the cross." Yeah the service hasn't started yet, but I guess since people get there so early, they have to kill time by singing. One of the church staff is up front leading the singing.

So we sang a couple of songs about Jesus' death, plus the songs that were to be used in the actual service.

Also, before the service, a lot of people are praying. Sometimes out loud. Like, just alone, with  their head bowed, but out loud.

So, time to start. The choir files in. Oh and if you came like, on time, instead of super-early, yeah you're not getting a seat. Try the overflow seating area.

We all stood up and opened our hymnals to sing the first song. (Actually, these books are a bible with a hymnal in the back.) It was about Jesus riding the donkey on Palm Sunday. In Chinese, of course.

Next, a pastor prays, and after every line, a bunch of people in the congregation are like "amen." In Chinese it's not pronounced like "ay-men", it's "ahh-men." People are ahhmening all through the prayer. I guess it's the thing to do.

Then we all sit down and sing the second song. YOU GUYS! It was the Chinese version of "Come Thou Fount." One of my favorite songs!

"Come Thou Fount" in Chinese


Next, the choir sang a song. It's hard for me to understand what they're singing. Anyway, meanwhile I'm trying to use my phone to look up words from the hymns we just did, but today I couldn't get a signal. There are always words I don't know at Chinese church.

Then someone announced the two Scripture passages for today. The first one was Genesis 22, when Abraham almost sacrifices Isaac. The woman who was doing the announcement kept saying the reference over and over, to give us time to find it, and thank goodness because I do not yet know all the books of the bible in Chinese.

The whole congregation read together, out loud.

Next, she told us the second passage was from Matthew 21 (the story of Palm Sunday), and said the reference a bunch of times so we could all find it. Then we all read it together. With an "ahh-men" at the end.

And someone else announced the title of the sermon and the name of the pastor who was preaching, and then the pastor showed up. (About half the time there's a woman preaching and half the time there's a man. This week it was a man.)

The sermon always starts out with the pastor wishing peace (平安 píng ān) to us, and then we all respond by saying "平安 [píng ān]" back to him. And he (constantly) addresses us as "弟兄姊妹 [dìxiōng zǐmèi]" which means "brothers and sisters." People are always calling each other brothers and sisters at Chinese church.

"Do you know what day today is? It's Palm Sunday." That's how the sermon started. And I'll just write down what I remember from it. I didn't understand everything, of course.

Here goes:

So first he was talking about the similarities between Abraham giving up Isaac and Jesus' death. (Another dimension here is the Chinese one-child policy- remember how God told Abraham, "Take your son, your only son Isaac..." Chinese parents get that.)

And the pastor said, Abraham believed in resurrection, even though he had never seen it.

And then when he was about to kill Isaac, God didn't let him. Like when you pay the bill at a restaurant- God was like, I got this, I got this. God paid. Just like we don't have to pay because Jesus already paid for us. God was like, I got this, I got this.

(Because Chinese traditionally fight over the bill at restaurants. Everybody wants to pay it.)

Also something about how we have a lot of pressure in our lives, and Abraham had a lot of pressure. I'm not sure how that part related.

But Jesus was different from Isaac, because Isaac didn't know what was going on. Jesus ALWAYS knew his goal. And what was his goal? To die on the cross. 

Also a bit of talk about Palm Sunday and how everyone was so excited about Jesus, but a few days later they wanted to kill him.

And then he talked about when Jesus prayed before he was arrested- "Father take this cup from me- but not my will but yours be done." And what were the disciples doing at that time? (The pastor has an amused smile at this point- he smiled a lot throughout the sermon. Seems like he enjoyed it.) They were sleeping!

Hey, if a man was killed out on the road, and somebody accused you of killing him, but you were innocent, would you accept that? Well that was pretty much Jesus' situation. He was God. He never sinned.

When Jesus was crucified, he wasn't wearing any clothes. Not like the pictures.

All of you here today- it's not random. God planned it, and God cares for each person.

And he mentioned sometimes people go to the Buddhist temple and they think if they pray and worship, then God will give them something- but that's not how our God works. God loves us.

Also there was a story about an old woman who was a Christian but her husband wasn't, and as she was sick and dying, she said, "I'm not afraid of death- the one thing I'm afraid of is not seeing you again." And then later the husband became a Christian. Was that story at all related to the rest of the sermon?

All right, that's all I remember from the sermon. I'm putting all this on my blog because American Christians may be curious about Chinese Christians, and whether or not "the gospel is watered-down." This is one of the churches that's officially recognized by the government, and it has a bunch of security cameras and there are probably people keeping tabs on it.

But I haven't heard any suspicious teaching from there. I mean, there's stuff I disagree with, but it's all within the realm of things that American Christians often say. (But of course, different parts are emphasized in Chinese culture than American culture.)

Maybe "watered-down" is just a term people throw around when they accuse other Christians of not being real Christians.

Next, some announcements. Some stuff going on for Easter next week- I didn't quite catch it all, but it involved colorful eggs and I'm sure I can't come to that because I work on Sundays. Darn.

Then we stood up and sang another song from the hymnal, and prayed the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. Every week we recite the Lord's prayer, but I don't have the Chinese version memorized yet.

Then the pastor came back and raised his hands and prayed for us. And after he said "amen" we all sang, "ahhhhmen, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhmen, ahhhHHHmen, ahhmen. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHmennnnnnnn."

And that's the end of the service.

A lot of people stay in the pews and pray after it's done. And there's a massive crowd trying to get out and another massive crowd trying to get in for the next service.

I prayed for a little bit, then dropped some money in the offering box on my way out. They don't "do offering" during the service- they just have a box at the entrance to the church.

Yep. I love going to church in Chinese because it's something so familiar wrapped in something so foreign. And God is there. 

Stay tuned for next week- I can't wait to see what Easter is like.


Other posts about going to church in China:

How we took communion

I want to find God again in China

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