The Avery and Marsh song “Every Morning is Easter Morning” has taken on a new meaning this year. For most, Easter in Romania is May 1. The Orthodox calendar for Easter is often a different date than in the West. This Easter celebration was again different from any I’ve experienced.
Thursday was the service of darkness that we commemorate at Community Mennonite. We talked with the folks here and described the foot washing discipline that we grew up with and that we do at CMC. They liked the idea and chose to integrate foot washing into the service. Only a few of us had experienced it, so as part of the service Sheri and Jacque (a volunteer from Murfreesboro, TN) demonstrated. The men then proceeded to the room in the back of the sanctuary and the women stayed. There were seven of us men.
Here is where the Easter theme began to play in my mind. The seventh person was a man who occasionally comes to Sunday morning worship and I was surprised to see him at church on Thursday evening. Earlier in the service during the solo singing someone in the back was “singing” along. He knew the words and was connecting. It was the seventh person. As we began the foot washing he was in the first group along with Nelu. Nelu is one of the “rocks” of the congregation … firm but gentle, friendly and a great person. Foot washing was also new to him.
As the visitor put his feet toward the basin Nelu took them … I’ll just say they were filthy … and washed them … really washed them. When he finished, Nelu put his feet in the water and the visitor washed … and washed … and washed Nelu’s feet. The pastor was going to tell him to stop but was encouraged not to. They did finish eventually … hugged … gave a handshake and a kiss. The symbolism of this event and the connection to Jesus made an impression that will stay in my mind. The water … dirty … smelly … used … that those of us who followed also used, made the experience more real and graphic. We had communion after the foot washing but the profound part of the evening was the foot washing.
The Friday morning service in the garden outside the wall of the citadel is a traditional service for the Veritas staff where the scriptures of the last days of Jesus are read in Romanian and English. We sang, prayed and read the scripture as we looked at the crown of thorns and purple robe in the middle of the circle. It was a thoughtful time in the peace next to a 600-year-old wall that could tell many stories.
Saturday afternoon was the kids’ program at Tigmandru. It was typical as kids’ programs in Romania go … they sing, recite, sing and recite some more. Sheri is the one who has had the opportunity to work with the kids since I’m in the woodshop in the afternoons. She did a great job working with them and taught them some new songs. Here’s one of them -” He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
The kids arrived to rehearse at 3 p.m. They all sat on the stage … FOR THE NEXT TWO AND A HALF HOURS! You have to realize that these kids are ages 3-12. It’s amazing. As I looked at them I thought of the word “hope”. Some of the children were new to me but many I knew from before. Of the kids I had worked with in our previous time in Romania, one delivered her first child this week. Hope … despair … words that are defined differently depending on where you are coming from. I look at the kids and think Easter. Look at their faces. What do you feel? Think? Wonder? My buddy Marian is in the front row on the left. He’s growing up! Unless we come as a child …
On Saturday evening we attended the service at the Orthodox Cathedral. It’s interesting because the service in Harrisonburg on that evening begins at 10 and ends at midnight. This one begins at midnight and ends at 3 a.m. We didn’t really stay for the entire service … just the beginning part. Couldn’t stand for the three hours of the service. Hundreds of folks are in the plaza in front of the church and at midnight the bells begin … big bells … loud bells … first two, then three, then ending with four different tones for 15 minutes. All the while the bells are ringing the priest is chanting the resurrection story. I guess that is what he was chanting. You really can’t hear him because the bells are too loud. After some singing and walking around, the cathedral candles are lit … one by one. People bring their candles and the flame is passed from one to another. After about 30 minutes the priest bangs on the door to symbolize death being defeated and the congregation enters the church. Those of us outside walked home with our candles lit, crossing the bridge, walking along the river. The bells rang at 1:00, 1:30, 2:00 and probably later but I was asleep.
We celebrated Easter Sunday morning in our church (Sighisoara Nazarene) with singing, praying, hearing the word of God, and taking communion with other believers. The greeting “Cristos a înviat”… followed by “adevărat a înviat” could be heard starting every conversation. The very cool element of saying “Christ is risen” “Christ is risen indeed” here in Romania – and maybe other places but I can’t speak to that – is that they say it for the next 40 days … even in the grocery store. I think that defines how we look at Easter. How we look at Easter defines how we look at life … how we look at each other… how we experience Jesus.
We concluded our Easter activities with dinner at the home of Roberta Bustin. Our meal began with the traditional cracking of red-dyed eggs as we repeated, “Cristos a înviat” with the response “adevărat a înviat”. The 16 guests included a team from Holland, a volunteer from Germany, an American visitor now living in East Berlin, and four other Americans. Sharing the joy of Easter around the dinner table with this diverse group of Christians was a fitting ending to our weekend.
We come to Jesus as the seventh person … we come to Jesus as a child … we come to Jesus with burdens we want to hold close … we come from all nations, from all economic settings. Jesus has risen that we may have acceptance, hope, freedom and forgiveness. Every morning is Easter morning! Cristos a înviat!