Christ the Lord is Risen! And Worldwide, Methodists Observe Easter with A Mixture of Hope & Fear

Christ the Lord is Risen! And Worldwide, Methodists Observe Easter with A Mixture of Hope & Fear March 26, 2023


The empty tomb (courtesy of Pixaby / TC_Perch)

Easter is the most sacred day of the year for Christians. It recalls the joyous day 2,000 years ago when Mary Magdalene discovered Christ’s empty tomb, as described in John 20. And while millions of Methodists and other Christians celebrate Easter with a high-spirited greeting — Christ the Lord is risen! — millions of others face ongoing persecution and deadly violence as they attempt to practice their faith.

As we approach this holy day, let me share some of the ways Methodists and other Christians across the globe celebrate Easter and briefly mention the dangers others face.

Germany: New Life through God

In Germany, an empty wire mesh cross graces a church sanctuary in the town of Neuenhain near Frankfurt. The mesh symbolizes cold, hard aloofness, and the wire represents the pain Jesus Christ endured on the cross.

As the Easter service commences, church members begin to fill the cross with flowers. Slowly, the once barren cross comes alive with beauty and hope, and the Easter message becomes clear. Christ the Lord is risen!

“This great image sends a reverberating message that Jesus’ death is not the end. He gives us new life with God the Creator,” according to the United Methodist Church in its article A Look at Easter Traditions Around the World.

The flower-covered cross reminds worshippers that people — like flowers — are diverse and that Christ celebrates our diversity.

“Our individual work pales unless we work collaboratively with other Christians….” UMC noted. “We further the agenda the Lord Jesus puts in our hearts when we live a life of faith and love…. ordinary seekers (should) discover Jesus by all our actions and witness.” Read the entire UMC post by clicking here.

Pakistan: Living Their Faith with Courage

Christianity doesn’t come to mind when I think of Pakistan. What does come to mind is Islam, which is the state religion and religious home to nearly 97 percent of the country’s population.

As a religious minority, Pakistani Methodists and other Christians face constant persecution and at times, deadly violence.

In 2016, a suicide bomber attacked a public park in Lahore, Pakistan, where Christian families were celebrating Easter. Some 65 people died. Read more about the senseless tragedy here. And in 2017, ISIS attacked a Methodist church in Quetta, Pakistan during Advent, killing 11 people and injuring 50.

Despite the danger, many Pakistani Methodists and other Christians continue to live their faith with strength, determination and courage.

Worshippers may participate in a foot washing service on Maundy Thursday that reminds them that Christ washed the feet of his disciples the night before he died. They also pray and share devotionals.

On Easter Sunday, they greet the day of Christ’s resurrection with joyful services in church, then walk through the streets singing Easter hymns.

And all the while, the police guard them and their churches. Read more about Easter in Pakistan here.

Worldwide Persecution

Open Doors International, a non-denominational organization that helps persecuted Christians, ranks Pakistan as the 7th worst country for persecution of Christians.

It reports that 360 million Christians experience persecution and discrimination worldwide. More than 5,600 were killed for their faith last year, more than 2,000 churches or church buildings were attacked and about 140,000 Christians were displaced.

The organization issues an annual list of 50 countries where persecution of Christians is the worst. Its World Watch List for 2023 ranks North Korea as the worst offender, but most of the countries in the top 10 are African or Middle Eastern, and Islamic terrorists are the primary perpetrators. Learn more here.

Zimbabwe: Make a Joyful Noise

The Zimbabwe constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects religious freedom. The country is not on the Open Doors World Watch List for 2023.

Christians in this African nation celebrate Easter by going to church, getting together with family and exchanging small gifts.

The day begins at 3 a.m. for one family, who walk seven miles to the nearest village and join other Methodists gathering in the main road.

People begin to sing and walk through the village, knocking on doors to invite fellow church members to join them. Meanwhile, the tambourines they carry help them make a joyful noise that stirs the village to life.

More and more people join them as they proceed to the Methodist church for a sunrise service. “Our party (makes) a joyful ruckus,” a participant said, adding that at one point her mother broke into a familiar Easter song, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen! Hallelujah!” Read more here.

The Philippines: Gathering in Special Places

Methodists in the Philippines also begin their Easter celebrations before dawn. “Traditionally, around 4:30 a.m., local churches form clusters to celebrate Easter jointly,” UMC said. “The people gather at the river, by the hill, by the rice field, in front of mountains or in the garden.”

Meanwhile, a group of indigenous United Methodists called Dumagats celebrates Easter sunrise at a river. As they observe an hour of silence, the only discernible sound is the rushing water. At the conclusion, they embrace “the promise of new life as they witness the light of the sun.” Read more here.

Poland: Sharing Pieces of Egg

Methodists and other Christians celebrate Easter in a big way in Poland. “Traditional Easter celebrations, like Christmas celebrations, are old and elaborate and involve many preparations that are not unique to The United Methodist Church,” UMC continued.

On Palm Sunday, celebrants wave twigs and branches as they recall Christ’s jubilant entry into Jerusalem. Church bells toll, and the people make a joyful noise with clappers and rattles. They also light fires at designated sites to give poor people places to warm themselves and place warm meals in convenient spots for beggars.

On Good Friday, Polish Christians hold vigils at symbolic tombs. During this holy time, they refrain from killing any animals or baking any bread. They also cover their mirrors as a sign of mourning.

On Holy Saturday, “Priests sprinkle holy water on small baskets that believers bring and fill with paska, cakes, eggs, horseradish, sausages, ham, salt, pepper and tiny sugar lambs,” according to the United Methodist Church.

Eggs are an ancient symbol of life, while horseradish is symbolic of the bitterness associated with Christ’s crucifixion.

“Sharing a boiled egg with one’s relatives is a national tradition. A piece of egg with salt and pepper, consecrated by clergy, is essential in extending good wishes to others at Easter,” the UMC post continued.

Everyone also receives a piece of consecrated bread, which – according to tradition — protects them from various illnesses when they spread horseradish on it.

For Easter breakfast, Polish Christians enjoy a feast in which they share large vanilla, almond, saffron, lemon and chocolate cakes, as well as flat cakes called “Mazureks” that are covered with nuts, cheese, raisins and other delicious treats. They also make decorations to commemorate the fact that Christ the Lord is risen! 

South Africa: Holding “Seven Words” Services

Easter is an important time in South Africa. On Good Friday, many South African Methodists take part in Seven Words services, which focus on the final words Christ spoke from the cross.

To learn more, read The Seven Last Words of Jesus from the Cross Explained here.

Worshippers symbolically walk the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha with Jesus and listen to several preachers talk about each of the seven statements Christ made from the cross.

Holy Saturday features an all-night revival, singing and preaching, a memorial service for parishioners who have died since the last Easter and a healing service. At around 6 a.m., the church lights go out and women call out, Uvukile – He is risen!”  Then, worshippers move outside for communion.

Zambia: Joyfully Taking to the Streets

In Zambia, pastors use ashes from the previous year’s palm leaves to mark crosses on parishioners’ foreheads and then scatter the remaining ashes, which symbolize new life and new beginnings.

Worshippers take to the streets to celebrate Palm Sunday several weeks later and then march with other parishioners to one of the churches for services.

Holy Week observances continue on Maundy Thursday, when clergy wash the feet of participants and celebrate communion, as Christ did shortly before his execution.

They conclude Maundy Thursday observances with a powerful Tenebrae service. Tenebrae services are typically held in candlelit rooms and include scripture readings that describe Christ’s last week, his crucifixion and burial.

A candle is extinguished after each reading until the only remaining light comes from the Christ candle on Good Friday. It’s a powerful symbol of Christ, as the light of the world.

Easter worship services begin just after dawn with communion, and in the afternoon, church members hold a memorial service that recognizes parishioners who died during the year. Artificial flowers used in the ceremony decorate the church in the coming year.

The United States: Christ the Lord Is Risen!

In the United States, Methodists may use the traditional greeting when they see one another: Alleluia! Christ is risen! The traditional response is, The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Like many Methodist churches across the U.S., my home church celebrates the Easter season with prayers and special services on Palm Sunday; a Maundy Thursday service, where we may have communion; a Good Friday service; and Easter Sunday services that include a community sunrise gathering. For the regular morning worship service, Easter lilies line the altar rail, and we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection with a sermon and Easter hymns.

Christ the Lord is risen today! Indeed he is!

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