Never in my 28 years had I experienced Easter like my first ‘Resurrection Festival’. That was because I’d never truly experienced winter.
Winter in northern China literally took my breath away. One step outside the heated building and I thought I’d never breathe again, the pain of inhaling bitterly cold air was so sharp. How my nose and ears didn’t fall off nor the soles of my feet suffer permanent damage is still a mystery. It was impossible to avoid regular ventures outside, and when I did, there was certainly no sign of life. There were only round bundles of khaki green padding that scurried from point A to point B, emitting sounds of chesty coughs and clearing throats. The pores of my skin, my hair, nose, ears and eyes were filled with the fine black coal dust that belched out in the smoke of thousands of furnaces which provided heat for buildings, large and small, around the city. Imagine what that coal dust does to one’s respiratory system. The streets were covered with frozen globules of various ‘once-liquid-substances’. It sounds disgusting … and it was. A little more aesthetically pleasing were the icicles which hung from frozen mops propped outside shopfronts. The atmosphere was surreal.
After a day or two, I was ready for spring.
Ready or not, warmth, sunlight and life remained but a fleeting memory.
What seemed like an eternity later, the ice melted and tiny shoots appeared on the branches of apparently dead trees. My breath came more easily. Soon those tiny shoots became delicate buds of pink, red, white and yellow. The little round bundles of padding scurrying along the streets slowed down and layers began to disappear. People emerged from beneath the scarves, muffs, masks, hats, padded jackets and boots. The dead gardens surrounding the twin pagodas became a place of breathtaking beauty, the ancient peonies in bloom for the 350th time. On the outskirts of town, the fields came alive with a green fuzz, promising a harvest later in the year. The furnaces were shut down on April 1st, and within days, the sunlight again penetrated the atmosphere, transforming the dismal grey city into a place of warmth, vivacity and happiness.
Easter in China isn’t named after some pagan god for fertility. Christians celebrate the ‘Resurrection Festival’. Chocolate rabbits and eggs are rare. Most of the country doesn’t even recognize the festival. The atmosphere is joyous everywhere one turns, though, because winter is finally over.
On my first ‘Resurrection Festival’, I stood in my ‘mid-weight’ layers of clothing, shoulder to shoulder in the crowded church with perhaps 2000 other believers. We gazed at the huge banner above the pulpit with the bold characters ‘Yesu fuhuole’ (‘Jesus is risen’), while listening to a powerful gospel message. The sun streamed in through the freshly washed windows. The branches of the trees outside were covered with delicate green leaves. My heart soared, as much due to the sunlight as that powerful gospel message, if the truth be known.
Many ‘Resurrection Festivals’ have come and gone since my first introduction to the death of winter and the life of spring. The annual celebration is simply a powerful reminder, though, of a far greater truth.
The winter of humanity really is over, and the hope of life truly has come in fullness … eternal life! Jesus’ resurrection is our guarantee of what is to come.
There are still bleak days when we think that the harvest is merely a figment of our imagination. Pain is real, very present and all consuming; relationships break down; no one is immune to disappointment. There are times that life stinks. In moments when everything seems dismal, though, we can take a look around, and see that the buds are indeed out and hope is real.
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father…. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:20a, 22-24a, 26 NIV)
The winter is almost over.
Spring is in the air.
There IS life.
“Therefore… stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV)
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