It’s what they call “Holy Week” here in the Philippines and it’s a big, big deal. Holy Week is the week leading up to what we call Easter Sunday.
Yesterday was “Maundy Thursday.” Today is “Good Friday” and tomorrow they call “Black Saturday” here. This is the week where people take shut down lots of business, take most of their vacations, travel to their home province, etc. On Friday and Saturday everything is closed. You can even drive across Manila with no traffic!
It’s also a time for many religious traditions. Every town sets up the “Seven Stations of the Cross” and devoted Catholics walk from each one to the next, where prayers and Scripture readings are done.
What saddens us is how the people here have the Scriptures and know most of the story of Christ’s final week on earth, but they fail to get the main point.
BACK IN TIME
We were struck with this back in 1982. We were living in Lipa City while studying Tagalog in preparation for our ministry on Palawan. We heard that there was going to be a big procession at the Catholic church on Good Friday, so we went to stand with the crowds along the street and watch.
We’re Christians. So Easter is really important to us. I mean, Christmas is special, but it means nothing without the Lord’s death. And his death accomplished nothing for us without the resurrection. As the apostle Paul wrote:
And if Christ has not been raised,
then your faith is in vain
and you are still guilty of your sins.
So on that Good Friday in 1982, we were thinking “Easter” procession. Not an Easter parade with bunnies and eggs, but something related to the real, Biblical Easter. Something based on our hope which comes from Christ’s resurrection.
But we were in for a heartbreaking surprise.
Float after float came out of the Catholic church there in Lipa, some borne on the shoulders of the faithful, some on motorized carts. The floats were very elaborate. We recognized the scenes from the story of the passion: the Lord Jesus kneeling in Gethsemane, Peter and the crowing rooster, the kangaroo court of the Jewish elders, the trial before Pilate… on and on it went in sequential order, building toward the climax.
Or so we thought.
Then came the Lord Jesus on the cross. The next float showed him in a gaudy gilded coffin with glass sides. I remember thinking, “Hmmm. Not exactly historical. But maybe it’s too hard to carry a hillside tomb through town.” We kept watching.
The next float was Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was dressed in black… a mother in mourning. She even held a handkerchief to her tear-filled eyes. We thought, “They’re straying a little from the theme here, but um, oka-aaay…”
Then came a huge float with loud music blaring from its speakers. As it turned the corner we saw that it was…. Mary again! Not the risen Christ. Not Jesus the Lord of Glory. Not our savior. Not he who bears the name above all names. No. It was Mary. But more than that, it was Mary Queen of Heaven, dressed in royal robes, wearing a jeweled crown, with stars and glorious light radiating from her head. Even from a little distance, we heard the song “Ave Maria” coming from the float, and as it got closer, we could hear an endless cycle of “Hail Mary” chants.
That was disconcerting, to be sure. They were worshipping the wrong character in the story. But we waited for the next float… the main point. Okay, now it will come, we thought. The punch line. The grand finale. The resurrection.
IT NEVER CAME.
Sadly, for them, Mary Queen of Heaven was the grand finale. Everyone around us was already stirring and starting to walk away and head for home. Show’s over.
MISSING THE POINT
We thought maybe the were saving the last float of the risen Christ for Easter Sunday. Nope. We checked. On Sunday the church was nearly deserted and there was no celebration or procession. There was hardly even anyone attending mass. Oh, the people here know the Lord rose, and they’ll tell you if you ask. But there is no joy, no celebration. The resurrection is not all that important. Mary Queen of Heaven is the final scene where they stand and cheer.
That was so sad. Holy Week with no Happy Ending. Good Friday with no Easter Sunday. Mourning Christ’s death with no celebration of the resurrection. And it happens all over this country year after year. So now here it is Good Friday and tomorrow is “Black” Saturday because many believer God is dead… yes, year after year. And so it’s said to be dangerous to work or use tools, since God’s not there to watch over you.
SO WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT FRIDAY?
Now back to our question. What’s so good about Friday? The answer is… SUNDAY!
Praise God for the hope we have because of the Lord’s death for us and his resurrection. Let’s be sure to spread the message. And let’s not be too quick to judge those who have never heard, or having heard, still misunderstand. Let’s remind them about what happened on Sunday morning.
Holy Week. Good Friday. Easter Sunday. It’s not about a dead savior. It’s not about a God who is dead one day a year. It’s certainly not about Mary (and she’s not the “queen” of anything).
But then… it’s not about chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs and marshmallow chicks, either, is it?
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.