Monday, April 25, 2011

Good Friday and Easter Sunday

This is the third year I have attended Good Friday services at Gamle Aker church, a Protestant church that is very close to where I live in Oslo. The church was built around 1080 AD, making it the oldest building in Oslo. It is a beautiful old church with a lot of atmosphere—massive stone columns around the nave of the church that give it an air of being an ancient building. When you step into the church, you walk along a dark and cool aisle that leads to the altar; chairs have been placed on either side of the aisle for parishioners. The church is devoid of statues or any decorations save for a few candelabras on the altar. The service for Good Friday is divided into two parts: the first part is the passion and suffering of Christ, with a lot of readings interspersed with relevant songs from the choir which stands on the altar together with the priest. This part of the service ends with parishioners being able to stand or kneel before a crucifix so that they can pray or touch the feet of Christ, much as we do in the Catholic Church on Good Friday. But the thing that most surprised me and has kept me coming back is the second part of the service; this is a symbolic burial of Christ after he is taken down from the cross. The crucifix is placed on the ground in a circular area behind the altar, and parishioners are encouraged to take a flower and place it on the ‘grave’, then the priest says a few prayers and the service concludes. I found this part of the service to be incredibly poignant the first year I was part of it. It felt so real, and so sad, and that of course is the point of it. It is to make you realize that Christ died and was buried in this way. Experiencing this in a church from 1080 also has the effect of placing you that much closer to the actual event in history; at least that is how I ended up feeling, and I was glad for the experience.

On Easter Sunday I attended mass at St. Olav’s Catholic Church. I happened to attend the high mass, which is a mass sung in Latin or Norwegian, or in this particular case, both languages. It was a joyful celebration of the resurrection of Christ; the day was sunny and warm, the church was full of people, and the priest gave a very good sermon about doubt, the scientific search for evidence of Christ’s resurrection, and the importance of faith. His words struck a nerve; this is how I have been feeling lately. I see how important having faith is, much more important than having scientific explanations and evidence for everything that we doubt or that we meet with skepticism. Doubting Thomas comes to mind; Christ had a lot of patience with him but did tell him that some people had faith and did not need to ‘see’ what Thomas needed to see. Some things in this life are mysteries that we will never be able to explain. Love is one of them. We do not require explanations for why we love or why we are loved; as soon as we start to dissect love it can very well disappear or become merely banal. We trust another or others with our heart, with our love, and we take a leap of faith to do that—whether it is romantic love or friendship or charitable love. If we did not take that leap of faith, we could not give or receive love. We can gather as much knowledge about another person as is humanly possible; still that person is a mystery to us and will remain so until the day we die. We will have learned a little about that person but not everything. This does not stop us from loving. How important this is for me to remember when I doubt my faith; that I love and am loved. If I can experience love, then I can have faith and I can trust that Christ’s life and death have meaning for me and for our world. This is the Easter message and it has become a very important message for me. 

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