Editor's Note: While this Easter newsletter from the McCanns is a little late, it is well worth the wait. After you have read the words, there is a slide show that goes with the newsletter that can be reached by clicking here: http://gallery.me.com/cybertoad#100141
During Lent this year I pondered the question asked by a friend: Will I be different at the end of Lent? I really wanted to be. I was dismayed about some things that I was seeing going on around me. I was not looking forward to some work I needed to do. I was feeling overwhelmed by the suffering and violence in the world. And then sometime during Lent I came across a sermon by Episcopal priest Rev. Dr. J. S. Pagano entitled: Let Him Easter in us. And I said, YES, that’s it. This year I don’t want to just celebrate Easter; I want to experience it. I don’t want to just mouth the words: ‘Alleluia. Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed.’ I want to experience them. I want to be filled with hope and joy and courage. I want a new spirit within me.
However, like the women who came to the tomb, I worried about how the stone was going to be rolled away. I knew that before resurrection there must be death to old ways of thinking and doing. So it was because of this desire to have time to examine my own life that I accepted the invitation of my friend and former student, the Reverend Emmanuel Petro, to spend Holy Week in his parish, Hombolo Bwawani. Emmanuel is the parish priest (10 churches in his parish) as well as the rural area dean with 8 parishes under him (56 churches in total.) A parish here is similar to a county and within each parish is either one priest or one deacon.
If you had seen the parish schedule we followed you might not think there would have been a minute to reflect. Everyday was jam-packed with teaching seminars, preaching, baptizing, home visits, etc. The distances between the sites, while not long by U.S. standards, were difficult, some paths allowing only a motorbike or feet. But I knew from past experience that I would find the risen Lord among the Christians in the villages.
I found that falling into bed when it was dark at seven, often without eating dinner, allowed me time for not only a good night’s rest but also time for reflecting and praying. By Good Friday mid-afternoon, my heart was heavy. We had walked the Stations of the Cross and reflected on how each of us, as Judas, Peter, and Pontius Pilate, betray Jesus for money, deny knowing Him in our words and actions, and wash our own hands of injustice. We then sat to sing and to hear The Seven Last Words. I was appointed to summarize after the other seven preachers. When the fifth preacher began his reflection on I am thirsty, I was overcome with emotion and tears. It hit me between the eyes: I am thirsty for Living Water.
So this year I did not skip Good Friday nor did many of the people of Hombolo parish. At the end of the five-hour service (yes, five hour) many streamed to the altar with tears running down their faces to receive the laying on of hands and prayers for healing of body, mind, and soul. As we left at near dusk, Emmanuel said to me: This year my people will really be ready for Easter. I too was ready.
On the Day of Vigil I had the privilege of baptizing 28 people, mostly infants and small children, with the notable exception of a young woman and a male elder of the community. After the preaching it was near dusk and the people streamed down the small paths to their homes to prepare for Easter.
All that I would like to convey about my experiences would be a chapter for a book. I am therefore counting on a number of pictures being worth more than thousands of words, but I do want to make a couple of comments for clarification.
All the pictures are from various churches in Hombolo Bwawani Parish except for those from Palm Sunday. The latter were taken in the village of Mwitikiri. Martin and I were invited there to preach and to present and bless a microscope Martin had bought with funds from The Diocese of Virginia for the village health clinic.
Although I had made other plans for an Easter retreat, I accepted the invitation to Hombolo because it is the home of a leprosy hospital. Once famous, it is now pretty much functioning as an outpatient clinic for the remaining lepers who live in the area as well as for the surrounding community. Since childhood, I have had a fascination with lepers. I have come to think of them as God’s holy people, who at a very high cost have revealed the glory of God. From their encounters with Jesus I have learned about inclusion, compassion, and gratitude. So I wanted to go and to worship with them, to meet them, to touch them, to pray with them, and to thank them. Surely they already know much about crucifixion, but what I discovered is that they also know much about resurrection. I found them smiling and singing and dancing. The stone was rolled away; the tomb was empty. The glory of the Lord revealed-- abundant life in the midst of pain and death.
Alleluia. Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed. Come, Lord Jesus, and easter in us.
Sandy and Martin
P.S. Martin usually writes our letters, but when we got back Easter evening he said, You need to write a Holy Week newsletter. He had been in Dar es Salaam for a medical seminar and did not join me until Sunday. Magi Griffin, sister missionary from Rome, GA, was with us on Palm Sunday and joined me for Easter Vigil and Easter day in Hombolo. Magi took the great pictures from those days. Photography is but one of her many talents.