Friday, April 1, 2016

EASTER IN CAMBODIA

This past Sunday was my first Easter in Cambodia. Easters over the last few years have each felt distinct and full of firsts for me. I remember my first Easter in Denver, still digging myself out from snow and from the weight of spending my days working with men, women and children experiencing homelessness. Last Easter was full of recognition that it would be my last Easter to celebrate with the American church for a while. The year before that was my first Easter as a wife. Each of these firsts, these different circumstances, have shaped and deepened the Holy Week and Easter experience for me. These circumstances have drawn out different parts of the Easter story and caused me to think through my life's redemption story in new ways.

Since this Sunday, I've been thinking over the Easters of years past and the ways they have formed me. I've especially been thinking about the Holy Week and Easter I experienced five years ago. Five years ago this Spring, I was walking a 500 mile pilgrimage across Spain. Leading up to Easter, I was walking over a stretch of the country that was extraordinarily flat and known to be punishing both mentally and physically. By that time my always unreliable ankle was swollen and angry. Additionally, I was really stretching myself to walk enough miles each day to make it through the sparsely populated plateau into the region's capital in time to celebrate Easter there. I had also been walking much of that stretch without any of the companions I had met along the first part of my pilgrimage—I had taken a few days off walking, and by the time I was back on the trail, the people I had been walking with were well ahead of me or had stopped altogether. The flat, solitary days leading up to Easter easily lent themselves to reflection, one painful step after another.


I did make it to Leon, the region's capital, for Easter that year. It was memorable because I had walked so long to get there. I had been thinking about it for weeks. It was also memorable to celebrate as part of a large crowd. Easter in Spain is a really special timepeople pack the streets and parades of musicians and men and women in traditional outfits carrying different symbols of the Easter story march through the streets. I watched in Leon as the parades converged in the plaza in front of the city's cathedral. Loud speakers proclaimed, The night is over. Death is over. Peace and love have won. At that moment they released hundreds of doves. I meditated on that moment and that message for the rest of the pilgrimage.

The setting for our first Easter here in Cambodia could not be more different from that Easter in Spain, but still I've found myself comparing the two over the last few days. Here in Phnom Penh, we woke up on Sunday morning and tuktuk-ed to the other side of town to attend an English language service at the city's Anglican Church. The church is housed in an auditorium on the 7th floor of a fine arts university building. The trappings were simplea few vases of flowers, a small metal cross on a standyet as we sang the Allelulia chorus in English along with a room packed to the brim, the feeling inside me was strikingly similar to the joyous Easter in Spain five years ago.


The journey of our first five months in Cambodia has been long. The journey has been beautiful and sometimes painfulboth physically and emotionally. It has been, at times, a rather lonely walk and has stretched us immensely. Yet, as we worshiped in our native language together with believers from all over the world this Sunday morning, I realized how much this year's journey to Easter has impacted me and my understanding of the joy of the resurrection story.

Living in a culture that is far outside of a Christian worldview, where poverty and injustice are so visible, I am so grateful that sin and death have been defeated and look forward with even more anticipation to the day in the future when justice will roll down like water. After five months living in a hot and foreign culture, I am even more thankful for an incarnational God who came to live and walk among us in our uncomfortably human condition. As I walked through a Lenten season in which I grappled with a clearer understanding of both my weakness and my pride, I'm all the more grateful for forgiveness and new life. In a time when almost everything feels unpredictable and foreign, I resonated all the more with the joyful, familiar response: He is risen indeed!