Cultural traditions enhance Easter
It is 3 a.m. on Easter Sunday 1980, and my mother, Mavis Mudambanuki, awakens me by knocking on the door of my room. Leaving my brothers asleep, I get dressed and meet her at the gate outside our home in Chipfatsura village, in Manicaland, Zimbabwe. In the dark, we trudge to Chegore village, seven miles away.
As we approach, my mother breaks into a familiar Easter song: “Christ is risen! Christ is risen! Hallelujah!” She knocks at the door of a home as she sings, and three women and a man join us with rattles and tambourines to augment the music. We go on to the next house, and as we move through the village, the procession grows.
Our party is making a joyful ruckus as we fill the road in Chegore village and head back to Chipfatsura United Methodist Church for a sunrise Easter service. Similar processions and vigils occur in other villages around the country.
United Methodists around the world celebrate Christ’s Resurrection in many ways. I asked people in a variety of countries to share their traditions, and here are some of their stories.
In the “Rice Bowl of the Philippines” — Nueva Ecija, about 60 miles north of Manila — Christians celebrate Easter before sunrise. Traditionally, around 4:30 a.m., local churches form clusters to celebrate Easter jointly. The people gather at the river, by the hill, by the rice field, in front of mountains or in the garden. Most walk to an appointed Easter celebration location.
“It gives a lot of significance and meaning when Easter is celebrated outside the church building,” said the Rev. Remedios dela Cruz. “It gives a lot of meaning to our faith and fellowship.”
Dela Cruz cherishes the memories of Easters celebrated by the river in Sicsican, Matanda Tavera. Easter-egg hunting, breakfast fellowship and group bonding, which included a plunge together into the river, followed worship. A fellowship of indigenous United Methodists called Dumagats in Malinaw, Gabaldon, traditionally celebrate Easter by the river as well.
“We go down into the river. Dawn is the time when nothing is heard except the rush of the river,” said Pastor Daryll Joe Medina. The Dumagats gather to observe an hour of silence, embracing the promise of new life as they witness the light of the sun.
Deaconess Rachel dela Cruz from the Canaan, Rizal, area believes that sunrise depicts the heralding of a new beginning because it brings new hope.
- Gladys Mangiduyos
In Neuenhain, near Frankfurt, an empty wire mesh cross is placed in the sanctuary before the beginning of the Easter service. The wire mesh symbolizes coldness and aloofness, and the wire represents the pain Jesus Christ endured on the cross. Church members bring flowers.
In the early part of the service, the Easter celebrants place their flowers on the empty wire mesh cross and gradually fill it with flowers. Suddenly, the “cold” cross becomes alive with flowers full of life and conveying a message of hope. This great image sends a reverberating message that Jesus' death is not the end. He gives us new life with God the Creator. Each flower demonstrates that through Christ's death, people’s lives are not limited by death.
In the German tradition, the Easter cross reminds people of two truths in their culture.
First, people are as diverse as flowers. They have different family backgrounds, and Christ would encourage us to appreciate diversity.
Second, people should imagine the cross of Jesus. The flowers on the Easter cross point with all their brightness to Jesus. No one flower makes the cross unique; a plethora of flowers together makes Jesus visible. Similarly, because we are the body of Christ, our individual work pales unless we work collaboratively with other Christians to make a huge impact.
We further the agenda the Lord Jesus puts in our hearts when we live a life of faith and love. We should be billboards through which ordinary seekers discover Jesus by all our actions and witness.
- Cornelia Trick
In the Obuda United Methodist tradition, we have an evening worship on Good Friday and share the Lord‘s Supper.
At sunrise on Easter, 20 to 30 congregants walk up to an ancient stone cross on a hill rock depicting Calvary’s stations. We worship, read liturgy, stand in a circle, read Bible verses and pray together.
In most cases, when we celebrate Easter, it will be raining or foggy. The Easter event is an energizing one for (people of all ages). Together, we enjoy a prepared breakfast at the church. Easter services follow in the afternoon.
- Kristóf Sztupkai
Traditional Easter celebrations, like Christmas celebrations, are old and elaborate and involve many preparations that are not unique to The United Methodist Church.
The Holy Week observance kicks off with Palm Sunday activities where participants wave branches and twigs to commemorate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After the activities, the branches and the twigs are used for rites and for consecrating women at childbirth and sick domestic animals.
The community tolls church bells from Palm Sunday until Maundy Thursday in observance of Holy Communion. The participants then switch to rattles and clappers as instruments for their music. They light fires at crossroads so wayfarers and poor people can warm themselves during cold weather. They place hot meals at the crossroads so beggars can nourish themselves.
Good Friday marks the start of the vigil at symbolic tombs of Christ, which lasts until Holy Saturday. No animals are killed or bread baked, and the people cover all their mirrors because Good Friday is a special day of mourning. Paska, a special kind of bread, is prepared for Easter Sunday.
On Holy Saturday, services accompanied by processions commemorate the Resurrection. Inside the churches, priests sprinkle holy water on small baskets that believers bring and fill with paska, cakes, eggs, horseradish, sausages, ham, salt, pepper and tiny sugar lambs. The consecration of eggs refers to the egg as an ancient symbol of life. The consecration of horseradish refers to the bitterness of the passion of Jesus that, on the day of Resurrection, changed into joy and sweetness.
Sharing a boiled egg with one’s relatives is a national tradition. A piece of egg with salt and pepper, consecrated by clergy, is essential in extending good wishes to others at Easter. Each household member also receives a piece of the consecrated bread. When spread with horseradish, the bread is supposed to protect against throat diseases and other illnesses.
Cakes are important ingredients of Easter breakfast. Gigantic “baby” cakes are made in different flavors — plain vanilla, saffron, almond, chocolate and lemon. “Mazurek” is a flat cake, usually on a pastry or a wafer, covered with a paste of nuts, almonds and cheese, colorfully iced and decorated with jam, nuts and raisins. People also add imaginative decorations, and artistic letters made of cream spell “Hallelujah,” reflecting the joy of the Resurrection.
- Wojtek Ostrowski
Easter celebrations are not identical in all local churches. Each congregation celebrates in a unique way based on its thematic plans for that year but without losing the real picture and flavor of Easter as presented by the United Methodist doctrine and the Bible.
Easter revivals are common activities during the Easter weekend. Celebrations include choir performances, hymns and choruses all reflecting Easter. Dramas or skits from the youth groups portray the passion of Christ. A guest preacher or local pastor preaches during the Easter revivals.
Celebrations begin on Palm Sunday. All congregations in our distinctive Methodist local churches march in a celebratory procession about five times in a Jericho fashion around the church, singing and dancing. Women ululate and men whistle as everyone carries small palm branches. This commemorates Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Congregations without church buildings mark this event in a different way. They march carrying palm branches around the villages toward their worship place, either under a tree or in a classroom.
Holy Communion is a central part of the Easter celebration. Usually, the service will last three to four hours. Afterward, a meal is provided to all. The Easter celebration unites people from various communities as they break bread together. People depart for their homes around 1 p.m., marking the end of celebrations.
- Daniel Kabunduli
Easter activities vary from place to place in Zimbabwe, even in The United Methodist Church. In some communities, revivals are held throughout the week.
Maundy Thursday is of particular importance because of Holy Communion, which United Methodists in Zimbabwe believe is full of physical and spiritual benefits for the body of Christ.
Drama and healing sessions are central to Easter events. The missionaries who came to Zimbabwe popularized drama in teaching the Gospel, and I have seen people cry when they see the brutalized Jesus carrying a big cross toward Golgotha. I remember playing Peter’s role as a boy, and this has stuck with me in adult life and strengthened my faith.
For many United Methodists in rural areas, this is the time to go to church every morning and evening for Stations of the Cross and prayers. For others, this is a time for reflection on Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection.
Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32, NRSV). As Easter people, wherever we are in the global connection, we look to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith.
*Mudambanuki coordinates central conference content for United Methodist Communications.