Saturday, April 19, 2014

Joyful Easter Wishes from Mexico

[Then Elijah was told],
“Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD,
for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains
and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind;
and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;
and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire;
and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle
and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
1 Kings 19:11–13 (NRSV)

A painting on the wall of the church in Tlaquiltepec
 Here in Mexico, today is known as “el Sábado de Gloria”: the Saturday of Glory. It’s a “quiet day” in the villages after several “busy days” of processions and religious ceremonies. I like to think that today is the kind of day in which we are invited to do what Elijah did: just “be” at the entrance of the cave and listen for “the sound of sheer silence” that is the language of God. (We did have a major earthquake here yesterday, but—like Elijah—most people realized that "the LORD was not in the earthquake.")  
Palm Sunday Mass in Huamuxtitlan
I visited several villages this week, but I confess that I didn't take a lot of photos. I mostly wanted to accompany the people, not “observe” the people through the lens of the camera. It was an honour to be with them. The farthest place I visited was Xochitepec, which involved a four-hour drive from Tlapa. It took me two hours to drive the last 39 kilometers from Acatepec to Xochitepec; the dirt road was very narrow, very perpendicular, very dusty, very bumpy, and very dangerous. 
The village of Aguatordillo, on the way to Xochitepec
Almost all of the villages re-enact the last days of Jesus’ life. In some places, local men and women and children are chosen ahead of time to play different roles. In other places, men carry statues and “move” them as Jesus’ last days are recalled: Jesus rides into the village on his donkey; Jesus washes his apostles’ feet; Jesus institutes the Eucharist; Jesus is taken prisoner and kept overnight in jail (with guards watching over him all night); Jesus is condemned to death and crucified; Jesus is laid in a tomb (usually a small “chapel” somewhere in the village). 
My friend Emanuel represents Jesus here; his name means "God is with us."
He thinks his name is a sign that he should have this role.
Since there are fewer than 50 priests in this diocese of more than 700 villages, most of these Holy Week ceremonies are coordinated by laypeople. And it’s interesting to note that in most villages, this re-enactment of Jesus’ last days ends with Jesus’ body being laid in the tomb. The whole village is there on Good Friday. There is usually no Saturday midnight or Sunday morning service to celebrate the resurrection (except in those places where the parish priest lives). When I ask the people why Easter doesn't receive the same emphasis as “the passion” of Holy Week, they tend to just respond, “I don’t know; that’s the way we've always done it.” Some friends suggest that it’s easier for them to identify with the “suffering Jesus” than with the “glorified Jesus.” 
Jesus at the Last Supper
 My friends, I wish you a most joyous Easter. I hope that springtime (itself a beautiful reminder of life out of death) arrives soon for you. Thank you for supporting Mission Mexico and the beautiful people here in the mountains of Mexico. God bless.
What the sky looked like driving back to Tlapa from Xochitepec

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