The season of Lent is preceded by the celebration of Carnaval, two days of merriment prior to Ash Wednesday. There are colorful parades that are historical theatre and lavish excess of dance, costumes, stilt walking, floats, and garish devil masks. It is a feast of the flesh designed to prepare for a time of abstinence associated with Lent. Ardell and I attended the parade two years ago and it was a lovely family event until about 6pm when the drinking got excessive and the crowd aggressive. Not a good situation especially for foreigners so we made a quick exit.
In the Dominican Republic Holy Week is a national holiday where the majority of people return to their place of origin, mostly to the countryside. It is a dangerous time to travel the highways as horrific accidents are multiplied because of the increase of traffic and impaired drivers. Again we tried to stay out of the way and kept close to home.
We did notice that on Easter weekend, the streets are quiet with little traffic and few people. So this has become a time for inner city families to set up the plastic kiddie pools for their children on the sidewalks. We saw many happy children splashing around and laughing and we supposed that this may be the only weekend of the year that they get to play in water. It seems ironic because they are only an hour away from some of most beautiful beaches in the world.
We celebrated Holy Week with the Dominican Evangelical Church (IED). On Thursday we attended the Mexico IED church a block from our apartment. It was a united service of 7 congregations from around Santo Domingo and each congregation took their turn to read scripture, pray, preach and sing. The service began at 3:00pm and ended at 8:00pm! Ardell and I only lasted for 3 hours and couldn’t sit any longer. It was very worshipful and so many lay people had a chance to share a prayer, a song, and deliver their appreciation for what Christ did for us through his death and resurrection. One elderly woman shared a song that was a bit mournful but also hopeful as she helped us remember the first Holy Week.
The next day we attended a Good Friday service at a smaller IED church with only about 20 persons gathered to remember the last 7 words of Jesus. Again we recalled together Jesus on the cross, humiliated, beaten, and tortured to death. Jesus the Nazarene had the courage to stand up to Roman oppression and the Jewish religious hierarchy, both institutions so powerful and yet so helpless against a man who offered no resistance. Jesus accepted all their hate, their fear, their arrogance, their love of power and money, their oppression of the poor and took it upon himself until he was dead. What a crushing weight to bear their sins, our sins.
On Easter Sunday we attended yet another IED church located near the Colonial Zone. The sermon was delivered by Samuel Grano d’Oro who has worn many hats: a retired pastor, seminary professor, executive secretary, and United Methodist missionary. He gave a powerful message on the resurrection of Jesus and our own ultimate resurrection. All of us present were filled with hope and our faith was strengthened.
Easter is a reminder that Jesus the Christ lives and has overcome the power of evil, sin, and death. As his followers we can have the courage to face what we are called to do. Jesus continues to lead us to where we dare not go without him, the mean streets of life. He is present with those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, in prison, abused, lost, addicted. We can go there together knowing Christ not only leads us but waits for us there. Amen.