Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Easter Again and Again

Happy Easter to all my Protestant and Catholic friends!  It was lovely seeing all the church parking lots full this past Sunday morning, and the beautiful Easter flowers bedecking crosses, and cute as can be little girls in their beautiful Easter dresses and the accompanying little boys looking dutifully uncomfortable in their new trousers, shirts and jackets.  Of course, I was on my way to celebrate Palm Sunday.

My two girls in 1993 in Easter dresses made by their mom.

Eastern and Western Churches are a week apart in their celebrations of Easter this year.  We just finished our Lent on Friday night, and with Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday, Orthodox Christians turn the liturgical corner into something even more profound – a series of Holy Week services that build on each other and open the doors for us to become part of the story of our Lord’s passion and resurrection.  As a member of our choir and a Reader, I’ll be there for almost every service.  And then there was our parish work day this past Saturday, and finding a time to confess with my priest and all the hard internal work that must go on with that – I mention all this because it’s not just me walking the pathway of repentance through Lent and now Holy Week, but all my fellow-parishioners are on their own similar journey.  In such company, I feel I have only begun to know Christ and to live a life worthy of His call and love.

The Reader Joseph (aka me) reading the Epistle during our Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Metropolitan Antony's recent visit to our parish. 

Holy Week and Pascha (what we Orthodox call ‘Easter’) is God’s answer to the soul-crushing black hole at the core of human existence: sin, evil and death.  The secular world is almost comical in its inability to grasp the Christian content of these days, seeking instead to distract engagement with what Christ is doing this week by absurd images of bunnies and chicks and promoting the chocolate-laden Easter basket as a substitute to the real drama happening on the cross and in the tomb and in our souls.  When I faced my first round of Holy Week services some years ago, my first thought was ‘Overkill’.  But I have since better understood both what’s going on with them and how to use them.  With my mind on hyperdrive most of the time, these services force me to slow down.  Standing for two hours through a ‘Service of the Bridegroom’ which I will do tonight and tomorrow night gives me the chance to enter into that which we are singing and chanting and praying about.  Owning the hymns and prayers transforms an event that some might consider as insufferably boring into one that is powerfully alive.

Christ the Bridegroom icon, detail

So pray for me and my fellow Orthodox Christians.  Western Easter is now in the rearview mirror.  But our own liturgical-year journey is reaching its apex.  In particular, pray that I would take advantage of the opportunity afforded by these services to enter into the repentance and reconciliation and new life to which they point.

Dome and Pantocrator of Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs, CO

Oh and while all this is going on, I am still a missionary candidate with OCMC, still praying that God would open the way for me to return to Kenya where I can continue to serve Him and His Church on the faculties of Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Seminary and St. Paul’s University.  Since last I wrote, I have received several major gifts from unexpected sources which took me completely by surprise.  To date I can account for about 80% of what I need.  Including ministry expenses I still need to raise about $700/month in support (which comes out to about $17,000 over two years).  I have been invited to visit at least three churches and maybe four later on in April and May.  Pray that God would move His people to become the means of my ministry in Kenya.

Seminarians Breaking Bread at Makarios III Patriarchal Orthodox Seminary in Nairobi

Some of you have made monthly pledges.  Now is the time to start sending them in!  Others of you may want to become a financial supporter of this ministry.  If you want to join my support team, you can start right now by going to the www.OCMC.org website and clicking on the ‘Support’ button at the bottom of my page: http://www.ocmc.org/about/view_missionary.aspx?MissionaryId=41
Or if you email me, I’ll be glad to send you a support envelope that you can mail in to OCMC: jwblack@ocmc.org .  Also, if you know of any other persons, friends or family members who may be interested in supporting a mission such as mine, then please let me know and I’ll be happy to share some information with them!

In order to be on the ground in Kenya and ready to teach for the fall semester, I really need to depart from the States no later than July, which means my support needs to be in by June.  Would you pray and ask God if He wants you to be part of His team that makes this happen?  This last $17,000 is proving to be the hardest, because I do not know who else to ask at this point.  So pray with me that God would somehow enable me to meet this goal, and that I could finally go. 

Jesus Himself said, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’ (Luke 10:2)  Here I am.  Send me.

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