Several years ago, I had the privilege of spending Palm Sunday in a country that follows the Julian calendar, so it was Easter Sunday here in the US, since we follow the Gregorian calendar. The sounds and images of that day are indelibly fixed in my mind.
More than 1,500 people gathered in and around that church, which in our nation would house about 350 people. In the lower auditorium men filled the pews on the right-hand side. They stood back-to-back and shoulder-to-shoulder on the right and center aisles. The women sat on the left and crowded in the left aisle and front. The small balcony was packed with men and women sitting and standing together. Even the pianist and pastor on the small platform had very little room. Worshippers crowded outside around the open windows on both sides and in the street in front of the church.
The people celebrated with waving of palms and exuberant music. Although I didn’t understand their language, I had no problem sensing the earnestness and joy of their singing and worship. Awesome! I recognized a couple of the songs by the melodies and joined in singing in English.
This was not in a country that enjoys religious liberty or freedom in worship. Christians there are not esteemed but are at times considered as outcasts and are often refused jobs and positions of status. For many of these believers, accepting Christ as Savior meant rejection from family and friends. It was evident on that Palm Sunday that they did not regret the suffering and shunning. Their dedication reminds me today of the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
As we are isolated from each other this weekend and are celebrating the resurrection of Christ in our homes because of COVID-19, may we be grateful for the privileges we have to worship in freedom. May this time of prayer and praise alone remind us that many believers around the world meet in small groups weekly to avoid identity and prosecution. Our Easter celebration may be vastly different this year, but we can still joyfully celebrate our risen Lord.
As believers in the Early Church said, “He is risen. He is risen indeed.”