I grew up with a festive tradition around Good Friday. We were always very aware of this most important time on the Christian calendar. Easter was and is always special. I would, however, like to call this time of year Passover and not follow the tradition to name our holy feasting season after the Persian fertility goddess, Ishtar. Fertility is celebrated with eggs and bunnies.
For about twenty-five years of my life, Easter weekend was engulfed in a church tradition called camp meeting time – a period of ten days every year when going to church and socializing with people from church were the foremost activities. We drove a few kilometers outside Johannesburg, South Africa to a huge piece of land where people from all over the country came to pitch a tent or park a caravan. There also were huts and wooden structures erected specially for this time of year.
Later during high school years and university I studied through many Easter weekends but even then I would not miss the “big” services – Good Friday morning and the celebration of the resurrection on the Sunday after. Camp meeting services were conducted in a rough and cold brick building with a corrugated iron roof. This structure could seat quite a few thousand people with a platform for an extensive band and the church leadership. The singing was heavenly and everybody went home with new songs on their lips and in their hearts.
Many testimonies of miracles were associated with this building. For most of the services the people were invited to write their prayer requests on pieces of paper. These little papers were then assembled in front and prayed over by the church leaders while stretching out their hands over the basket. My mother once “saw” in the Spirit how one of the corrugated iron sections of the roof “opened” and the prayer requests “flying” out as if a gushing wind was gathering them up to heaven. She knew they were all safely in the Hands of our loving heavenly Father.
My two elder boys still experienced camp meeting time. No one ever missed the last Sunday night “goodbye- service”. April was usually rainy and cooler. We carried two heavy quilts into the service for them to sleep if the three hours got a bit long for them. Yes… three hours! We would sing for at least an hour, worshipping until the heavens opened in every heart and the intercessory prayer could start for a long list of needs calling for corporate prayer.
My brother had a wooden hut constructed where we could meet after services. We enjoyed the most wonderful moveable feasts carried in baskets and cooler bags from home kitchens, on camping chairs and picnic tables on the lawn around his hut. My boys called it the Ark. On the last Sunday evening we would choose one of the many church stalls baking pancakes. They were more like French crepes – the size of a dinner plate, wafer thin rolled with cinnamon sugar inside. That would be the farewell-food, enjoyed while people came to say goodbye and sit a while for a testimony or two.
I will never forget the talk. People talked about God – all the time – freely, passionately and wholeheartedly. All ages, especially the veterans were walking worshipping testimonials to the goodness and provision of God.
Then there were the kids, joyfully bundled together in their own hall – the radiant Corner of Sunshine as it was called. A cousin of my dad was the leader and preacher and between him and his family they did the singing and the teaching. His messages were illustrated and fun always making sure the children under twelve were learning about their good heavenly Dad Who would faithfully love them forever. The farewell song of the Sunshine kids on the last Sunday night of the camp meeting, I still sing to this day. It is the last verse of twenty-third Psalm:
Surely goodness and mercy
Shall follow me
All the days, all the days of my life
And I shall dwell in the house of my Lord forever
And I shall sit at the table prepared for me
Surely goodness and mercy…
Easter is still celebrated annually worldwide. I feel a million miles away in time and space from those years. Why do I remember it so well?
I know why.
Many years later in adult life I once attended a United Church Easter service in a town on the south coast of South Africa, called Hermanus. The reverent there was a well-known radio preacher. I have always had a deep appreciation for Latin, which I had learnt at school as well as university. His sermon’s title was Vivit – the Latin for He Lives! He was so thrilled to bring this news to his congregation that morning that his anointing rubbed off onto this word which burnt itself into my mind.
No Easter, no church, no testimony, no prayer would be possible without the shout of the women that first Easter morning: Vivit – He lives!
This one fact changes everything. It is the contrast from a day of darkness in death to the dawn of a new day of light in life.
Every Easter we celebrate that day when Jesus said to Mary in the garden:
But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark 16:7)
Where are you this day? Are you caught in the darkness of confusion and fear, just like Peter, feeling the failure of personal defeat and crushed dreams?
Jesus says to you, just as specially as he mentioned Peter, to go to the meeting place – the place of quiet seclusion – to make a simple prayer. Jesus knew how utterly broken Peter was after his betrayal and after the cruelty of the crucifixion. He knew what effect His appearance will have on Peter.
He knows what you need, right now. He is waiting for you… He knows that your life will be changed when you see him. To “see” him is a simple decision to call on the name of Jesus and be saved.
Go and shout it out – Vivit! – He lives … because He has risen from the dead.