I grew up with Good Friday. I cannot remember all of them well, but I know they were there. For a period of at least twenty five years, 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 main 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 were also 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 after camp meeting time, everybody went home with new songs on their lips, but more important, 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 with the church leaders stretching out their hands over them. My mother once “saw” in the Spirit how one of the corrugated iron sections of the roof “opened” and the prayer requests were “flying” out as if a gushing wind were 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 line of needs.
My brother had a wooden structure put up, where we could meet after services and on camping chairs and picnic tables eat the most wonderful moveable feasts, carried in baskets and cooler bags from home kitchens. My boys called it: the Ark. On the last Sunday evening, we would choose one of the many church stalls baking “crepes”, which we called pancakes, but were more like the French crepes; the size of a dinner plate and wafer thin with cinnamon sugar and rolled. 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 12 were learning about their good heavenly Dad, looking out for them faithfully. The farewell song of the Sunshine kids on the last Sunday night of the camp meeting, I sing to this day – the last verse of Psalm 23:
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…
This past weekend was Easter and I am a million miles away in time and space from those years. Why do I remember?
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, Martin Holt. I have always had a deep appreciation for Latin, which I learnt at school as well as university, partly since studying Law required knowledge of Latin. His sermon’s title was Vivit – the Latin for He Lives! He was so thrilled to bring this news to his congregation that his anointing rubbed off in this word that burnt itself into my mind.
I know why I remember that Easters of my past. 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 Saturday of darkness in death to the Sunday of light in life.
This week, is the week after the celebration of 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 these days after Easter? Are you caught in death and the darkness of the Saturday, 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 where you met Him the first time – your Galilee. He knew how utterly broken Peter was, after his betrayal and after the cruel crucifixion killing. 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.
Go and shout it out – Vivit! – He lives … because He has risen from the dead.