I spent the first two weeks of Lent in Antigua, Guatemala, where during the "Cuaresma" (Lent) everything changes.
Purple banners hang on the outside of churches, shops and even homes. On Fridays, the people flock from all over to fill the churches eager to see the venerations, the beautiful "alfombras" (carpets) made of flowers, fruits and colored sawdust — artistic creations whose impermanence remind us of our own.
This Lenten journey is a microcosm of life — for Jesus it ends on a cross in Jerusalem, but we know that we too cannot escape death. Our task, therefore, is to live life with beauty and intention to transform this earth into a better place before we, too, wilt and die.
On Sundays in Antigua, the purple that throughout the week is scattered throughout the city, highlighting the change in seasons, becomes a sea and everyone is enveloped in it!
Purple-robed men and their children fill the streets on their way to join a procession that will snake through and around the city for hours on end, a reverent parade of the faithful.
Women dressed in black foreshadow the grief we feel on Good Friday, as we mourn the crucifixion of the Christ. The haunting music creeps into the deepest parts of our souls, the crevices of our skin, burrowing inside our chest until our whole body trembles with the grief we all share.
For Guatemalans, it seems the Cuaresma focuses nearly entirely on the pain and suffering of Holy Week. Everything builds up to the day Jesus is killed on the cross. Six weeks of mourning precede the death of Jesus. By the time Easter comes, people are aching to celebrate!
We American Christians, even the Catholics among us, seem to focus less and less on the mourning and more on the celebration (or worse, the Easter sales — when did Easter become a season of sales?).
I don't like glorifying Jesus' death. Nor do I like turning Jesus into the sacrificial lamb, but we cannot experience Easter if we do not recognize the difficult and painful journey Jesus took to get there. When we skip out on Lent and Holy Week, we miss out on the grief and struggle and go straight to the party.
How very American of us!
But how can we celebrate resurrection if nothing in us has died? If we have not suffered alongside Christ, from what are we redeemed? If we have not walked his walk, the humble walk that faced injustice head on and died at its hands, why are we overjoyed on Easter day?
We must face the injustices of our day and time. We must acknowledge our suffering. We even have to examine our own hands for the blood and our culpability.
Who have we sacrificed in our society?
The immigrant? The gay person? Perhaps our own families? All for what? Have we walked with Jesus to the cross?
If not, why?
For the Christian Resurrection comes when we walk the difficult road with Jesus, when we let him transform our lives. It comes when we boldly stare injustice in the face and no matter what the cost we come out the other side. Easter is the other side.
Jesus wins. Justice wins. Love wins. Life overcomes death. It did in the first century. It does in Guatemala. And it will even here, today, in 21st century Orange County.