Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Services

Good Friday / Easter Services are a very big event I the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in Swaziland. This year, services for the Central Swaziland Circuit are being held at St. Paul’s. The Central Circuit has 52 Societies. It is led by the Superintendent (Rev. Kanana Nyameka) assisted by four Circuit Stewards, two Ministers, one Evangelist, three Bible Women and two local Pastors. Each society has stewards who manage the day to day issues in the absence of the minister. They also generally preach on Sundays.

All 52 societies gather for the Easter Celebration. It begins on Thursday evening. Last night services were supposed to begin at 7:00 pm, however, due to the large crowd that had to be fed before the service began and some last minute electrical work that wasn’t completed before 7:00 the service didn’t begin until 8:00 pm. The service started with the Young Men’s Guild from all the societies coming in singing and dancing. The YMG led the singing last night. The singing is all acappella and at times is louder than a rock concert. The service and all of the sermons were in SiSwati, so I couldn’t understand much of what was said, but by the looks on the faces, the dancing, the passion when the speakers talked, it was clear they were praising and worshiping God for the events that were about to take place over 2000 years ago. One thing you have to understand is that they sing hymns and also just sing whenever the Minister or speaker feels moved or during any transition. If they aren’t singing a specific hymn, they are generally singing some type of song that focuses on having great faith, glorifying God, or thanking God for everything. That is A LOT of singing!

Thursday evening’s service centered on the gathering at the Upper Room, then Holy Communion, followed by the lesson of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. The Superintendent actually washed one of the steward’s feet as the Minister read the passage out of the Bible and then gave a sermon on it. At 10:00 pm the service focused on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. At 11:00 pm, individual stewards began to preach on various passages of scripture. There were five different sermons. (John 18:17, Matthew 26:59, Luke 23:4, Luke 23:12, John 18:37) I left at 11:15 pm because they were all in SiSwati and it was way past my bedtime. I noticed a few others were starting to leave, so I just followed. I was told the service lasted until 12:30 am.

Most of the people who don’t live in close proximity to Manzini camp out for the weekend in the classrooms of the primary school. It is incredible.

This morning, services started at 9:00am. St. Paul’s sanctuary was packed. I arrived about 8:45 to the sounds of singing. I was ushered into the VIP section, which was good, because otherwise I wouldn’t have had a place to sit. The service opened with the church choir coming in singing and dancing followed by all the Ministers, Stewards and Superintendent. Rev. France Mabuza started with two scriptures: Isaiah 53:1-12 and John 19:1-16 followed by a very impassioned sermon. Then Rev. Nyameka gave a very passionate sermon which I gathered was centered on the “trial” and the handing over of Jesus to be crucified. Following that, seven Stewards gave sermons on the seven Stations of the Cross. The sermons were based off of the following seven passages: Luke 23:34, Luke 23:43, John 19:26, Mark 15:34, John 19:28, John 19:30 and Luke 23:46. Of course there was singing with each sermon. The service ended at 1:00pm. We were so crammed in the seating area, that one couldn’t get up and leave even to go to the restroom. There was no way to get out. I would have loved to understand many of the sermons because you could hear the passion in their voices and you could see it in the faces of those who were singing and dancing.

In the evening there was another service commencing at 7:30 pm. It was a short service - only an hour and a half! The scripture was John 19:38-42. One of the stewards brought a woman from the Mpofu area, to interpret for me. She wrote in English several of the points Rev. France Mabuza was preaching about. It was awesome. In two sentences, he reviewed the scripture with the congregation and told us we need to be like Joseph of Armathea when he asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. His point was that Joseph believed and was a "secret" disciple of Christ because he feared persecution. But with the crucifixion he had the courage to speak up and honor Christ. He said we need to stop keeping our faith private to ourselves but to share it with others and help each other on our spiritual walks.

Tomorrow, there will be different sessions and meetings all day long. Then services will start at 7:00pm. The main “revival” will start at 10:30pm I’m told it goes all night long with the true celebration for the risen Christ starting at 4:45 in the morning. More will follow on this on Sunday!

Even though I can’t understand most of what is being said, I find it so interesting and as a Christian so moving that they celebrate so vividly Christ’s crucifixion as well as his resurrection. I was told they don’t want to forget how much Christ suffered for us. I have been truly blessed again and I know it won’t stop here.

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