A letter from Judy Chan serving in Hong Kong
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Every year between late January and February Chinese around the world celebrate the ‘Spring Festival’ or what is known as the Lunar New Year. In 2015 the first day of the Chinese New Year of the Sheep fell on February 19. I grew up with this custom with my family in Mississippi. We cleaned house, put out fresh flowers and got red packets (lucky money) from our parents. I even recall my happy father lighting a few firecrackers in the backyard. Now living in Hong Kong, I still celebrate the festival since it’s the biggest and longest holiday of the year. We try to clean house, buy traditional daffodils (narcissus) from the flower market and delight our children with red packets. Fireworks are a 20-minute pyrotechnic extravaganza over the Hong Kong harbor (which you can watch live on television with synchronized music).
It’s no coincidence that Easter is also a ‘movable feast.’ The date of Easter in the Western church was set according to the first Sunday following the paschal full moon on or after the spring equinox. This was in line with the dating of the Jewish Passover, which was the setting of the Last Supper. What happens in Hong Kong from time to time is that the beginning of the Lenten season and the beginning of the Lunar New Year coincide. A collision of moods, to say the least! Churches in Hong Kong resolve the conflict in different ways. Some continue with Lenten observances as scheduled since the holy days take precedence over any other days in the secular calendar. Other churches have an early morning Ash Wednesday service, which leaves members free to celebrate the family reunion dinner that night. And still other churches seek to accommodate both Lent and the Lunar New Year in the Sunday message (though it seems the New Year has a slight advantage). A minister shared with me that one of his lay leaders insisted that the church have the evening service for Ash Wednesday. But then the member mentioned he wouldn’t be there, because he of course had to go to his parents’ home for the big family dinner!
On reflection, I realized this clash of seasons is a vivid depiction of the reality of the Christian life. The juxtaposition of rejoicing and repentance, feasting and fasting—is this not what we encounter as we cling to hope in God in the midst of the heartaches and tragedies that seem to have no end in this world? Do we not believe as Christians that ‘weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning’? I got more inspiration from a Chinese perspective through a radio message recently delivered by one of the speakers on our religious broadcasts. Rev. Phyllis Wong spoke these encouraging words:
When we look at the essence of Lent and the Chinese New Year we will find these two share common elements. Ash Wednesday reminds us we are from dust and to dust we should return. The Lenten season calls us to reflect on our life and to change for a brighter future walking with God. The Chinese New Year that embraces new life and expecting good fortune in the future shares the same spirit. The blessing of ‘Kung Hei Fat Choy’ from a spiritual point of view can be interpreted as a blessing to another person to be filled with non-material wealth from heaven. They are gifts of love, joy, hope and peace.
In that spirit of love, joy, hope and peace a group of 40 churches in Hong Kong are running a joint prayer and Bible reading project during the Lenten season. On each day there is an assigned Psalm and background information/prayer requests from one of the 40 churches. In this way from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday thousands of Christians are praying for their sisters and brothers in faith in the wider body of Christ, sharing the joys and sorrows of the people of Hong Kong. As the leaders said, “All great revivals in church history have held ‘extraordinary prayer’ as a common characteristic. As we unite in prayer this season, may the Lord bring revival, renewal and restoration to our city.” Yes, indeed, may this be our prayer for every city, including yours!
Let me add my thanks for your continuing support and donations to the work of the Hong Kong Christian Council through Presbyterian World Mission. Together in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, we shall not want as He leads us beside still waters, restores our souls, and leads us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Amen.
With best wishes,
(Year of the Sheep)
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 242
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