Shew. For the last week my life has been turned upside down. You see Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is a pretty big deal here in La Antigua, Guatemala—and for all of Latin America for that matter.
Life turned upside down. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the city to take part in the veneration, adoration, and celebration.
Cars choked out black exhaust as they lined up in the narrow streets that resembled more of a parking lot than any kind of thoroughfare. For days, my attic bedroom shook with the rumble of every passing truck, car, and moto. The sidewalks were bloated with people, with families, with little girls in tiny woven skirts, and with the faithful donning purple, black, or white cloaks as they marched in the many processions commemorating the passion of Christ.
It was a bit like living in Disneyland for an entire week: the crowds, the lines, the noise, the street vendors calling out assorted fried and fattening foods.
Since the beginning of Lent, there were processions in every town and village and aldea. And not only every town had a procession, but every church in every town had at least a couple of processions. Sometimes, especially when I was trying to find my bus route amidst the chaos, it felt like there was literally a procession on Every. Single Street. To my foreign, non-Catholic eye, it seemed over the top—what more could they possibly be celebrating?
How much incense is just enough for the prayers of the faithful to reach the ears of God in heaven without burning his nostrils too?
Stores and banks closed from midday-Wednesday on. Families stayed up all night Thursday night to watch processions and participate in making alfombras. Alfombras (or carpets) are beautiful works of art that cover the streets or floors of churches before a procession passes by. They can be made out of flowers or colored sawdust or chalk, and are absolutely stunning to see. The time and care and creativity that goes into each alfombra is truly remarkable, especially considering that they’re literally trampled in minutes when the procession marches over. (My friend and housemate wrote a beautiful post on these works of art here.)
I started the week with a great admiration for these faithful street artists and procession participants, but as the streets filled to bursting and my introverted self cursed my broken noise-canceling headphones, I found myself falling out of the Lenten spirit. I found myself caving to annoyance and silently praying that everyone would just go home already. I didn’t like having my life turned upside down.
But as I think about it now (granted from my quiet, crowd-free bedroom), I start to wonder if maybe that’s the point. This turned-upside-down-ness. This break from the status quo.
If we’re really celebrating how Jesus is God-with-us and how everything has changed with his life and death and resurrection, then maybe a life-stopping celebration is a little more appropriate than pastel eggs and tales of an Easter bunny with jelly bean treats.
Maybe we’re meant to be turned upside down. The Kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom, after all. A place where celebration trumps personal space. Where the sick are healed, the captives set free, and the blind can see.
And the best part is, this kingdom is here, now. In the Gospels we can see “a new set of signposts, Jesus-shaped signposts, indicating what is to come: a whole new creation, starting with Jesus himself as the seed that is sown in the earth and then rises to become the beginning of that new world.” (Simply Jesus, N.T. Wright)
And we are called to be a part of this new world. To be kingdom-bringers, signposts of hope, sowers of healing and pillars of peace in this new upside world where Jesus is alive.
And that is a life-stopping celebration I can get behind.
Happy Easter, everyone!