I am continually surprised by the way that new things happen in the same old situations. Despite the Teacher’s assertion that there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s still a lot of new light being shed.
We attended an Easter service at the Kiel (Germany) ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this morning, and there was a lot I didn’t understand. I know several dozen words in German, perhaps even a hundred. But only a few of the ones I know came up in conversation or in the service today, and they were positively swamped by many hundreds of words I didn’t know, so my few words didn’t get me very far.
Still, as it is Easter, I knew the subject matter. I’ve heard it before, read it before, taught it before, sung it before. Yet here’s what I didn’t expect: because I didn’t understand most of what was said, it freed me to pay a different kind of attention. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have heard verses of scripture, recognized the language, perhaps remembered the words that would follow. I would know what was coming and be able to follow the narrative step by step almost without thinking. Today I listened to a flow of unusually pronounced vowels and a positive avalanche of robust consonants in unfamiliar juxtapositions (how do Germans manage to pronounce things which look to me more like consonant train wrecks than words?), and only occasionally did a sound conjure up meaning in my mind. Floating in the syllable soup, I watched, and I pondered.
The children were presenting an Easter program. The older ones read their lines into a microphone, with occasional trouble stifling giggles. There was a slide show displayed on a screen, pictures of Jesus and scenes from the Easter story punctuated by classic yellow smiley faces and cheesy clip art.
The children each held their own smiley faces stapled to craft sticks, holding them up for happy moments, switching to sad faces for sad ones. When the narrative told of Jesus appearing before Pilate, it was the children who called out as if in the angry crowd, “crucify him, crucify him!” (“Kreuzige ihn! Kreuzige ihn!”) When it came time to describe the tumult that followed the death of Jesus, the slide showed enormous dark storm clouds, and the children earnestly stamped their feet, simulating quaking and thunder. (I have to say, finding productive ways to use otherwise disruptive things that children want to do was a stroke of genius.)
And there was singing, both by a choir of adults and the dozen or so children. At one point the children sang these words (well, they were singing German words, but you get the English):
On a golden springtime, Jesus Christ awoke
And left the tomb where he had lain;
The bands of death he broke.
Awake, awake, O sleeping world!
Look upward to the light,
For now all men may live again.
Look upward to the light!
That isn’t what I was hearing, but as I looked at the sweet faces of those children, that is what I was feeling. There was so much I didn’t understand–on the level of language processing, I wasn’t getting much done. But I was understanding a great deal on quite a different level. I was understanding yet again something I know at a level deeper than language, that because of Jesus Christ’s love for us, there will always be a sunrise after the darkness. He is the light and life of the world. Christ came to put an end to the endings we most fear. And this understanding puts everything else into perspective.
I echo what the children sang this morning in German: “Hosianna!”