One year ago today, I woke up in Namibia to the sound of church bells. I could not remember the last time I had heard such a sweet sound. It rang so clear and cheerfully above the still town of Swakopmund. Surrounding the town is the Namib desert, which means “vast place.” It is a land swept dry from south African winds, which have lost all their moisture and nutrients by the time they’ve reached Namibia’s west coast. The tan land is barren from as far east as the eye could see all the way to its boarder, where parched sand meets the Atlantic. There was a large gathering of the region’s churches meeting next to the hotel I had stayed. With little on me, I said goodbye to my friends and inclined my ears to the bell’s toll. The streets where empty, with everyone who would go to church already in one and with everyone else asleep in their beds, like tombs. And then there was me; the one who’s footsteps nearly echoed as they clopped across the stone road.
As it turned out, the gathering was not in the beautiful stone church where I heard the bells but in a large, one-story building across the street. I found my way to the simple meeting hall and took a seat. There must have been 500 people there. People of all ages, most of which where mothers, fathers and children. Aside from a few men who looked like they originated from South Africa, I was the only white person in the room. I was also the only person not wearing a suit, dress or any other form of my Sunday-best. My t-shirt probably smelled atrocious. Those sitting around me smiled anyway at the obvious stranger who had just joined them. The pastors went up one after another, giving impassioned speeches. At the end of one of the men’s speech, they would all pat each other on the back and add their warm words. Back and forth, they would speak. Time was irrelevant, but the words they declared so happily was everything. Although they were pastors of several different churches in the region, which I later found out, it was evident that each person who orated at the front of the long room shared a brotherhood with every other person present.
They spoke in a language I could not understand, but that was beside the point. Their zeal for the truth was enough to bless anyone. That’s the coolest thing about beauty; it can transcend language. That the beauty of truth is so full of human goodness that it can even surpass human understanding, like a hearty laugh breathes health into the body. The truth does not require words to be felt and I was touched. If time can be a place, then this was a moment imbued with God’s peace, as Chris Tomlin sings, “there is a place where sin and shame are powerless.” It is a place where humans let the light of Christ shine in and through them, like the sound of music filling the city from a hollow church. Here, in the midst of complete strangers, I was treated like a brother and a son.
After the service, which must have lasted 3 hours, we shared a meal of salad, beans, meat, rice and a soda. I cracked open my orange soda and jokingly tapped the soda of the man sitting next to me. “Cheers!” He cracked a cynical laugh and spoke to me in English. And as we ate, we reasoned through our theologies together. He was a very kind and informed man with a wife and a few energized youngsters running around. He ended up finding me a ride home to Walvis Bay where my ship was docked. His cousin picked me up with his niece snapping photos on her DSLR in the front seat. The three of us chatted until the final few miles, where I hopped out at the fork in the road. I thanked them again and began to walk along the desert road towards the harbor. I was in the midst of embracing the solitude of my 15 minute walk back when a van pulled over. Some friends from the ship flung the door open and took me the rest of the way.
And so I was carried by the grace of strangers and companions throughout the day till I was safely brought home. Easter is a holiday like none other. As the only Christian holiday that has resisted western commercialism, something rings true about what it stands for. Perhaps it is because the greater a truth, the harder it becomes for money to possess it. Whether people believe in the resurrection or not, they cannot deny the significance of the passion displayed in Christ’s story. For it is by his life that we, too, can live stories of passion, beauty and grace. How ironic it is for powers to monopolize the remembrance of the greatest and most free gift given to us; Christ’s body mangled and broken. Which was poured out so that we wouldn’t need anything more, but that whoever so chooses to rest in his presence—the time and place where the bonds of death were and forever are undone—may never be lacking again. To be transported by his grace safely home, to be filled and to be called “daughter” or “son.” As I write these words, my eyes are filling with tears. I was filled with food and soda offered to me by strangers. I was transported home by generosity I did not deserve.
I was filled with the goodness of believers of another language, land and culture, and all the while I was blessed by dwelling in the metaphysical space of God’s blessing. It is a place which can be accessed at anytime, for for all of time, Christ has made a way for our blessing to be secured. It is a blessing God gives freely to anyone, anyplace at anytime through vehicle of the incarnate God, who overrides the coils of sin, so that empty and broken people like us may be restored. By the transcendence of Beauty our human incapacity (whether it be language, desire or material) is no longer an obstacle. The road has been laid. The tomb has been emptied and the Christ lives. So that hollow churches may sound with beauty. So that parched lands may be quenched. And so that our hearts will be full when we, too, share in the infinite blessing God poured out to us through Jesus when he said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, ESV).