Although we have some similarities, there's a significant difference between the worshipping styles of Mormons and other Christian denominations. And this difference is perhaps most noticeable during the two biggest Christian celebrations: Christmas and Easter. Compared to their Catholic and Protestant counterparts, Mormons are, on average, probably much better at actually attending church on a regular basis. Though the Church is extremely small in Norway, my local branch probably draws an average of around 15-20 people on any given Sunday. The local Lutheran church draws about the same number on most Sundays, despite the fact that there are thousands of more Lutherans than Mormons.
But, while Mormons are generally better in the church attendace department than our Catholic and Protestant counterparts, I think that we could learn a thing or two from them when it comes to celebrating -- or even acknowledging -- the holy days of Christianity. Cases in point: Unless Christmas falls on a Sunday, Mormon churches are closed. If General Conference happens to fall on Easter Sunday like this year, then conference takes precedence. And as a life-long Mormon, I had never even heard of the Ascension of Christ or Pentecost celebrations -- both stat holidays in much of Europe -- until I moved here.
So this year, I just felt like doing something different and decided to experience Lutheran Easter Sunday mass in a church that dates back to about 1150. Along with my Lutheran-on-record husband, I had the pleasure of being accompanied by my Afghan brother, Hassan (see my previous post for the story of how I met him).
It was a special day for me, to be accompanied by two of the dearest people in my life, and to have a quiet day to reflect upon what the whole thing actually means to me. I used to think of Lutheranism as watered-down Christianity, changing with the times and without much emphasis on lifestyle or morality. I could sit here and argue how true or not that is, or which approach to Christianity is "better," but suffice it to say that on this day, it was what I needed.
The priest recited a story about how he was once officiating at a funeral and after throwing the three ceremonial spoonfuls of earth onto the casket, a five-year old boy remarked that it was not enough. This, he was reminded, was the central message of the story of Easter. On our own, we can never do "enough." This was a dilemma that had been much on my mind this past week as I attempted to comfort a very distraught refugee friend who is facing a looming deportation order.
Jesus said, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14: 18). God says he will not leave us comfortless, but it seems that more often than not, that is dependent on whether or not we are willing to extend that comfort to someone.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."
-Romans 12: 15
I got to do a little of both this past week.
At the core of the sermon was the message, "Gud er kjærlighet" -- God is love. I think that many of us want to believe that, but become witnesses to so many attrocities and injustices of varying degree in this world -- many committed in the name of God -- that it becomes extremely problematic to reconcile "God's love" with reality or religion. Hassan's life is a perfect example of that.
Many today, including myself, are moving away from a literal, orthodox approach to religion. Whatever our view on the Easter miracle, or religion in general -- whether literal or metaphorical -- love is a central theme. Instead of focusing on where we fall short and beating ourselves up over it, sometimes it's better to just focus on that love. Sometimes it's really all we can do.
Although my life is nothing to complain about, it's hard to feel God's love. I can say that my life is good and therefore I feel God's love, but all I have to do is look around me to see examples of why equating material wealth or stability with divine love is so problematic. Perhaps the closest I can come to feeling God's love is indirectly -- through the individuals that enrich and enlighten my life.
I'm not looking to switch religions, but as a lapsed Mormon, I enjoyed the simplicity of the Lutheran priest's poignant sermon. And as a lapsed Muslim, even though he doesn't yet understand much Norwegian, I hope that Hassan was uplifted by the special atmosphere of this holy day.
Thanks for an Easter Sunday that I will remember. It was a good day.
Happy Easter, everyone.