Semana Santa

“Penitentes carrying torches in hopes that Jesus will forgive their sins from the previous year”

As we find ourselves in the midst of Holy Week – we’re reminded that all around the world communities stop and reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Malaga, and Spain, this week is a huge deal – a sacred week – Semana Santa. It is a week filled with processionals and pageantry all meant to remember and reflect upon the suffering of Christ. All throughout Spain these processionals are taking place.

Each afternoon/evening during the week, 17th century floats bearing imagenes of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, emerge from the old churches and process through the streets for hours and hours until finally snaking their way back to the church from which they came. Costaleros bear the weight of these enormous floats, while penitentes, both large and small, lead and follow the float bearing traditional capirotes and candles. The eerie and sorrowful flamenco hymns, written in minor keys, are played by the Semana Santa bands to set the desparing tone of these processions. The hymns of the band, the wailing singers, and the cries of the pregoneros who bring the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, can be heard from miles away.

For the entire week pageantry, beauty, and grandiosity grips communities in Spain with such wonder and awe. And yet still, when all is said and done, when the week is over, and the costumes return to storage, the floats go back from whence they came – life in Spain returns to normal. Reflections of Christ become nothing but images in the rear view mirror.

As Jenifer and I look forward to and prepare to engage this beautiful context in ministry; this week especially, reminds us of how we all can at times be prone to production and grandeur to the point that we sometimes lose sight of Jesus. This is certainly the case in Spain as pageantry and religion clearly overshadows conviction and actual belief. But, at the same time, I can’t help and think of how easy it is for me to sit comfortably as an evangelical and point the finger toward a culture or cultures whose images convey grand religiosity devoid of Jesus when I myself can at times easily do the same.

As we somberly sit in this holy week and reflect upon the suffering of Christ and at the same time prepare for our celebration of His resurrection –  My prayer is that I/we would not get caught up in all of  our grand plans for celebration and at the end of the day forget Jesus. May we celebrate well and then allow that celebration to set the tone for lives that are lived well in light of that celebration – Jesus suffered and died, was buried, but rose again in triumph so that we too would live resurrection lives, lives impacted, shaped, and directed by His resurrection.

“The walk of penitence in Andalucia”

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2 Comments

  1. I sit in judgment… I like how you talk of not pointing the finger at a culture of religious grandiosity devoid of Jesus. Hmmm. A few thoughts though. I truly marvel at the culture that not only created these ceremonials but fully lived what they portrayed, Unfortunately the meaning is so hard to pass on versus the practices. I do not know if we can hold a current generation fully responsible for the traditions past on from previous generations. Still I admire the fact that these practices continue and that God may use them for His greater glory.

    I have been taken by a phrase from the book Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell: “Never accept a label for a story.” So when you say the “Reflections of Christ become nothing but images in the review mirror,” do you really know how those images return in there “normal life” or are you just taking the label “normal” to mean devoid of Jesus. We need to know their story and not portray or biases for or against grandiose ceremonies.

    peace and blessings

    • Thanks Pat. I certainly hear what you’re saying as it relates to labelling. In fact, I think that we would ALL do well to enter into cultural narratives with ears open and postures of listening first. This is our heart for sure – whether here in San Diego or soon in Malaga – we are first called to be listeners of culture and story. Certainly in the context of Spain there is so much going on there from a geo-political and historical context that has affected the religious culture of the entire country. We’ve had teammates on the ground there for almost four years, and as they have served and engaged the culture they’ve found the statistics to be more than true – 1% of all Spaniards believe religion to be important to their lives – Spain is now looking at being 3-4 generations removed of really much of any understanding of the person and work of Jesus beyond a religious icon. Certainly Spain was once a stalwart of faith and religion, but 50+ years of dictatorship and civil war has completely undermined the ability of the church to speak into their culture. I certainly still believe we must take a posture of listening as we move into Malaga, and do actually believe that many of these ceremonies do in fact bring glory to God – but we’ve also done a lot of pre-work and have interacted with Spaniards and missionaries alike – all of whom have said this very thing – the church has little to no influence in the lives of those 30 and under. Those are to whom we feel called to – and to whom we are grateful for the opportunity and privilege to serve.

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