These churches represent many denominations, each reaching out to touch and uplift the lives of their people. Were Alexis de Tocqueville to travel through the county today, he would be as impressed with the number of churches he would see as he was in the 1830s when he wrote his powerful study about America’s great secret of freedom and liberty — the American people’s belief in God, and in the laws that protected their freedom to worship God according to the dictates of individual conscience.
This Sunday is Palm Sunday. It is the beginning of the Christian Holy Week, ending Lenten season. It began with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, fulfilling prophecy; Maundy Thursday focuses on the Last Supper, Good Friday focuses on Christ’s Crucifixion; and Holy Saturday, a day when many churches hold a ‘vigil,’ or watch, marking the start of Easter and partaking of the Holy Communion.
Holy Week is also when the Jewish community begins its eight-day remembrance of the Passover. The Passover remembrance celebrates the day God “passed over,” or protected, the first born of the Israelites who were then enslaved by the Egyptian pharaoh. It also celebrates the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, led by Moses into the “wilderness of freedom,” a story well told in the book of Exodus.
This story reminds me of how often events are repeated throughout history. It tells me that what we are witnessing today in the Ukraine and elsewhere has happened before, and will continue to play out as despotic leaders attempt to return their people to both economic and spiritual bondage.
The Israelites were being held in slavery, against their will, by a despotic dictator. They prayed for deliverance. God sent Moses. Moses pleaded with the pharaoh to “let God’s people go.” The pharaoh refused. Moses tried diplomacy. That failed. Moses tried miracles — blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, blight, boils, hail, locusts and darkness — that also failed. Only after the Lord played his trump card — death to Egypt’s first born, did the pharaoh agree to let “His people” go.
But by then it was too late. The Israelites were saved because they had been told to mark their door lintels with blood. The pharaoh lost his son, his slaves and his army. The pharaoh, like other dictators throughout man’s long history, had been dealt God’s heavy hand.
Do these events sound familiar? When a people’s suffering becomes so intolerable that they turn to God in prayer for deliverance, He listens and then sends a liberator. But the price is always heavy. The price of freedom is always bought with blood, the currency of freedom and liberation.
Each Easter season, along with millions of other Christian believers, I reread and ponder the powerful message of Christ’s trumped up trial, crucifixion and finally on the third day, his resurrection. It is a powerful reminder that Christ did indeed atone for my sins. But it is also a powerful reminder for me that for the atonement to work in my life, I must pray to the Father who atoned for my sins and bring and keep my life in alignment with Christ’s life—and commandments.
Luke 22:43 tells the story of how God sent an angel to succor Christ in his time of greatest need. This story is a reminder to me that God will send “angels” to all who ask; to hold our hand, to uplift us, even to carry us during our times of greatest needs, as He has me many times.
This is a powerful message that we need never be alone — a message that brings peace to the troubled heart — a powerful message worth pondering during Holy Week — and every week.
Will Durant’s autobiography reminds me of the power of church steeples, and the powerful role religion plays in free societies. Durant said: “These church steeples, everywhere pointing upward, ignoring despair and lifting hope, these lofty city spires, or simple chapels in the hills — they rise at every step from the earth toward the sky; in every village of every nation they challenge doubt and invite weary hearts to consolation. Is it all a vain delusion? Is there nothing beyond life but death, and nothing beyond death but decay? We cannot know. But as long as man suffers, these steeples will remain.”
No, it’s not a delusion! We know: He lives! The steeples remind us to look upward.
Donald Conkey is a retired agricultural economist in Woodstock.