Easter in East Asia

It’s the Easter weekend, filled with church services, hot cross buns and Easter egg hunts.

We know what Easter looks like the UK, but what about in East Asia?

We asked three cross-cultural workers what Easter is like where they are and how we can be praying for these places.

Japan

Ask the average Japanese person on the street if they have heard of Easter, ‘the resurrection festival,’ and the answer is almost sure to be ‘no’.

So Easter is a wonderful opportunity for the church to reach out to the majority of Japanese who have no knowledge of life eternal.

Buddhist funeral in Japan

Buddhist funeral

Most funerals are Buddhist and are followed by memorial services on the 7th, 49th, and 100th days after death, and then irregularly for years to come.  Relatives feel obliged to attend, although many say the prayers intoned by the priests are incomprehensible.  Everyone wears black and the atmosphere is usually thick with incense. There are many Buddhist sects but most are vague about what happens to people at death.

Christian funeral

Christian funeral

So Christian memorial services are a great opportunity to share the hope of the resurrection. Every year on Easter Day, my Japanese church combines the main Easter service with a memorial for all church members who have died. Families are invited and it is exciting to have up to 20-30 non-Christians coming to church for this service. Many stay for the special lunch and sharing of memories.  Pastor Matsumoto reads two testimonies followed by a simple Easter message. He says, ‘It is important for relatives to hear the testimonies of their loved ones and to see how lovingly they are remembered by the church family.’

Pray that many relatives will learn to say, as their loved ones did, ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ (Phil 1:21).

Thailand

Thai Christians blessing the elders at church.

Thai Christians blessing the elders at church.

Easter is sadly not celebrated at all in Thailand as it is often around the time of the Thai New Year (or Songkran) on 13-15th April.

The whole country is on holiday at this time to visit family and bless Buddhist monks and images by pouring scented water over their hands. Thai Christians will adapt this ceremony to honour the elderly and leaders in church (see photo).

Sadly, Songkran is also known for the high number of fatalities as thousands drink and drive, gathering to have a massive water fight and paste clay on people’s faces.

The good news of freedom and hope through Jesus Christ who has defeated death is much needed in a culture of karmic beliefs.

China

Easter can pass you by in most of China. Compared to Christmas, where you can buy plastic trees and decorations in major supermarkets, Easter is not marked in any commercial sense. You can buy Kinder eggs, but then these are on the shelves all year round!

Only Christians and foreigners seem to mark Easter at all. However, it usually coincides with a very important festival called Qing Ming Jie – or tomb-sweeping day.

At this time of year families make their way back to their ancestral homes to sweep the tomb of their ancestors, the graves are swept and incense is burned as living family members bow down to those past and offer up prayers for them in the afterlife. Paper money is burned in the belief that burning it on earth sends it to relatives who in the afterlife still need such earthly things. Enterprising paper money sellers have learnt to move with the times and the streets are lined with them not just selling paper money, but also paper designer clothes, luxury cars and even iPhones!

The festival presents both a deep challenge and a great opportunity in China for believers. As the festival is a public holiday, it can distract from anything happening in the surrounding weeks – everyone is busy back at work. However, churches in the area are very active in putting on both events for believers and outreach events. So even though on a commercial level, there is absolutely no indication that anyone is aware Easter exists, yet, I hope and pray that through the activity of our brothers and sisters, that many will get to hear about the real, non-commercial Easter story.

 Will you pray for them?

Find out more: If you’d like to find out more about Qing Ming Jie, have a read of this Gospel Coalition blog post, ‘the swept tomb vs the empty tomb‘.

What now?

This Easter weekend, as you go to church and enjoy Easter eggs, could you take a moment to pray for our brothers and sisters in East Asia as they celebrate Jesus’ resurrection? And will you pray for the many who are yet to hear of this good news that transforms lives?

Please pray with us:

For Christians to have opportunities to share with friends and colleagues about the hope of Easter.

Church services such as the memorial services in many Japanese churches and the visitors who come.

That by God’s grace, whole societies would be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ, who has defeated death.

Happy Easter!

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