Tag Archives: Holy Week

Easter Joy in Troubled Times

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Right in the middle of our 4-day Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping) weekend, so we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Just as so many in Taiwan were at their family graves and tombs remembering their dead, so we celebrated new life; the joy of Easter filling us with hope once again.

Yet, we are so aware of the pain and suffering all around us. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown, isolation, deaths and illness have affected millions worldwide, though here we remain almost sheltered from the worst, in our own Taiwan bubble, as if watching from afar. But sheltered as we are from the pandemic, last Friday’s train crash on Taiwan’s east coast in Hualien County shook us all to the core. Fifty people were killed and over 200 injured when the Taroko Express Train No. 408 from Shulin, Taipei to Taitung crashed into a construction truck that had fallen onto the track from a road above, dragging the truck into a tunnel and derailing, with deadly results. The east coast train line is well-known for its dramatic cliffs, stunning scenery and long tunnels; I myself have done that trip many times. Taiwan’s population of 23 million may seem large, but the island of Taiwan is small and densely populated, so we are all affected. The whole of Taiwan was in shock.

All weekend, we saw nothing but news reports of death, grief and suffering on our TVs and cellphones. We saw people grieving the loss of their children, spouses, relatives and friends. We saw the Taoist priests and wailing mourners calling out to their loved ones to return home. We saw the tragedy of Rev. Chang, a retired Presbyterian pastor from the Indigenous Amis Tribe in Yuli, Hualien, whose 56-year-old son and 2 grandchildren, aged 22 and 20 were killed in the crash. His grief-stricken daughter-in-law survived the crash with only minor injuries, reporting that they had missed an earlier train, for which they had seat tickets, so had bought standing tickets for the next train instead, the ill-fated Taroko Express 408. It’s impossible to imagine losing your husband and 2 adult children all in one terrible tragic moment. We heard everyone around us asking ‘Why?’ Why indeed? How could this happen? Why so much suffering? Why so much pain? For Christians, at our Good Friday services held later that same day as this news was still coming in, we heard again the words of Jesus on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Words heard on repeat, literally or in essence, throughout the whole weekend. Poignant words of sadness, of desperation and despair, echoing our own sense of shock and grief. It was indeed a sombre weekend in Taiwan.

And yet on Easter Eve, when we lit the Easter fire on the steps below Advent Church at the start of the Easter Vigil, we saw again that light has conquered darkness, love has conquered death, hope has once again come into our world. We had a baptism too, a sign of light, hope and courage. Our faith is not meaningless, void and empty, even if we do question ‘why’ in the dark times. But we were challenged afresh on Easter Day, when we heard in the sermon about how many of us still seem to approach our faith as if we are going Tomb-Sweeping rather than meeting with the risen Christ. For Christians, the tomb is empty, Christ is risen; yet so often we cling to the past, to our memories, rituals and traditions, instead of to the risen Christ and the new life and hope he brings.

Tomb-Sweeping Festival is a busy time for many families, paying their respects to the dead, often to both sets of parents and grandparents, and involving several trips to graveyards or to the huge columbariums up in the mountains where the urns of ashes are stored. It’s always the same date every year, April 4-5 with a weekend attached. Usually I go away with friends, and this year yes, I had originally planned to do something else for the long weekend – but then we discovered it coincided with Easter, so we all rearranged our plans to be here instead. In Taipei it was foggy, smoggy, muggy and overcast all last week, which added to the sombre atmosphere of Holy Week. Up in the mountains, lots of people were out hiking, but mostly there were no views, just the odd peak struggling to appear out of the swirling fog. Relief came early on Sunday, with rain and wind all morning, blowing away the fog and clearing the air.

Monday was bright and sunny, and I went round the northern coast to Jinguashi to climb the Teapot Mountain Trail and Mt. Keelung. Essential for this is good weather – and gloves for the ropes. In the Japanese era, 1895-1945, Jinguashi 金瓜石 had one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines, with over 600 km of tunnels running deep into the mountains. Those mountains certainly conceal a whole array of terrible secrets, not least the remains of the old Kinkaseki Prisoner of War Camp down in the village, of which only one original gatepost and wall remains. The rest is a memorial garden, with plaques detailing the history of how the prisoners (many from the USA, UK and Commonwealth countries, captured in Malaya and Singapore during World War II) were put to work in the most dangerous parts of the mine, mistreated and starved. Death was never far away, the suffering unimaginable. So much tragedy.

These days, Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park is a museum and a popular place for a day out from Taipei. Hundreds go up to the Teapot Mountain 茶壺山 (580m). It’s fun ~ and from certain places the Teapot really does look like a teapot!

The trail goes up into the actual teapot, and out the other side. Then up to Mt. Banping 半平山 (713m) and along the ridge to Mt. Canguangliao 燦光寮山 (739m).

The views are across to Mt. Keelung (588m) ….

There are steps up Mt. Keelung, also a popular hike with lots of people. The most exciting part of the whole trip is to walk along the top of the ridge to the East Peak. It’s steep, and those ropes are something else, but the views were amazing.

Jiufen 九份 is the nearby town where most of the miners back in the day spent all their money – in its heyday, Jiufen was known as Little Shanghai. From a distance it looks like a large town, perched on the side of the mountain, but closer up, it’s clear that a whole section of what look like houses are actually graves. They do look like small houses, that’s for sure.

And 40 minutes down the mountain at Keelung Harbour, a cruise ship was setting sail – off for a tour of Taiwan’s islands. Amazing really that Taiwan still has cruises going on, while the rest of the world is at a standstill.

And there was a display of children’s art work called ‘Keelung Rain’ – these are all supposed to be raindrops. Keelung is famous for its terrible weather – it’s all wind and rain, so it’s kind of appropriate. Sadly, this year there’s been nowhere near enough rain down in central and southern Taiwan, and water rationing has already started in Taichung, along with the closure of all public swimming pools as they try to conserve water. With no typhoons last summer, and not much rain since, so the reservoirs are very dry. It’s a worrying situation.

Just to add to the events of this last weekend, it was also Children’s Day on Sunday (with free entry for children to many attractions), and my 60th birthday was on Easter Eve. Thanks to those who sent me birthday wishes, there were lots! Celebrations are delayed until next weekend in Taichung and even later, though we had a celebration for April birthdays in Advent Church on Easter Day….

And we’ll have one at the diocesan office next week, along with Bishop Chang whose birthday was the day before mine. One of our students did take a birthday photo on Saturday after the Easter Vigil. I was in pink with a pink face-mask! And here’s to the next decade…

Wishing you all deep Easter joy and peace in these troubled times. Thank you for your prayers for Taiwan, and for your Easter greetings. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

‘It is finished’: Maundy Thursday & Good Friday @ Advent Church

Today’s tragic news is of a train accident early this morning in a tunnel in Hualien County, on Taiwan’s east coast, with many killed and injured. News is still coming in. We mourn and lament such terrible loss of life on this the first day of the Tomb-Sweeping Festival. Please do pray for all the victims, and for all those in shock and grief.

Today is also Good Friday. We hear the words again of Jesus on the cross, ‘It is finished’.

Last night we marked Maundy Thursday at Advent Church with a service which included foot-washing. This year, we did things differently and lined up to take part. It was wonderful to see so many of our students involved. Such a meaningful service.

After Holy Communion, the altar was stripped and all the crosses covered over. In the darkness, we read the words of Psalm 22, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

This afternoon we had a very meditative Good Friday service from 2-3 pm, which finished with prayers around the altar.

We stayed on to pray and left in silence. In prayer, we remember the victims of the train crash, and we pray for God’s mercy and grace for all those affected.

What’s in a name?

It’s Holy Week, and of course, this coming weekend is Easter. One of Christianity’s best kept secrets; unlike Christmas, it seems few people in Taiwan have any idea what Easter is, and certainly no idea that it’s coming this weekend. Probably far fewer people than usual will be in church to celebrate too, as this coming weekend is also Taiwan’s Tomb-Sweeping Festival (Qingming), Women’s Day and Children’s Day all combined into one long 4-day weekend.

For young professionals and families in Taiwan’s cities, it’ll be a holiday weekend away from their high-pressured office jobs, enjoying some spring weather before the heat of summer, with trips to Taiwan’s outlying islands, up to the central mountains or beach resorts. Covid-19 restrictions for overseas travel mean that everyone is holidaying in Taiwan these days and domestic tourism is booming. For our students here at St. John’s University (SJU), they’ll be in demand for part-time work either near their homes or in our local restaurants, cafes, beaches and tourist sites lining Taiwan’s northern coast, like Laomei and the Fuguijiao Lighthouse…

Laomei’s famous Algal Reef – taken last weekend

One things for sure, wherever we go, there’ll be major traffic jams all weekend!

The Lighthouse Cat guards Fuguijiao Lighthouse, on Taiwan’s northern tip

The good news is that we got off to a good start for Holy Week with a celebration of Palm Sunday at Advent Church and SJU….

Otherwise, March has been a much quieter month than most years, with activities considerably reduced due to concerns about Covid-19, though daily life continues mostly as normal. Fortunately, Taiwan currently has no known community transmission, with 10 deaths and 1,024 confirmed cases, all contained by strict border and quarantine controls. Imported vaccines have resulted in health workers and Olympic hopefuls receiving their first shots in recent weeks, but for the general population, we await final trials of local vaccines, the government eager to proceed at a safe and normal speed of vaccine development. This weekend Taiwan’s very first carefully-monitored travel bubble is starting with the tropical island paradise of Palau; their new president is currently in Taiwan for the official launch, returning home on the first official bubble flight tomorrow.

Common Jester Butterfly (Symbrenthia Lilaea Formosanus) at Yangmingshan…

Spring is here, and with it has appeared the cherry blossom, azalea and wisteria, all looking spectacular. I’ve counted up to 7 crested serpent eagles circling on the thermals above our campus, while down here below we have frogs, lizards, snakes and butterflies all enjoying the sunnier weather (photos / videos in this post were all taken in the last few weeks, some locally, others up at the mountains of Yangmingshan).

11-second snake video: False Taiwan Habu 擬龜殼花

I’ve had 2 sermons to write this month for 2 different English congregations, and in both, I’ve used the same story as an illustration. Some sermons generate more comments than others, and this was one of them. In the light of so much division, separation and isolation in this world – in the church as well as in society as a whole, it seems good to share this story here, with thanks to Rev. Samuel C. L. Liao who originally included a paragraph about this in a piece he wrote for the ‘About Us’ section for our upcoming new website. For once, this is a happy story of 3 church / mission groups plus 2 bishops who put aside their differences and decided to work together for the sake of the Gospel and the people they served. And it all happened in the mid-19th century, when egos and self-interest played just as large a role in decision-making as they seem to do today.

Azalea Season

First a disclaimer, I am not particularly interested in Anglican / Episcopal Church history, hierarchies, titles and governance as such, but I am interested in the background story of how the Taiwan Episcopal Church got its Chinese name. Knowing only the basic facts, I acknowledge that there could be a whole lot more to discover deep in the archives. Sadly, church history got way too complicated when Henry VIII started knocking off all those poor wives with names the same as mine, so a little church history goes a very long way. But what I have also discovered is that most of our church members here also know very little about this story – but, like me, they are interested.

It’s fair to say that most countries where the Anglican / Episcopal Church has been established have just adapted the ‘Anglican’ part of their name into something acceptable in their own language while still being recognizable as the word ‘Anglican’, so in Rwanda for example, the church is known as ‘Eglise Anglicane du Rwanda’, in Brazil as ‘Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil’.

But this is not so in places like Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan…

Oldham’s Azalea, growing up in the mountains

First a bit of background: the word ‘Anglican’ means ‘English,’ denoting the country where the Anglican Church was originally founded. In England, the Anglican Church is just known as ‘The Church of England’ because it’s the national church. The American Church, which originated in England, uses the title, ‘The Episcopal Church’; ‘Episcopal’ means ‘bishops’. One of the main differences when The Episcopal Church was established was that while bishops in England were appointed by the crown, not so in the USA, where they considered themselves free from English rule, so US bishops were – and still are – elected instead of being appointed.

Here in Taiwan, we call our branch of the Anglican Communion by the name ‘Taiwan Episcopal Church’ because we belong to the US-based Episcopal Church. We’re part of Province VIII, officially established in 1954. The Chinese name for the Taiwan Episcopal Church is 台灣聖公會 (Taiwan Sheng Kung Hui). There are 3 Chinese characters in the church part of the name: Sheng 聖 means ‘holy’, Kung 公 means ‘catholic’ (meaning ‘universal’), Hui 會 means ‘church’. So how come the Chinese name of the Taiwan Episcopal Church translates in a way that is completely unrelated to the English name? It’s clear that there’s no word in the Chinese name that can be translated as ‘Anglican’ or ‘Episcopal.’

So the story goes like this. The US Episcopal Church started their evangelism in Mainland China in 1835, and in Japan in 1859; they were followed soon after by CMS and SPG (now USPG) Anglican mission societies from England, and much later (1888 in Japan) by the Anglican Church of Canada. But working together was not easy, each church and mission society had their own style of mission and their own style of worship. In 1866, aged 37, US Bishop Channing Moore Williams was consecrated to serve as ‘Episcopal Bishop of China and Japan’, largely based in Japan. Twenty years later, in 1886, aged 36, UK Bishop Edward Bickersteth was consecrated to serve as ‘Missionary Bishop of the Church of England in Japan,’ (succeeding Bishop Arthur W. Poole, 1883-1885). Wrap your mind around that bit of history – that’s how they did things in those days.

Cherry Blossom at SJU

Anyway, surprise, surprise, these 3 groups in Japan: the US church, CMS and SPG, led by these 2 bishops – 20 years’ difference in age – agreed to work together and unite their missionary efforts into one autonomous national church. The first Japanese synod, instigated by Bickersteth and presided over by Williams, was held in Osaka in 1887. At that meeting, the Japanese church (then with a membership of about 1,300 and with lay delegates sent from every church) decided to take part of the Nicene Creed, ‘We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church’ and from that phrase to adopt ‘The Holy Catholic Church’ (聖公會, 聖: holy, 公: catholic, 會: church) for its name, pronounced in Japanese as ‘Nippon Sei Ko Kai’ (NSKK), the ‘Holy Catholic Church in Japan’.

In 1912, the Anglican / Episcopal church in China also decided to call their new church, ‘Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui’ (CHSKH) 中華聖公會, the ‘Holy Catholic Church in China’. From that came ‘Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui’ (HKSKH) 香港聖公會, the official title of the Anglican Church in Hong Kong. And some of the CHSKH members who later moved to Taiwan became founding members of the Taiwan Episcopal Church (Taiwan Sheng Kung Hui) 台灣聖公會 in 1954. We are really the ‘Holy Catholic Church’ in Taiwan.

And guess what, we’re not totally unique in the Christian world ~ other churches also chose Chinese names that are totally unrelated to the original, most notably the Roman Catholics – but that’s a whole other story. And we’re nowhere near unique in having a history of mission societies and church groups in conflict with each other in the same country – just think of East Africa, but that is also a whole other story. Ah, church history, sigh!

Just as those 2 bishops decided to work together to try to resolve their differences, so we need to continue to preserve our unity today. Our diocesan motto this year is ‘Working together as one in Christ to build the church’, and that was one of the themes of our diocesan convention held a few weeks ago in Kaohsiung. What does it mean for us to ‘work together as one in Christ?’ Partly it means not being divided by our differences, old and young, traditional and modern, high church and low church, liturgical and non-liturgical, hymns and choruses, informal and formal, Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese, urban and rural, liberal and conservative, online and in-person – and more. All these things have the potential to divide and separate us – or to bring us together, depending on which way we choose to go. Let’s try putting ourselves and our own agendas on one side this Holy Week, Easter and in the future, and find ways to work together – for the sake of the Gospel and each other.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Wisteria Season

Children sometimes do better at this than adults, putting aside their differences that is, and Children’s Day on April 4 is a way to celebrate. At our local Xingren Elementary School (photos below are taken from their website), we celebrated Children’s Day recently by making paper people and each child choosing 4 countries that have some meaning for them – many children in Taiwan have mothers from other SE Asian countries, and Japan, Korea and USA are always popular choices. Gotta love the row of monsters on the back wall too! The fun song to sing for this is on YouTube: Hello to all the Children of the World – check it out, you’ll be singing it all day!

Meanwhile yesterday we distributed salted duck eggs around SJU to wish everyone a Happy Easter…

And to you all too ~ wishing you all a meaningful and blessed Holy Week, and a joyous and hopeful Easter!

Palm Sunday @ St. James’ Church English Service, Taichung

Just spent Palm Sunday weekend at St. James’ Church, Taichung where I was assigned to do the sermon in the English service. It seems that usually, with only an hour for the service, they don’t have time for a Palm Sunday procession and miss out the readings for Palm Sunday too, just concentrating on the ones for Holy Week. But my Palm Sunday sermon, based on Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey (the Palm Sunday liturgy) was all prepared when I discovered that fact. And so it was that Rev. Lily Chang kindly rearranged the whole service, and for the first time, St. James’ English Service had the Palm Sunday Liturgy and Palm Sunday Procession, waving palm branches and shouting ‘Hosanna’ as everyone walked around.

The Chinese congregation had a Palm Sunday Procession that went around the streets of St. James; the English congregation had a smaller one, just around the church building ~ but in its own way, just as meaningful.

We also had a choir, formed from the English congregation, who sang all the traditional Palm Sunday hymns and songs.

This was not the only major event of the weekend going on at St. James. On the Saturday morning, we had the first of 3 Bishop Candidates Public Forums for all the church members in central Taiwan to meet and hear from the 3 candidates nominated for election to succeed Bishop Lai when he retires early next year. About 60 people came along, and it was very worthwhile.

And in-between times, I went off to visit my old friends, these are the Lai family, and the 2 girls are my former pupils, now all grown up! So great to see them!

Came back home yesterday into major traffic jams caused by processions of worshipers, deities, musicians and vast numbers of people celebrating a traditional Taoist festival, marching along the sides of the roads along the streets of Tamsui and further north. Just as the date of Easter is set by the Lunar calendar, so the week before Easter, when we are observing Holy Week, that same week is always also a busy time for temples in this area, who are observing the same Lunar calendar. The 860 bus route from Tamsui, that normally takes about 25 minutes, instead took an hour. Ah, I was so happy to arrive home!

So wishing you all a meaningful Holy Week as we remember Jesus’s last supper with his disciples, his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death on the cross. Do take time to pray, reflect, meditate, contemplate, worship, remember, fast, observe and take part in the events going on in churches around about. It’s the most important week of the Christian year, so do get into it!

Holy Week and Easter 2018 @ Advent Church, St. John’s University, Taiwan!

Christ is risen, Alleluia!  It’s been a meaningful, joyful and blessed Holy Week here at Advent Church, St. John’s University ~ and now Easter is upon us, so a very happy Easter to you all!  This is the Easter fire, lit last night at 8:00 pm as we started our Easter Vigil Service…

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And the sun’s been shining all week, and the cherry blossom was still out at the beginning of Holy Week…..

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Holy Week started last Sunday, Palm Sunday ~ YES!

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We began our Palm Sunday service with a procession around the main entrance of St. John’s University.  We were very pleased that Bishop Lai was able to join us for the service and procession too.

The procession wound its way around the church, where we have the Stations of the Cross, pausing at each in turn.  Then as we processed into the church, each person took one of the small green palm crosses…

During the service, we had a dramatic presentation of the events of Holy Week, acted out by our students, past and present…..

Then on Monday night, the St. John’s University ‘Movie Club’ showed the movie ‘Silence‘ 沈默 on a big screen on the main playing field.  This was not done intentionally for Holy Week, rather they had to choose an evening when there was no baseball practice, and they chose the movie because it was filmed in Taiwan.  But it so happens that it was so appropriate for Holy Week – and quite a number of us turned up to watch.  This was my second time to see it, and it’s much improved on the second viewing ~ like I knew when the gruesome bits were coming up, but also I noticed things I had missed the first time round.  Still utterly compelling and challenging.  Brutal and horrific, and yet also so moving. And so fitting for Holy Week.  For me, this was one of the highlights of the week.

On Maundy Thursday, we held our Passover Meal in the Advent Church Center, and a wonderful mix of students and adults came along.  This took a huge amount of work and preparation, but all worth it.  We were so pleased to welcome SJU President Ay and his wife too.

During the service that followed in the church, we had foot-washing.  President Ay had his feet washed by our rector, Rev. Lennon Chang – the teacher washing the feet of his former student.  We also had our chaplain, Rev. Wu Hsing-Hsiang, washing the feet of Jin-Ching, our SJU Student Fellowship Leader, and Shu-Jing from our chaplaincy washed the feet of Pei-Ching, one of our 4th year students who was preparing for her baptism on Easter Eve.  We celebrated the ‘Last Supper’ together, remembering the evening when Jesus instituted the Holy Communion, and shared bread and wine with his disciples just before his death.

The altar had been stripped after the service on Maundy Thursday, and the crosses were covered in black cloth.  On Good Friday, it being a working and school day, we had a lunchtime service with our students, faculty and staff acting out the events of Good Friday – the trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus, and we finished in silence around the cross and the altar…..

Then to last night, which was Easter Eve, Saturday, and we held our Easter Vigil at 8:00 pm, with the lighting of the Easter fire, and also 2 baptisms. It was great to see so many of our student fellowship coming along to support Pei-Ching in her baptism…

I was outside taking photos during the baptisms, along with a little 2-year-old and his father.   He was totally absorbed in watching events inside at the font….

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This morning, Easter Day, we could truly say, ‘Christ is risen, Alleluia!’  I even wore a skirt for the occasion, and got mentioned in the Notices as a result!  Advent Church was filled with wonderful choir music as our choir sang and sang so much beautiful Easter music.

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Yu-Jie accompanied the choir on the piano, and glorious sounds filled the church!

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Ah yes, and to finish, we had an Easter egg hunt!

And then we had lunch and birthday cake – celebrating all April birthdays.  Here we all are at the end of the service singing happy birthday together!

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And so, wishing you all a Happy Easter.  Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Zhongshan Presbyterian Church, Taipei 中山基督長老教會

It’s Holy Week and the sun is shining all week in Taipei, yippee!

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Today is Maundy Thursday, and appropriate for Maundy Thursday is a visit to Zhongshan Presbyterian Church (中山基督長老教會) in central Taipei (62, Linsen N. Rd 林森北路62號), where the small stained glass window above the altar is of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, while his disciples are fast asleep nearby.

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The window at the back of the church is of Jesus the Good Shepherd…

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This morning, very early, I cycled past this church on my way into Taipei.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the traffic stopped long enough for me to take some photos without getting run over.  The church does look splendid in the sun!

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And what’s so special about this church? Well, it’s very historic, built in 1937 in a Gothic style, with a 3-story bell tower.  This was during the Japanese era 1895-1945, and it was built as a Japanese Anglican Church, Nippon Sei Ko Kai (NSKK) with all services in Japanese.  Taiwan at the time belonged to the NSKK Diocese of Osaka.  This is the most famous of all the church buildings in Taiwan built by the Japanese Anglican Church.  Apparently, as it was near a place called Taisho Cho, its original name was “Taisho Street Anglican Church”.

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But in 1945-6, when the Japanese left Taiwan, there was no Taiwanese Anglican / Episcopal Church to hand it over to, and in 1947 it became the Zhongshan Presbyterian Church; the church celebrated their 70th anniversary in 2017.   The Taiwan Episcopal Church was founded much later, in 1954.

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Fast forward to 2004 and Taiwan Episcopal Church (Diocese of Taiwan) began a companion diocese partnership with the NSKK Diocese of Osaka, which is still going strong today.    And we have a good relationship with the Zhongshan Presbyterian Church today too – and Bishop David J. H. Lai has preached at this church many times.

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One of the places we like to take our Japanese visitors is to see this church.  It really is full of history, and it really looks quite amazing surrounded as it is by all the high-rise buildings and all that traffic, whizzing past on both sides!

And so, back to the stained glass window and its significance for Maundy Thursday ~ wishing you all a meaningful and blessed Holy Week!

Holy Week 2017

Maundy Thursday started at Advent Church with a special meal in the new church center.

After the meal we had the service of Holy Communion, including the washing of feet. Advent Church Rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang washed the feet of 2 of those preparing for baptism on Easter Eve, including 8-year-old Bo-Chang.

Rev. Wu Hsing-Hsiang celebrated Holy Communion, the Last Supper.

Good Friday 12 noon – a service of prayer and readings with a dramatic presentation of the Crucifixion Story….

‘It is finished’.

Today is Easter Eve – and we await with anticipation for Christ’s resurrection. Tonight we will have the Easter Vigil and baptisms, starting with the lighting of the Easter fire….

Good Friday 受難日‬@ Advent Church

A few highlights of our lunchtime service at Advent Church today….

The sermon took the words of John 18: 37-38…

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.

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彼拉多問:「真理是甚麼?」Pilate asked, ‘What is truth?”

‘‎真理‬'(zhēnlĭ) ‘‎Truth’‬ ‪~ the Chinese characters are carved on the nave of Advent Church, along with the characters for ‘the way’ and ‘the life’ above and below.

Pilate asked, “What is truth?”  

A suitable thought to meditate upon this Good Friday afternoon.

Maundy Thursday 設立聖餐日@ Advent Church

Pouring with rain and with a strong wind as a very late cold front has suddenly arrived in the last day or two bringing with it some horrible weather and a return to winter temperatures ~ hey, we’re used to it by now, but this winter seems far from over, and it’s almost April! But as you’ll see from the photos below, some of our hardy students are still walking around in T-shirts saying they can’t understand what all the fuss is about!

Our annual Maundy Thursday service was last night, and Thursday evening is also the evening when our St. John’s University student fellowship meets, usually about 30 of them. Actually they meet every evening for different activities, but their main gathering is on Thursdays. It’s open to any of our students, and it seems that about half of those who come are already Christians and half not. Some are interested in the Christian faith, some would really like to be baptised but too scared to ask their parents, others have asked and their parents say no, others are waiting until they they reach their final year hoping their parents will come round in the meantime.  But there’s also many who are not interested, they’re here because they like the friendship and fun. Everyone’s welcome! But they all volunteered in equal numbers for the foot-washing, either to have their feet washed or to carry water and arrange the towels and bowls.

So we had 12 volunteers for foot-washing, 11 of them students from our student fellowship, plus Yu-lin who works with the students in our chaplaincy office ~ and 4 foot-washers, our 2 clergy, one churchwarden and Shu-Jing who also works with the students in our chaplaincy office….

One of our students, Mei-han is preparing for her baptism on Easter Eve, she had her feet washed by our churchwarden.  After the foot-washing, we had communion, and at the end of the service, prepared the church for Good Friday ~ cleared the altar and covered the crosses with black cloth, and then read Psalm 22 in a darkened church….

Psalm 22:1 ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’

And so we pause to remember the last evening and last night of Jesus’ life on earth…

PS Turns out that the reason why the girls were all smiling in the foot-washing photos was because the water was freezing cold, and they’d mostly put both feet in the water together, hence their ‘grin and bear it’ kind of expressions!

Reconciling the World with God: Holy Week and Easter Reflection

It’s Maundy Thursday, and there’s an air of anticipation in our chaplain’s office here at St. John’s University as our students get ready for the service tonight ~ many have volunteered to take part in the foot-washing, and they’re excited!

Excitement in Holy Week?! OK, it’s also the birthday of the leader of the student fellowship, and they’re all trying to keep their plans secret, but he knows something’s afoot and, well, we’ll just wait and see what happens!

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While I was in the UK last year, I was given a copy of the CMS publication, ‘365 Days of Yes’, subtitled ‘Daily Prayers and Readings for a Missional People’ (2012).  Yes, I admit the bright and beautiful cover was the key attraction, but having got it back to Taiwan, the next challenge was to start using it. So on January 1 this year, I dutifully launched forth on a whole year of readings and prayers.  And y’know, I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s really quite good!

A big surprise was to come across my own name in the book a few days ago with a story from one of my past CMS Link Letters.  But an even bigger surprise was to come when I looked ahead to the reading for Easter Day; unbelievably CMS has chosen another one of my stories.  And I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and spent some time looking up the original story.  Turns out, the original was a reflection I included in my Link Letter in May 2008, which started as an experience I had during a church service on February 17, 2008 during my first – and so far only – visit to New Zealand.

Advent

On February 23, 2008, our church here at St. John’s University, Taiwan, held a special Thanksgiving Service for the new stained glass that had been installed in the church roof over the previous few months.  The stained glass depicts Christ the Light of the Dawn, inspired by the name of the church, Advent Church, and the association of Advent with the coming of Christ and the light that He brings into the world.  The glass is eight-sided, as is the baptismal pool at the main entrance to the church.  Numbers are important in Taiwan.  Our chaplain and rector, Rev. Lennon Chang is also Professor of Mathematics here at St. John’s University and his specialty and great passion is Calculus, so he loves to explain the significance of different numbers. Eight (八 Pinyin: bā) is an auspicious number in Chinese culture (which is why the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Beijing began on 8/8/08 at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8 pm local time) and the digit 8 also matches the mathematical symbol of infinity ∞.  In the Bible, the eighth day of creation was the first full day of the newly-created world, and circumcision was traditionally carried out on the eighth day.  New creation, new beginnings, new hearts!

It’s now 8 years since I was in New Zealand, 8 years since the stained glass was installed and dedicated in Advent Church, and 8 years since I wrote the following reflection:

Reflection for Holy Week and Easter 2008

“Over Chinese New Year, I had the opportunity to visit New Zealand. On the last Sunday I joined my friends for worship in their home church in Paraparaumu (that’ll test your Maori pronunciation!). The church itself is built right next to a small airport, used mainly by light aircraft. The large window behind the altar was of clear glass, and through the window there was a view of trees, hills and sky.

That Sunday morning, as we were praying the final post-communion prayer (the one where we are sent out into the world in the power of the Spirit, to live and work to God’s praise and glory), suddenly through that altar window I saw in the distance a helicopter plummeting head-first towards the ground, followed by pieces of wreckage. The few of us in the congregation who saw it knew that a crash was inevitable, with almost certain death for the pilot. Later we discovered that a light plane had collided in mid-air with the helicopter, both then crashed onto neighbouring houses and shops, and all three people onboard died.

Six days later, I was back in Taiwan, and attending the Thanksgiving Service for the new stained glass. The artwork is magnificent, full of blues, yellows and reds; with a Jacob’s ladder sculpture hanging down towards the altar from the centre.  The altar itself is of marble, and usually left bare, reminding us of the stone that Jacob slept on when he had his dream of the angels ascending and descending the ladder. The top of the sculpture, the flat part of the ceiling, is covered in mirrors, giving an impression of never-ending ladders, going on and on, up and up into eternity.  The whole artwork vividly depicts the glory of God and the light of Christ, with the ladders calling us to come closer to God in prayer, joining heaven and earth in one glorious whole.

What a huge contrast between those two images. One glass window invites us to look out at the world; the other invites us to look up at the glory of God.  Through one window I saw images of death and destruction; in another I saw images of the glory of God and light of Christ. Holy Week and Easter!  Yet in both church services I heard words of how God sends us to take His light out into the dark world, and I also heard words of invitation to bring the concerns of the world to Him in prayer.  We are indeed called to do both, to do our part in reconciling the world with God, and God with the world.”

I can still remember that helicopter crash and that service, in fact my New Zealand friends reminded me about it only a few weeks ago. There’s an official account of it here. I remember the gasp of shock and horror which echoed round the church from the few of us who had our eyes open and saw what happened.  The others who saw it were mostly the youth group who were sitting up high on the balcony at the back of the church.  I remember the news reports at the time and the tragic images of the crash site, and I remember the vicar calling later to ask if I was OK.  It was tragic, horrific and kind of bizarre all rolled into one.

And now we’re in Holy Week 2016, and sadly death and destruction once again dominate the news reports. Our screens are filled with tragic tales of grief and despair, of missing loved ones, of broken hearts and shattered lives in the city of Brussels, the heart of the European Union.  Our hearts and prayers go out to them all.  We do not understand why and how people could willingly bring about such death and destruction.  All we can do is to cry, pray and plead with God for mercy, justice and peace to prevail.  All we can do is to hold onto the promise of Easter, the promise of the resurrection, of death being conquered, of new life in Christ, of reconciliation with a loving God who cries with us in the pain and the brokenness.

In ‘A Maryknoll Book of Inspiration’ (Orbis 2010) the reading for today, March 24, is from ‘The Violence of Love’ by archbishop and martyr Oscar Romero (assassinated during Mass on March 24, 1980, his feast day has since been declared as March 24) ~ ‘Everyone can contribute much that is good, and in that way trust is achieved.  The common good will not be attained by excluding people. We can’t enrich the common good of our country by driving out those we don’t care for. We have to try to bring out all that is good in each person and try to develop an atmosphere of trust, not with physical force, but with a moral force that draws out the good that is in everyone, especially in concerned young people. Thus with all contributing all can build the beautiful structure of the common good, the good that we construct together, and that creates conditions of kindness, of trust, of freedom, of peace.’

And so the reading for Easter Day in the ‘365 Days of Yes’ finishes with the prayer, ‘Lord, on this resurrection day, send us out again, inspired, refreshed, renewed to do our part in reconciling the world to you. Amen’.

Amen indeed, and blessings for Holy Week and Easter to you all.