Easter Day in Ethiopia is derived from a different calendar than most of the world, which meant that this year we were celebrating Easter a month later than our families in the States. My husband, Greg commented that the week leading up to Easter in Ethiopia feels like the anticipation leading up to Christmas in the States; preparing, planning, time with family, resting, and fasting as you ready for the feast.
Most Ethiopians of the Orthodox faith fast all meat and dairy for what would be similar to the Lent period, except its 55 days. Subsequently, Greg and I have been on a predominately vegan diet since moving here because it is that hard to find meats and dairy during fasting season. We do eat eggs. Lots of eggs.
On Palm Sunday we hiked to an ancient rock church called Abuna Yemata in the Gheralta region of Tigray. Along the way, through the fields, by family homes, we found simple Ethiopians celebrating the coming of the Messiah. Ethiopians believe this church dates back to the 6th century when the Christians were being persecuted. In order to summit to the church, you must pass through fields, hike up a steep face and finally, near the top, free climb 40 feet. To reach the door of the church you have to shimmy along the side of a cliff with a 1000 ft. drop to the right. My heart was racing as I measured my steps across the narrow ledge.
Upon reaching the doorway of the church, the Priest wrapped in a white woven cloak, unlocked an old padlocked door and guided us through to a cave like structure. We stood with the priest in this church at the top of this summit and marveled as the Priest pointed out the significance of each of the frescos covering all the walls and ceiling of the tiny rock-hewn church; the 12 apostles, the 9 saints from Syrah, St. George riding in on his horse, Mother Mary, Abraham, Moses with the ten Commandments. The priest gently drew their ancient scriptures from a worn leather satchel and leafed the goat-skinned pages gingerly that were filled with their stories in the ancient language of Ge’ez.
It was the perfect Palm Sunday, remembering, reflecting and dreaming.
The week following our little retreat North to the mystical rock churches was full. Work was pressing for both of us and Greg was gearing up for trip to the US. I was mourning his departure.
I forgot about the coming of Our Savior and Easter and Good Friday in the busyness of nothing.
Good Friday came. In the early morning, Greg and I were downstairs scrambling eggs, roasting breakfast potatoes and percolating coffee. There was a pile of dishes from the night before and pile grew as I dumped breakfast pots and pans into the mix. This was our morning schedule; breakfast together at our slanted wooden table, Greg would leave for work, I would set to my work from the same slanted table and then at 9am Rihal would come to help clean the house.
I pushed the chopped potatoes around- sizzling on the pan, the birds chirped in backyard, Greg sliced tomato and the coffee started to boil. The routine noises in the kitchen were broken with Greg’s voice, “Babe did you give Rihal the day off?”
I had forgotten that most Ethiopians wouldn’t be working Good Friday. There was a pause before my voice cracked, “No, I didn’t.” I felt bad, but I also needed her to come. I had more work than I could do in one day and dishes were dirty, it was laundry day and clothes needed to be done. There seemed to be a layer of dust on the floors even though she had just cleaned them yesterday.
Greg came up behind me and my thoughts strained as I aimlessly turned the potatoes. I was waiting for him to speak. I felt his presence and then his lips moved close to my ear, “I think maybe you should give her the day off and I will do the dishes for you.” My heart sank and selfishness set in with vengeance. All I could think was, “Oh my god, you are too nice, just like your dad. It is so hard living with such a sacrificial man.”
I knew it was right thing, but I had a million reasons why it wasn’t.
Then I started getting mad at Greg. It wasn’t his sacrifice to make. He didn’t spend as much time in this kitchen as me. How was I supposed to function in this mess and neither of us had time to clean dishes. I couldn’t get over myself.
I made Greg call Rihal to deliver the good tidings of the day off. I was still sulking.
We sat down to breakfast and I picked at my eggs stubbornly. Greg reached for the Bible on the bookshelf as he does every morning. He flipped to the gospels and started reading the Good Friday story.
Jesus at the last supper, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus betrayed, standing before the Sanhedrin, standing before Pilot, condemned to death, purple robe and crown of thorns, mocked, Jesus carrying the cross, Simon carrying the cross, nailed to the cross, skies shuttered and quacked, then it was finished.
Joseph of Aramathia, who was looking for the Kingdom of God, took Jesus’s body, wrapped it in cloth and put it in his tomb. The stone was rolled in front.
The ultimate sacrifice, our debts were paid.
Good Friday is remembering and honoring the sacrifice that Christ made to save our souls for eternity with our Father. It was Good Friday, the day my Messiah died on the cross for me, and I couldn’t even sacrifice cleaning my own dishes so Rihal could have the day off.
I was utterly convicted, yet still utterly selfish and frustrated that my husband was such a kind, thoughtful man. It took the whole day to get over myself and my pride.