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But somewhere around station five, there were no more trees. People much wiser than Jamalyn and I had brought along umbrellas. We walked up the mountain two by two, but when we stopped at the stations, the lines broke so people could huddle under the few umbrellas. Finally, as we were heading into the twelfth station, we found some shade. Not just a single tree, but a whole row of trees that offered enough shade for us to stay in our long line without anyone in the sun. Then, inexplicably, we kept on walking. I simply could not understand what the leaders were doing. Didn’t they understand we were dying out here? Didn’t they see our shirts plastered with sweat? But on we walked, and as soon as we were all out of the shade, we stopped. The leader turned around and announced the twelfth station, the death of Christ. From somewhere in the middle of the line, one of the novices called out—“Tout moun tombe ajenou!” And there, in the middle of this broken rocky road, everyone bowed upon their knees.

The Haitians were not just kneeling in reverence. They were bodily participating in the suffering of Christ, at least to the extent they were able. They could have stopped a hundred yards sooner in the shade. But they knew that it was somehow wrong to listen to words proclaiming the death of Christ while resting comfortably. So there we kneeled, with the stones digging into our knees and the pitiless sun beating upon the back of our necks. And we listened as Christ’s final words were spoken.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Surely, this day, you will be with me in paradise.”
“Mother, here is your son. Son, here is your mother.”
I am thirsty.”
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”
And, finally, “It is finished.”

I know it was only a few moments spent in silence after the reading, but those words, “It is finished,” resounded in what seemed like the silence of a lifetime. The procession continued from there—people slowly picked themselves up from the ground, and then we left the main road to descend along a footpath to a bluff that commanded a view of the valley. We finally broke our long line to proclaim over the valley the final stations, when they took Christ from the cross and laid him in the tomb.

Samdi Dlo Benyen

 Jamalyn and Dave Williamson with a newly found Hatian friend.

Holy Saturday was in many ways the climax of the religious services. Here the day is called “Samdi Dlo Benyen”—Saturday of Cleansing Water. As the name suggests, it is an important day for baptism. In the morning nearly 70 children were brought to the church, accompanied by family and godparents, to be registered for baptism. That night, those 70 children were baptized in an absolutely packed church during a mass that lasted for nearly four hours.

The actual moment of baptism was completely chaotic. After two hours of Scripture readings, singing and reflection, the moment these families were awaiting arrived. As the names of those to be baptized were called, parents replied, “Present.” Then the priest opened his arms and said, “Come as you are ready.”

Suddenly a deluge broke forth from the pews and the altar and aisles overflowed with people pressing forward for baptism. We were a little disheartened by the chaos because we had come especially to see the baptism of Ruth, one of our favorite children from the orphanage.

Ruth is one of the older children. She’s one of Dave’s more advanced students in the school, and because of her progress in English, she’s always one of our best ambassadors when groups visit the orphanage. She has a heart of gold. We moved to get a little closer, in hopes we would see what was going on, and ended up near the pews of the two sisters with whom we live. There we found out that Ruth was going to be last to be baptized. Because her godfather couldn’t make it to the service, I was asked to stand in for him and be Ruth’s godfather! There wasn’t much to it—I just stood behind her in line, and when the moment came, I put my hand on her head as the water was being poured over it. Ruth herself didn’t say much to me except, “Mesi.” But Dave will forever be tied to this one person in Haiti, and know that, in some way, he is always to look out for her and follow her life with care.

Looking back, that moment kneeling in the sun stands out still as the defining moment of Easter weekend. At the time, we felt the Haitians were participating in the suffering of Christ. But what strikes us now is the possibility that it’s the other way around. Maybe it’s that Christ, at that moment 2,000 years ago upon the cross, had some place in his mind for the suffering of these people and for the hardness of their life.

And in that moment upon the cross, he was participating in their hardship—taking their deep pains into his heart, and from that heart of pain came such human cries as “I am thirsty.” When he proclaimed, “It is finished,” I like to think he still had these people in mind. He wasn’t just saying, “I’ve done my job, I can go rest now.”

What if we understood “it” to have a different referent, namely, the system of violence and death that he came to destroy? Maybe, then, He was saying that the cruelties and injustices of the world are finished. We like to think that Jesus, upon saying those words, had in his mind the kingdom that he was establishing, the kingdom which has yet to be realized, but that some day will come to pass, when peace and justice shall roll down like the waves of the ocean. We hope that it is the case—it reminds us that our work here is more than just isolated acts of teaching or playing with the children. No, our work is connected with the larger work of Christ, and we are simply celebrating and living into the kingdom which He is advancing with each passing day.

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DIVINITY Online Edition :: Spring 2004 Volume 3 Number 3 Duke Divinity School