Today is Easter Sunday in Dubai. This morning the Dubai Ralston’s woke at 4:45am and headed to Kite Beach for our church’s sunrise service. It was beautiful. The pale yellow moon was still up, looking very full and very close. The air was cool and clear, not yet tinged with the sand that creates Dubai’s dusty haze. The beach was quiet, except for the occasional curious jogger or kayaker. The surf was calm. As our church family gathered for worship, the moon slid towards the Arabian Gulf and the sun rose behind our backs. I think I must live in a very rare place, where the desert topography allows you to see the full moon set and the fiery sun rise simultaneously. It brings a whole new meaning to the separation between darkness and light in Genesis 1:5. I also found myself thinking about Psalm 135:5, “He made the heavens skillfully. His love is eternal.”
We prayed and sang while the children played on the beach and dallied at the edge of the surf. Pastor Jim taught from the top of a mound of sand, ornamented with a cross made of sea shells. Three wooden crosses covered in wire mesh were secured in the sand, awaiting the flowers we’d been given to adorn them during worship. Finally, there were the baptisms in the sea. I absolutely love seeing people immersed in baptism and hearing those words, “buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life.” It fills my heart with joy. People who get baptized are always smiling when they come up out of the water. It makes me smile too. It also reminds me why I feel different, am different, from the world in which I live.
The simplicity of our time together was refreshing. The music came only from our voices. The teaching, unaided by a microphone, gave Pastor Jim’s voice an emotional timbre that only added to the poignancy of the morning. There was an overwhelming sense of peace. As if I had finally “awakened and come to my senses”, as Paul encourages the Corinthians to do. (1 Corinthians 15:34)
There is no official observance of Easter in Dubai. Unofficially, Christians mark the day in a pretty low-key way. To be able to worship openly on the beach on Resurrection Sunday is a privilege no one takes for granted. Aside from the commercial aspects, namely, the large variety of chocolate eggs found in Dubai’s fabulous chocolate boutiques, there isn’t much evidence of Christianity’s most holy day. Thankfully, this lack of evidence includes no large rabbits in the malls, something I think we could do without in the U.S.
Life in Houston was so different this time of year. When the children were young, this season consisted of Lenten meals, worship services, Stations of the Cross, Easter baskets, egg hunts and other egg related fun. Many an hour was spent telling the story of Christ’s death and resurrection by using resurrection eggs. Just as much time went into the fun of dying eggs or making those crazy confetti eggs you crack over people’s heads. Easter was integrated into our lives in everything we did. Later on, it became more about reflecting on the deeper meaning of Christ’s resurrection and, of course, participating in large get-togethers with family and friends.
Today I couldn’t help but notice the contrast in life as it was and life as it is. I realized my worship experience was one of a stranger in a foreign land where my faith is in the minority. I felt a bit more kinship with the believers of the early church. The simplicity of the message, the geographical location, and the baptisms in the sea, reminded me that when all is said and done, the message is still the same, and it’s a simple one.
“He is risen”
“He is risen indeed”