|Dancers from the Peruvian National Folklore Group. Photo: www.peru.com|
A couple of weeks ago Jamie, Rachel, Caitlin and I were able to enjoy a performance at Lima's Grand National Theatre. The Peruvian National Folklore Group put on a marvelous show of colorful song and dance, all in honor of the various costumes and traditions that come alive during “el Mes Morado.”
“Mes Morado” is Spanish for “Purple Month.” The entire month of October is painted purple because of the color worn by the faithful followers of the most venerated religious image in Peru, El Señor de los Milagros (The Lord of the Miracles). The procession of the Lord of the Miracles has become not just one of the largest religious festivals in Peru, but in the entire world, with over 50,000 people participating each year.
Who is the “Lord of the Miracles”?
In preparation for the show I hit the books, hoping to understand a bit better what all the fuss is about. I learned that the Lord of the Miracles following began way back in the XVII century in the outskirts of Lima, where, in a small village of immigrant slaves from Africa, called Pachacamilla, an Angolan slave (whose name is unknown) painted the image of a Black Christ (Cristo Moreno) on the wall of his brotherhood. On November 13, 1655 a horrendous earthquake shook Lima and Callao, killing thousands. The entire city was left in shambles, all except the image of the Black Christ, which “miraculously” survived the quake in perfect condition.
|The Lord of the Miracles shares much in common with |
the Inca deity, Pachacámac, the protector from earthquakes.
Fast-forward about 15 years and a man named Antonio León finds the image and starts to venerate it. Antonio asks the image to cure him of his tumor. It´s another miracle and the image begins to earn a name for itself. “Christ of Wonders,” “Miraculous Christ,” and “Christ of the Earthquake” are all names used to refer to the image. Almost four centuries later, and people come from all over the country to participate in the annual procession, hoping to find God in the “blessed image.”
Processions as a Manifestation of Folk Religion
In order to understand the Lord of the Miracles procession, we first have to get a good grasp of what's called, “Folk Religion.” When we say “Folk Religion,” we´re talking about the beliefs, practices, rites, and ceremonies employed by the “masses.” (Translation mine; taken from “Teología y misión en América Latina, pg. 74)
Some Latin American theologians have defined “Folk” or “Popular Religion” as the means by which an oppressed people try to maintain the religious practices of their ancestor’s, by giving them the appearance of the dominating culture. In the case of the Lord of the Miracles in Peru, we see that the devotion to the image of the “Black Christ” originated on the outskirts of the city, amongst the most humble y oppressed sector of society. According to “Cristo Moreno” followers, God showed favor to the poor African slave by preserving his painting, and in this way He revealed a new message to His people, that He truly does listen to the outcry of the oppressed.
Revelations of this sort eventually came to be accepted by the Roman Church throughout the Americas as a legitimate means of communication between God and man. According to this theology, God doesn't only reveal Himself through creation, the Bible, and His Son, but also through revelations apart from the Scriptures.
Interpreting Processions from a Biblical, Confessional Lutheran Perspective
One of the foundational truths our Lutheran churches celebrate this month is called, Sola Scriptura. The Reformers argued that looking for God in relics, shrines, pilgrimages and processions was a waste of time, because God never promised He would be found in these human inventions. He did promise, however, to be found in His Word – the sole revelation (Scripture Alone) from God to man, which is more than sufficient to make us wise unto salvation. (2 Timothy 3:15)
“Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the external Word and the Sacraments.” – Smalcald Articles, Book of Concord.
|God has told us where to find Him: |
in His Word and Sacraments.
The first time I heard about the “Black Christ,” I couldn't help but wonder if he had anything to do with the Christ of the Scriptures, the Word made flesh (John 1:14). The Christ that is revealed to us in Scripture is “the exact imprint” of our merciful God, who from the beginning to the end of the Biblical account we see showing mercy to the weak, answering the cry of the oppressed, and identifying with the marginalized.
It is this God who graciously revealed Himself in the ultimate act of mercy to the poor (each and every one of us!), by becoming poor for us. And He did so in the most objective and definite manner, by becoming man, suffering on the cross, dying a physical death, and raising from the dead to free the entire world from the slavery to sin that we were subjected to.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, […]. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” – Hebrews 1:1-3
Jesus Christ is the final word spoken by God to human beings. And He has told us where we can find Him. We don't get any closer to Him by venerating images or participating in processions. We don't need to! He came to us and has promised to continue coming to us in His Word and Sacraments (Galatians 3:36-37; Acts 2:38; Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Cor. 10:16).
Please pray for your LCMS missionaries as we share this wonderful truth with everyone the Lord places in our path in Peru.