From all indications, it is clear that this year’s Easter celebration which will commence with Palm Sunday today, has been altered as many Christians will not experience the usual way of marking the remembrance of resurrection of Christ as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic. SEYI SOKOYA also writes on the measures some church leaders and their followers have adopted to mark the celebration despite the development.
Perhaps for the first time in the history of Christianity, the annual re-enactment of the last week before the crucifiction of Jesus Christ popularly known as the Passion Week, will not be held in most parts of the Christian world thanks to the coronavirus currently ravaging almost every country of the world.
In countries where the virus has not done severe damage, measures such as social distancing and self-isolation are being taken to contain its spread.
Today, the beginning of the Passion Week is the Palm Sunday, a day Christians observe the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the next few days that followed the entry, He was tried and sentenced to death. This culminated in His crucifixion on Friday, known today as Good Friday. Jesus would later ressurrect on the third day which is Easter Sunday.
In Nigeria, orthodox churches often have often organised processions of the faithful who hold palm fronds fixed into the shape of a crucifix with someone representing Jesus riding on an ass. The scenario is replicated in other parts of the world.
As it were, most Christians across the world would have to mark this year’s Palm Sunday (today) at home, just as they stayed back home last Sunday. It is obvious that there would be no processions that usually characterise the event. In the event of this scenario, most churches have designed different methods to keep the faithful in tune with the spiritual event.
Subsequently church leaders have continued to send goodwill messages to their members, asking them not to lose hope over the development.
According to the Archbishop of the Kwara Province and Bishop of the Diocese of New Bissau Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), The Most Reverend Israel Afolabi Amoo, “as Christians, we will just encourage our people and their families to gather together and consider the story of the Good Friday which is the story of godliness over sin and the triumph of God over the devil, because Christ Himself celebrated His triumphant entry into Jerusalem; we will overcome.”
“COVID-19 will also pass away. People should not lose hope; we should focus on Christ; the whole world belongs to God. He created the world. The Bible says the earth is the Lord’s and its fullness thereof. So, if you understand that this world is the Lord’s, He will make all of us to pass through this trying period.
“We want to encourage Christians as a church not to disobey the directives of government. We will be partners of the government at all levels to fight against the virus. Christians should gather together as few as we could and reflect over the triumphant entry and pray for the world.”
Amoo stressed that this year’s Easter celebration is unusual, noting that he had never experienced such an Easter celebration since he was born.
“Even those of us who were around during the civil war, there was no situation that forced us not to have it in the church. This is very exceptional. We only wish it would not last because it will be difficult to keep people at home for too long, not with our situation in Nigeria where people live from hand to mouth.
“A lot of people live on daily income. It is a very serious thing but since we know that it is not a particular government that has caused it, it is beyond everybody. It is only God that can take charge of it all,” he added.
Speaking on the plans to mark the celebration without congregation, Amoo stated: “We are going to send messages to people though it may be strange because you’re speaking to an empty congregation. It is definitely not the best; it does not make for fellowship. We pray that this experience will be the first and the last of its kind.
“We cannot afford to have this kind of a thing repeating itself. We advise our people to attend house fellowships and celebrate and rejoice together. It cannot give the kind of joy that we used to have, but we encourage people to share and rejoice in their various house fellowships.”
Pastor Bayode Olubo of the House Favour Church, Egbeda, Lagos, noted that activities in churches have shifted to online platforms and the Easter celebration which will commence with today’s Palm Sunday cannot be exempted.
“According to the directives of government that churches with large crowds should not gather, so we have resorted to the internet. We have made use of every online platform to connect with members and we encouraged church members to connect with us. Some of them are not digital savvy, but we have been able to engage with people that are active and it is bringing us closer than ever.
“As we mark this year’s Easter celebration, I urge all Christians across the world to use the event as an intervention toseek the face of God to clear the virus from the surface of the earth,” he added.
Speaking on a vital aspect of the Palm Sunday, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese and Diocese of Ibadan, Methodist Church Nigeria, Most Reverend Olumuyiwa Odejayi, stated that the Church, like others, has directed members to hang palm fronds in front of their houses and pray together at home today.
He added that members should observe house group fellowships with less than 10 members in the bid to adhere to the social distancing directive by the government.
Speaking on his Easter message, Odejayi said that “the celebration should be based purely on having hope in the power of resurrection which is potent to heal our land. We have even commenced online service as if the service is being held. We have relayed twice. The Easter service online comes up next Tuesday at the Archbishop’s Chapel at Maafohun.”
A member of Global Harvest Church, Ibadan, Oyo State, Owoseni Makanju said he has not been affected in any way by not going to church and that having the Easter celebration at home will not be a big issue. “This is the first time many Christians would be experiencing it and I think the best thing for everyone is to ensure to comply with government’s advice as the only measure to play safe from the coronavirus. The place of worship is just a mere building; our mind is the temple,” he said.
Mrs Akhigbe Bukola, a member of Faith Among all Nations Ministry, Ibadan, Oyo State, said: “Ever since the crisis started, it has affected the checking on the welfare of members at homes, but now it is through the phone. Also, the prayer life of some members have been affected as some members cannot pray on their own. As for the Palm Sunday and other activities that will mark the year’s Easter celebration, we have no choice but to have it in a low-key as things stand.”
However, in Delta State, a cleric has called on the clergy in the statebnot to pressurise the governor into relaxing the rules in order to celebrate the Palm Sunday today.
Senior Pastor of the Royal Generation International Mission, Bishop Abbo Willie says the ongoing lockdown in the state called for a deep thought among Christians and that it further reinforces Jesus Christ’s declaration that human medium to reach God is not adequate, but having direct access to God.
“We have more Easters ahead to celebrate if Jesus tarries. So they should accept the current situation and access God through Christ,” Bishop Willie said.
Rev. Fr. Mark Eze, a Catholic priest says this year’s Palm Sunday is unique in the sense that Catholic worshippers in Enugu would be marking it in their respective homes with their families, “placing palm leaves on the door of their sitting rooms. We shall pray in our homes believing that God is everywhere.”
Mr Michael Oforka, a Catholic faithful says he will celebrate the Palm Sunday with all his heart despite the outbreak of coronavirus. He, however, said that he would mark in it in his house because of the order by the Enugu Catholic Bishop, Rt. Rev. Callistus Onaga that Catholic faithful should remain in their homes to celebrate it.
Chief Victor Obidike, also a Catholic faithful said “I will gather my family, read out relevant portions of the Bible that dwell on the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem. We shall read the passion of Jesus as the beginning of the Holy Week. How Jesus was arrested, and nailed to the Cross, among others.”
Celebrate Jesus wherever you are —Bishop Badejo
Similarly, the Catholic Bishop of Oyo Diocese, Most reverend Emmanuel Badejo, advised the faithful in the Diocese to celebrate Jesus Christ wherever they are in this period of coronavirus and restriction of gatherings, including churches.
“For as long as anyone alive can remember, Palm Sunday will not be celebrated this year with pomp. No fanfare. This is a particularly painful period for the Church when she can no longer freely gather her children around the altar or in procession to declare Jesus Christ as King,” he added.
Badejo, however, noted that the faithful must take consolation in the fact that “this is because the Church stands for life and would do anything to protect it,” and said the inability to gather as a congregation was “an opportunity to concentrate on the spiritual aspect of Palm Sunday that God will have the final word over everything and Jesus will be King.”
He said: “Know that the church is not closed down during this period. No, church buildings, chapels and oratories may be, but the Church can never be closed by any force on earth. Your family and you are the Church. So, wherever the people of God are in twos or threes, there the Church is.
“Jesus said: “Where two or three of you meet in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20). He also said the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against his Church (Mt 16:18). So, we stand on his promise. In times like these priests especially have a huge responsibility to keep the message of Lent and Easter alive in every way we can. Thus, we have instructed as follows
“That on Palm Sunday with family, a friend or two, in compliance with the safety restrictions all the faithful MUST celebrate Jesus Christ wherever they are. In their homes in open spaces etc. “Rejoice in the Lord Always” (Phil 4:4). says the Bible. Carry palm fronds, pray with them, sing songs and hymns in praise of Jesus as King and make the best of the present trying situation. (Eph 5:16). Read the Scripture that reminds us all about that glorious event of his victorious entry into Jerusalem. Like from Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2: 5-11 and Luke’s gospel 19: 28-40. Palm Sunday is the beginning and part of the Holiest week in Christendom, the faithful will do well to also meditate on the passion narrative for the year from Matthew’s Gospel 26: 14 -27, 66.
“They can share their reflections on the readings and the current situation. They must then pray for various intentions, namely thanksgiving to God, for healing for the sick, the nation and the world, for the needy, the end to COVID 19 and for the poor. The Holy Spirit cannot not be far from such a gathering. After your prayers, hang the palm fronds in your homes and houses as a sign of solidarity and unity with all Christians worldwide.
We have a huge responsibility to keep informing our people and helping them to cope with the ongoing crisis. As Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: we must work “to keep you firm and encourage you about your faith and prevent any of you from being unsettled by the present hardships” (1 Thess. 3: 2-3). In like manner the charity work of the Church must be enhanced. The corporal works of mercy have a special place during Holy Week, especially feeding the hungry and counseling the confused and lonely.
“Finally, the attitude of singing Jesus praise must not end on Palm Sunday but must endure so that it can energize the faithful to survive this gloomy trying period.”
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