Christy Anyanwu, Olakunle Olafioye and Henry Okonkwo
Christian faithful in Nigeria, today, join their counterparts across the world to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ in rather unusual ways. With the exception of a few states in the country where the lock down directive has been relaxed, church services and religious fanfare, which have become the hallmark of Easter celebrations, are expected to be suspended as Nigeria joins the global battle against the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic, which has put the entire world on the edge in the last few months.
With governments putting the people under various restrictions, including stay-at-home orders and self-isolations, churches and Christian families are devising alternative ways to observe this important religious celebration with the sole aim of complying with the social distancing order to prevent further spread of the deadly virus.
In the spirit of the celebration last year, Lady Ray Okoye, a business woman, said she traveled to her hometown in Anambra State where she claimed to have had a swell time with a lot of functions to attend and had the opportunity of family reunion.
But this year’s Easter celebration, according to her, is an unusual one. “The mood is quite sober this time around. With so many people ill and dying in hospitals as a result of COVID-19. We will just sit at home, tune on to Christian channels on the TV and celebrate the mass. What I miss most with the lockdown is to physically attend daily masses and receive the Blessed Sacrament, particularly during this Holy Week. But in all, we give God the glory,” she said.
Like Lady Okoye, millions of Christians all over the world and indeed in Nigeria, are bound to explore alternative ways of fellowshipping and commemorating this year’s Easter. Many churches resorted to offer parishioners live streaming options to observe Good Friday, and are also expected to offer similar options on televisions, smart phones and computers for Easter.
But the General Overseer, Compassionate Outreach Ministry, Isheri, Lagos, Dr Gabriel Oyediji, described this situation as the strangest thing that has ever happened in the history of the world.
According to him, “it is the strangest thing to have happened to us in the history of the world. The celebration of essential days as Good Friday and Easter period, which have been the centre of the foundation of our faith, we will not come together in the church as usual and the period will be devoid of the fanfare associated with it.”
Dr Oyediji, however, maintained that Christians are bound to accept the situation since it had been foretold by the Bible in 1Thessalonians 3:3. “We have been designed to see all these things. Sometimes when things happen we may want to view them as accidents, but they are not really accidents, some of them are incidents. To us, as Christians, this is just an incident because the Bible predicted that we shall see tribulations and persecution in the world and that the last day would come with different kinds of adversities.
“So, what we have been told before now cannot be an accident, it can only be an incident. So, having Easter in this manner is one of the things that the Bible predicted preparatory to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We should just take it as a reality,” he admonished, adding that, “it has not really stopped us from celebrating it at our family level. We are hopeful that there is something coming that God wants to show the whole world. As Christians, we live by faith and this cannot separate us from the love of Christ.”
The General Supervisor of the Catholic Charismatic Ministry, Onyeka Nwankwo, is pained by the lack of the solemnity associated with the Easter festivity this year and contended that the online fellowship option, which most churches have been forced to resort to due to the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic, lacks the spark to achieve the desired feelings in the people.
His words: “The Holy Week and Easter celebrations are observed because it has always been one of the weeks that have vital programmes that revive the consciousness of Christians on the need to come closer to God. It is the period for people to reconcile and rededicate themselves to God. But this year’s celebration has been quite different. We don’t feel the solemnity associated to the Holy Week, and the impact of Easter. Many churches try to conduct some of their services online, but it can’t be as effective as when you have it inside a church, listening directly and feeling the physical presence of the preacher. The messages preached at the pulpit go a long way in lifting up their spirits and helping them to cope with society and daily living.”
Some other Christian clerics are of the opinion that the state of affair in the world is pre-rapture signals and urged Christians on the need to rededicate themselves to God in order not be caught unawares.
Evangelist Chika Onwuka, founder, Jesus Praise Ministry, Iyana-Ira, Lagos, said that the Coronavirus pandemic is a sign from God to warn people that the time is near.
“So, these hard times and strange happenings are clear signs that we are now at the end of time. God revealed to me that the devil and his agents are wandering all over the world. Coronavirus is ravaging all over the world like a beast, and it will only take God’s mercy to overcome it. The only thing we can do is to call on God’s mercy in the world,” he said.
Dr Samsondeen Saka of the Mountain of Losing Bondage a.k.a Oke Tude, shares a similar view that the COVID-19 pandemic is a pre-rapture signal engineered by God to warn people of his anger.
“All these things that are happening in the world are indications that God is just warning us. It’s not only Nigeria alone, but God is annoyed with the world. The rapture is getting closer. People’s characters have become very bad. Injustice and greed have grown in leaps and bounds, and God has become irritated by it. God is unhappy with the spate of injustice, greed, and wickedness of the Nigerian leaders,” he said.
But besides missing the religious fanfare associated with Easter celebration, Christians in Nigeria are also bracing up to the occasion without the usual fun and excitement. Mrs Orevia Okowa, a fashion designer, said her family has no any form of plans for the occasion. “Considering the situation in the country currently and the lockdown here in Delta State, my Easter will be spent indoors with my kids. We hope to connect to online service and carry out the communion service at home. Last year, Easter was fun because I was able to go to church service, and then saw a couple of movies. But there is absolutely no plans for this year’s Easter; no plans to visit any exciting place because it is those who are alive that will celebrate the coming Easters. For now we must all join hands with the government to fight COVID-19 by staying indoors,” Mrs Okowa said.
To Eunice Efole, a property developer, the signs of the times call for spiritual reawakening. According to her, the lock down directive and the Easter celebration offer the opportunity to focus on what really matters in life.
“The lockdown is a spiritual awakening for me. I have been given more days at home to focus on what really matters in life: self, love, your family, obedience, helping others in need, providing listening ears and caring hand to family and others and to dedicate more time to prayers and worship to my creator, God Almighty.
“I will be spending the Easter with my family. I need them so close to me now more than ever before for the obvious reason of the COVID-19 pandemic. I recall being in the village attending to family issues by this time last year,” she recalled with nostalgia.
Just like Efole, Shola Balogun, a celebrity photographer, said there is no special plan for this year’s Easter celebration, adding that the outbreak of Coronavirus and the attendant stay-at-home directive has negatively impacted on his source of income.
“This year’s Easter is the worst I have ever witnessed because of the outbreak of Coronavirus. There’s no any special plan for the occasion due to the lockdown even though you plan going to the cinema, the cinemas are not open. Even no friend will allow you to see them because everybody is scared about this disease, but we still have to thank God because many people have gone. I believe next year’s Easter will be better,” he said.
Mowa Bakare, a student lamented how the outbreak of Coronavirus has robbed her of the excitement and the fun associated with Easter celebration.
“Last year I spent my Easter with my sisters and their families in London, United Kingdom. We had Easter picnics, visited parks and malls and went to the movies and returned to Nigeria just in time for school resumption. I had a swell time. But this year, there is no much fun, but I thank God that I am able to spend time with my dad and most importantly, my mum,” she said.