Billions of Christians worldwide will on Sunday commemorate the Christian feast of Easter despite the catastrophic impact of coronavirus. Following the exponential spread of the virus, codenamed COVID-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a pandemic, calling for social distancing, self-isolation and aggressive distribution of test kits and medications to developing nations. With the activation of pandemic alert mode most churches cancelled mass gatherings, including Easter festivities. Hence millions of Christians will stay at home for the festival, due to the health crises ravaging the world and plundering economies.
A few weeks ago, the Vatican officially announced that ‘its traditional Easter week celebrations would be held, without worshippers, due to the coronavirus. All liturgical celebrations of Holy Week will take place without the physical presence of the faithful till April 12.’
Other leaders imposed similar quarantine measures. In Nigeria the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) directed religious groups to suspend large gatherings. According to Catholic News Service, dioceses around the world banned public masses to ‘flatten the curve,’ and ease the burden on the health care system.
Bishops in Quebec, Canada said the efforts will ‘contribute to this joint public health effort in solidarity with the authorities.’
With the unprecedented lock-down across nations, this Easter is understandably solemn and moody. The pandemic, which started last November in Wuhan, China, has petrified several nations and crippled their economies.
Never in recent history has the world, witnessed such monumental damage from a viral infection, reminiscent of the early twentieth century influenza. Most countries halted sports, academic and religious activities, while several air and rail services were disrupted.
The global economy has virtually crashed, with prices of crude oil, stocks and products plummeting.
As global leaders grapple with the epidemic and resultant economic-cum-humanitarian effects, several countries are still in lock-down.
Billions of people across all continents remain in confinement, with the spiking of death toll from the consumptive respiratory contagion, in Europe and the United States (US). In Italy, the epicenter of the pandemic, streets remain bare, while churches are bereft of worshippers. With this disaster, many faithful, as the rest of the world are grief-stricken, despite the resurrection memorial. Indeed the scourge marred the high spirits, shopping spree and merriment that traditionally accompany Easter, the second most important Christian festival, after Christmas.
The brazen pestilence, has not only petrified communities, but has raised fears about possible onset of end-time catastrophes, depicted in Matthew 24. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, captured vividly by the four gospels, is believed to have occurred on the third day, following his crucifixion, at Calvary 30 AD, according to bible history. Usually the Holy Week, particularly in orthodox churches, is characterised by Maundy Thursday, commemorating Last Supper, as well as Good Friday, a memorial of Christ’s death.
In the West, the season begins on Easter Sunday and ends with Pentecost Sunday on the 50th day, while Eastern orthodoxy, begins with the celebration and ends with the Ascension on the 40th day, according to theologians.
The joy of this momentous miracle is the culmination of the suffering of Jesus, reflected in Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, prayer and penance, prior to his rise. The sobriety of this Easter reflects society’s grief, as several communities bury the dead, scratch for food and reel over the monumental tragedy. Amidst this unprecedented calamity, Christians are encouraged to trust the divine for protection and comfort, over tribulations and vulnerabilities. The viral disease may have marred the convivial celebration, but it could not scorch the eternal symbolism of Easter to humanity and divinity. Many believers still observed the day because of its centrality to the faith.
Christ’s resurrection remains the pinnacle of the church, more so in trying times, because his triumphant victory over death offers believers irrefutable assurance of peace and eternal life.
The widespread consternation has in a way displayed the downside of humanity.
All mortals are subject to death, hence the need for all to prepare for heaven, because this ephemeral orbit and its glories are passing away. The Bible clearly depicts the earthly abode as a temporary site. The permanent residence for mankind is heaven for the righteous in Christ. Hell is the final destination of those who reject Christ, as Lord and saviour in their lifetime. This is the message of Easter and the hope of saints. Certainly, Christ’s defeat of Satan and the gates of Hades, remains a beacon of joy to his followers, because humans are born with the foreboding yoke of death and disease. Despite the absence of the usual drama that accompany the festival, the ethos of Christ’s death and resurrection is significant today, especially with phenomenal epidemics, social crises and economic woes. However some theologians say these tragedies often drive some people to embrace Christ and God, due to fear of uncertainties.
Undoubtedly the victory of Christ over death, offers everlasting tonic to man’s dread, in a world of instabilities and misery. Sadly Christians, share in this mass desolation and still bear a disproportionate burden of hostilities for preaching and upholding Christ’s gospel, as the panacea for salvation. These persecutions are mostly prevalent in Middle East, North Korea, India, China and parts of Africa.
In Nigeria, Christians in the north live precariously, due to terrorist attacks by dreaded Boko Haram and other Islamic extremist groups. Leah Sharibu is still held by Boko Haram, allegedly for refusing to renounce Christ and embrace Islam. Sharibu’s case and the religious-cum-cultural related savagery in the region, continue to raise national and international concerns. Several world leaders and prominent clerics have repeatedly denounced these atrocities. However believers are encouraged to forgive their persecutors, as Jesus did. ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’
Clearly, Christians should forgive and pray for their enemies, as epitomized by Jesus, Joseph and Job. Indeed persecutions, tragedies including the virulent Coronavirus, cannot rob Easter of its significance to believers. This is quite pertinent in this sombre Eastertide and its fiery circumstances reverberating man’s fragility and life’s brevity.
Ojukwu, a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow and journalist, writes from Lagos via [email protected]