Easter is an important event in the Christian calendar owing to many things. The death of Jesus Christ birthed the Christian religion and gave hope of life in the hereafter. If He had not risen from death on the third day as He promised his disciples, all the miracles he had done while alive would not have meant a thing. Even the feeding of the thousands and the healing of the lepers would have been stories for the gods. Many believe to this day, as the elders wanted people to, that His disciples had stolen his body and hidden it to make people believe that he had risen from the dead. The elders even paid some of the soldiers to spread the rumour that his disciples had stolen his body and hidden it at night. His disciples were firm in their belief and spread the Good News as He had directed them. Efforts by the elders to stop the spread of the Word rather led to more people converting and believing in Him. Stories abound about the sufferings the early followers of the Word passed through in order to spread the gospel. It was in an effort by Paul to arrest and bring to justice the followers of this new belief that led to his conversion on the way to Damascus. Easter is an opportunity to ponder.
The preparation for Easter starts on Ash Wednesday when Catholics across the world take the ash as a mark of repentance and reminder that from dust we came and to dust we would all return. Many Christian faithful make decisions to sacrifice what they love. During the forty days period, some abstain from the vices which they usually engage in while some others may engage in acts of charity. It is a period that calls for sacrifice. It is also a period of penance for sins that were committed. In fact, it is an opportunity to draw closer to God by experiencing pain that comes with self-denial. The Lenten period is a period for the body to be subjected to sufferings which would bring us closer to the body of Christ. It also serves as a reminder of what the poor go through every day. The act of fasting allows people to experience first-hand what it means to live a life of privation. The need for salvation and the assurances of life in the hereafter reinforces the need to do everything on mother earth to gain entry into the pearly gates.
Many Christians in following the teachings of Christ to propagate the good news and bring light to the world began to evangelise other parts of the world. It was in a bid to bring the light to the Dark Continent that the missionaries set out to bring the good news to people in Africa. The missionaries were driven by the altruistic need to save people who were more or less savages living in the state of nature. They were able to establish schools which served as the basis for the introduction of western education and acculturation of the natives. They did a good job winning souls for the new religion but not without some sacrifices. Many of the early missionaries died in the process of introducing the new faith. For Christianity to take root, Africans too paid the price especially in Uganda where some Catholic and Anglican converts to the new religion were killed. Examples abound in other parts of the continent where the church met with so many inhumane cultures but was able to turn it around. An example is Mary Slessor who left her native Scotland to Calabar, Nigeria where she learnt the native Efik and Ibibio thereby gaining the trust of the natives. She was able to change some of the obnoxious cultures that existed in the area like the killing of twins. Stories also abound about the heroics of Samuel Ajayi Crowther and a host of other natives who were converted to the faith.
In recent times we have seen the proliferation of churches which have been known to perform wonders. We love the quick fix in Nigeria without going through the drudgery that is behind success. We love to hear that this or that man is a powerful man of God. By simply going to a particular church, our problems will simply vanish into thin air. It did not start today; it has its root in the churches of the late 1970s and the 1980s in the United States of America where televangelism was used to win souls. The pastors were flamboyant and spoke in languages that endeared them to the people. They were charismatic and preached about life in abundance with Christ. They talked about a rich God who would supply the needs of His children. They only just needed to repent and forsake their sins verbally for all other things to be added on to them. This had a lot of appeal for a country that was awash with petrodollars a decade before and had politicians who were living life to the hilt. As we always say in local parlance, “Nigeria no dey carry last.” We imported this mode of preaching into the country and added our own styles. Many of the churches were located in the southern part of Nigeria which had more educated and sophisticated people that the churches appealed to. Church service was a potpourri of pop music and lots of shouting of amen and halleluiah. A popular Nigerian pop singer gave his life to Christ and moved from the musical stage to the business of winning souls for Christ from the pulpit. He was called to carry the message to the people.
The business of winning souls for Christ saw a boom in Nigeria; ostensibly we began to see nattily dressed young men who could speak glibly on television and radio. Places of worship sprouted up in all the nooks and crannies of the country. They preached, “oh yes, they preached that He had already paid the price, thus we have been saved and needed not to suffer. We could as well have a good life here and have it in the hereafter too. It was double portion. There was no need to wear sack clothing and fast as His death on the cross was the ultimate price. We only had to await His coming…” It became difficult, very difficult to sift the wheat from the chaff at this point as most of them no longer preached salvation but prosperity. The new places of worship were mostly populated by the young who wanted to enjoy a life of prosperity. The young upwardly mobile men and women were aptly called yuppies and yummies. They dressed gorgeously in clothes that left little to the imagination. It was an opportunity for the not too well off to forget about the life outside for the two hours of service where people were made to believe that His death had washed us anew thus we do not need to work to become prosperous. We only just needed to believe to become prosperous. Prosperity thus became the theme for most of the places of worship while salvation was secondary except for a handful.
It has thus made yours truly to wonder if the Christ who had died for our salvation did it in vain. I have also entertained the feelings that if He returns, many people would not want His kingship because it would deviate from what they have preached. Moreover, if He should return, they would no longer be called “daddy and mummy” in the lord. I strongly believe that His return would mean some people losing their privileged position. I assure you that they would fight tooth and nail not to lose the position. I fear that the second coming would be met with even more vehement opposition by the leadership of the church. They would like the elders in His first coming ask for the Barsabas to be released and Jesus crucified or be hidden in a dungeon where no one can access Him but themselves.
Easter is a time for us to reflect on what we read in the gospel. The Christ who upturned the table of the moneychangers would be arrested these days if he dares to be angered at the use of His father’s house for gains. It is at a time like this that we need to reflect on our faith and the reason for the season. With the advent of technology that allows for information to be at our beck and call through the touch of a button our people still find it difficult to carry out research or verify information that emanates from the men of the cloth. Their words are holy words that cannot be challenged. We now have people who have to depend on the so called “men of God” to differentiate between truth and lies. Unfortunately, we have a people whose docility has made most of these men who should ordinarily be shamans or at best soothsayers to become very relevant in the scheme of things. If our people would have the discipline to read and decipher lies from truths, only then can we really be truly free from bondage, both physical and spiritual. It is when we are able to reason that we meet Jesus Christ.