EASTER MESSAGE TO THE NATION OF THE GAMBIA FROM THE PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE METHODIST CHURCH OF THE GAMBIA AND CHAIRPERSON OF THE GAMBIA CHRISTIAN COUNCIL
09TH APRIL 2023.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ which is celebrated in the feast of Easter is represented in various shades within the Gospel accounts. All four gospel writers confirm that the resurrection account is not an abstract explanation by the disciples. It was a real experience that history encountered. To some extent, a major book of faith that is assumed within our jurisdiction also affirms the story of the resurrection. Jesus in preluding his resurrection is quoted as saying ‘ Peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I will be raised back to life! That is Jesus … and this is a word of truth.
In the early days of the Church, Christians used to gather the entire night in vigil, in expectancy of the Lord’s resurrection. They remembered the death of Jesus and at daybreak, they celebrated his victory over it with shouts of praise and Joy. This continues to be commemorated in some parts of our country with Christians going rounds their neighbourhoods in songs of Praise and jubilations shouting Hallelujah Christ is Risen.
The news of Jesus’ resurrection was doubted at first principally because it was first announced by women, persons who were looked down upon at the time (as well as in some contemporary circles). It thus becomes interesting to note that the proclamation of Life starts with the very persons who are marked with death, fear, marginalization and mistreatment. However, when the men who were afraid ran to verify what the women has announced, they saw and believed ( John 20 verse 8). This experience of finding an empty tomb, raises a new presence, the presence of the Lord who has overcome death and who gives life. Thus in the resurrection encounter, the disciples are charged with new energy.
This energy is summed up in Acts 10 verses 34 to 43. It reads “Then Peter began to speak: I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil because God was with him.
We are witnesses to everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The above text suggests to us that the Easter season is a time of Joy and also a time of sending forth, of responsibility for Christians. The disciples of Jesus had gone through a moment of fear after the death of Jesus on the Cross (John 20 verse 19). In those circumstances, the risen Lord burst in and gives them the necessary strength to carry out their mission (verse 21). Jesus opens the door which fear had closed. He brings the disciples peace, but that does not mean rest. On the contrary, Peace is the prerequisite to go out to proclaim the Gospel. Our mission, therefore, is the same as that which Jesus represented on earth (verse 21) and this mission must be carried out thanks to the impulse of the Holy Spirit (verse 22).
In the text of Acts chapter 10 as read above, it is clear that Jesus does not leave anyone indifferent; he transforms our lives in every aspect. Jesus’ followers must place everything at the service of others. We enter into a communion which affects every dimension of human existence (Acts 4:32). In this way we give our testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (verse 33). Such love eliminates needs within the community (verse 34). As witnesses of the resurrection, we must therefore communicate life and take everyone’s needs into account (verse 35). It is this image of the early Christians that has been the inspiration for many experiences in the course of history. This type of utopia is what makes history move forward.
Faith in Jesus means that we have been born of God ( 1 John 5 verse 1), and it transforms us into conquerors of death because we believe in the risen Lord. The challenge, therefore, is in our celebration of Easter, we have to make the resurrection of the Lord believable through our own signs of life towards others. The Love of God and the Love of God’s children are inseparable. The first Christian community did put everything they owned in common so that no one would be in need. In our own situation, we must decide what it means to give signs of life.
I would wish to proffer some suggestions on what we can do as a people of faith, especially in our contextual reality of the 21st century where self-centeredness and greed appear to be normal. First, we must be resolute to fear God and do what is right (Acts 10:34 to 35). To debate what is right in most cases is to cloud in rhetoric coated in beautiful grammar. Fearing God and doing what is right is a matter of conscience and it can be described as loving your neighbour and seeking that which is in the best interest of the other. Oh, how we desire that our Continent will cease to be reflected as the epitome of wrongs and corruption. Rather our continent must be an epitome of righteousness and love since we claim to be a very religious people. In my view, when our religiousness matches our actions then our people will see the fulfilment of the prophecy of Jeremiah – the planter will plant and will enjoy the fruits (of his labour).
The second suggestion I would like to proffer is that the resurrection encourages us to be a peace-loving people (verses 36 to 38 of Acts chapter 10). Peace is knowing that the Lord of the Universe, Jesus Christ, is by your side and resting in that. It is not just knowing, but it is also living it out. Peace is sitting in comfort and knowing that God is next to your side no matter what.
With such an understanding, I would wish to suggest that especially as we head towards our local government elections, let us be mindful of those amongst us who will be sowing seeds of discord. Let us take a definite stance to stand against, speak up and avoid those whose campaign is premised on dividing our people. Let politicians sell their messages of development advisedly and allow us the people to decide on our fate. In this resurrection season, I repeat, PLEASE AVOID AND STAND AGAINST ANY POLITICIAN THAT SEEKS TO DISTORT OUR GOD-GIVEN PEACE.
My third suggestion is premised on the core of Jesus’ ministry. Acts 10 verse 43 premises it thus – ‘all the prophets testify about him that through his Name everyone who believes in him receives the forgiveness of their sins’. What great news. That is my belief in Jesus I receive forgiveness for all my sins. Thus 1 Corinthians 15 verses 20 to 22 reflects thus –‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive’. Since the ultimate desire of humanity is to rest in God our creator, Jesus echoes a platform for this. All we need to do is cling to Jesus our resurrected Lord and Savior.
1 Corinthians 15 verses 53 to 58 sums up this message for us. It reads –‘ For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
On behalf of the Methodist Church The Gambia, and all your brothers and Sisters within the Christian community of The Gambia, I pray we experience the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and Death in this Easter event celebrated today.
God richly bless you all and keep us all in peace and his Love in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Most Rev’d Bannie E F Manga
Presiding Bishop, Methodist Church The Gambia and
Chairman, Gambia Christian Council.
9th April 2023.