by Imliyanger Jamir
This past Sunday, we as Christians commemorated the suffering of Christ and Resurrection. Let us be reminded that Christ had to go through all sorts of sufferings i.e., physical, mental, spiritual in order to fulfill God’s will before the resurrection. This was the goal of Christ coming into the world, fulfilling the mission successfully by redeeming the human race eternally. This article is written from the context of people presently suffering due to Novel Corona virus (covid-19) around the globe and Christ’s redeeming hope for humanity and how churches are adjusting their churches’ services. Are we willing to submit this suffering to God, like Christ did (Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42) so you and I can be redeemed and fulfill God’s plan?
What is Coronavirus (Covid-19)?
‘WHO’ has stated that Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. This virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is to be well-informed about the virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. Protect yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol-based rub frequently and not touching your face. The sad part is that there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19.
The whole world is in dilemma. Seeking professionals and scientists to acquire a cure for this virus at the same time, while people are suffering directly and indirectly. Rumours, fake news are everywhere; people are in a state of utmost fear. Food, medical utilities like masks and sanitizers etc. are all out of stock, with a huge hike in price on the available materials. It is not getting any better. The respective governments are trying their best to handle this situation to contain the virus and producing enough supply for their people. People are in anticipation that this will blow over soon. On the other hand, those in poverty are in a pitiful condition, and are most affected by the coronavirus, around the globe.
Eric Cassel said that suffering can be defined as a state of severe distress associated with events that threaten the intactness of the person. It can occur in relation to any aspect of the person in the realm of his social role, his group identification, his relation with self or body, or in relation to family or relation with a personal or transcendental source of meaning. Suffering never affects only one part of a person but it affects the whole being; i.e. physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social aspects.
Further, suffering or pain, in a broad sense, may be an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm to an individual. It is the basic element that makes up the negative valence of affective phenomena. Suffering is often categorised as physical or mental. It may come in all degrees of intensity, from mild to intolerable. Factors of duration and frequency of occurrence usually compound that of intensity. Attitudes toward suffering may vary widely, in the sufferer or other people, according to how much it is regarded as avoidable or unavoidable, useful or useless, deserved or undeserved.
The global economy is suffering and it will take years for it to come back to normal but those who are most affected are the poor, the homeless, and their families. Most countries are in a total lockdown and due to shutdown of factories, shops, small and big industries, labourers working there are told to go back to their hometown. However, with transportation shut down, some families had to walk for days to reach their respective villages.
Countries with high population have to undergo many aspects of suffering. India has been put in lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. People have been told to stay indoors, but for many daily-wage earners this is not an option. Ramesh Kumar a construction labourer said that he knew “there won’t be anybody to hire us, but we still took our chances.” He further stated, “I earn 600 rupees ($8; £6.50) every day and I have five people to feed. We will run out of food in a few days. I know the risk of coronavirus, but I can’t see my children hungry.” Millions of other daily-wage earners are in a similar situation.
However, not everybody could afford to travel back to their villages. Kishan Lal, who works as a rickshaw puller in the northern city of Allahabad, said he had not made any money in the past four days. “I need to earn to feed my family. I have heard that the government is going to give us money – though I have no idea when and how,” he said. His friend Ali Hasan, who works as a cleaner in a shop, said he had run out of money to buy food. “The shop shut down two days ago and I haven’t been paid. I don’t know when it will open. I am very scared. I have a family, how am I going to feed them?” he asked. At least 90 percent of India’s workforce is employed in the informal sector, according to the International Labour Organisation, working in roles like security guards, cleaners, rickshaw pullers, street vendors, garbage collectors and domestic help. Many are local migrant workers, which means that they are technically residents of a different state from the one where they work. Then there is the problem of the floating population: people who do not live in any state for a long period as they move around to find work.
Thousands of people, mostly young male day labourers, as well as families, fled from big cities in India after the Prime Minister of India announced a 21-day lockdown that began on 25 March 2020 and effectively put millions of Indians who live off daily earnings out of work. But thousands of India’s most vulnerable fear dying not of the disease caused by the new virus but rather of starvation. Moreover, their house owners were told to hike the rent. Therefore, they decided to head back to their respective native places.
On the other hand, people around the world who were infected by this virus and were cured face discrimination from their neighbours and communities. It has become a stigma to have been infected with the virus. In some other nations, people who reside abroad are blamed for bringing this virus to their country when they are air lifted back to their home country. With all these, people are tortured mentally, leading these persons to suffer psychologically.
These are just the tip of the iceberg of the suffering people are facing. It can be collectively stated that only the poor people are suffering in physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social aspects.
New perspectives in conducting of Church devotions:
After COVID19 began to spread, radical changes have been made in church settings, especially in devotion services, as the government has stated several regulations that religious groups are required to follow in order not to spread the virus further. They are:
- Shifting from onsite worship to online worship. The Church encourages members to follow the Sunday worship from their home. However, those wanting to go to church are not stopped. Anyone can do so, but with precautions adopted such as maintaining a sitting distance, putting on the mask at all times, sanitising your hands before entering the church building and being required to provide your personal contact information before entering the church. In case any positive cases arise, they then need to be contacted for further check-ups or to be quarantined. After the church service, get-together meals are all suspended.
- Holy communion is conducted according to the congregation’s convenience. Church encourages a fellowship gathering at a house while the pastor can lead the communion through live broadcast. Due to the impact of coronavirus, some church pastors now give permission to the leader of the house to administer Holy Communion independently, preparing bread and wine or juice, to serve household members. If they are in church, they will be served ready packs of wine or juice and bread.
- The shift from offerings traditionally done in-person to using barcode/QR code or online offerings, especially for those unable to participate on worship. While collecting offering the church, the helper will be required to go to each member present instead of passing the offering bags around, so as to prevent the handle of the offering bag from being the medium of transmitting the virus.
These are some of the changes happening in and out of the church services globally.
God cares for suffering people:
The bible is a symbol of the presence of the God of life with them and a resource in their struggle for survival, liberation and life. God is always there with the suffering people. Without suffering there is no life (James 1:12). Suffering is inevitable in human lives. It is evident that the world is full of suffering. Physical, emotional and spiritual pain has been and will be an intrinsic part of the human experience. The archetypal example of our suffering was Jesus Christ, who was persecuted and crucified by the Roman officials (1 Peter 3:18-19). Suffering will indeed come, but God can give us grace and power to overcome every trial and to fulfil our purpose and mission in His kingdom. God cares for the suffering people and assures His help to overcome the pain and suffering. The Bible gives counsel on the meaning of suffering and how we can best endure it (1 Peter 3:14).
Further, the compassion of God is with persons who are without power and protection. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ though he was rich, yet for human sake he became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). God is with the suffering people. God is with the people who are infected with Coronavirus. God is with those who are suffering directly and indirectly because of Covid-19. God is with migrant workers leaving their workplace due to total lockdown. God is with those suffering all around the globe. God announces judgment upon those who abuse power and deny justice to the poor. Jesus too challenged unjust systems and practices and called the powerful and privileged who benefit from such, to repent and be transformed by the values of love, sharing, truthfulness and humility.
Social distancing gives various measures for people to be removed from public life. It is the time to be at home with family members. Don’t we think that it is a very good time to be together with family and God? Is this what God has in mind for us in this season of Passion Week?
The coming together to celebrate the resurrection week has to be changed due to this pandemic situation. Modification and restriction are meant to contain this virus and the adjustment of celebration should not mean that we have less of a relationship with God, but rather, we should follow the government’s regulations in obedience to preserve humankind and understand that this is the will of God for this time (Rom13:1-5). There are various reasons which makes the writer feel that the resurrection week has become more central to human being (homecoming).
Firstly, the chief purpose of Christ’s resurrection is to redeem humankind (Mark 10:45). Jesus knew what this mission, ending on the cross, was all about, and it’s fundamentally about laying down Jesus’s life as a ransom payment for many. Therefore redeem this precious time with family and sacrifice your big group worship gatherings and narrow it down to family worship time.
Secondly, the Church’s encouragement for families to get together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper during the resurrection week. This brings us back to the house church during Jesus’ time on earth and after that, where the house church was most common among the believers (Acts 2:46-47). It is indeed a very good time to be intimate and know more about each other. Sharing, praying together and be part of the Christ fellowship.
Thirdly, the drastic changes which led people to stay home. This we can take it in a prophetic manner of family oneness, which is a very important part in God’s kingdom. God cares about families. Jesus talks about children and parents most of the time. (Matt 19:14-15; Exodus 20:12; Eph 6:1-2). Therefore, this resurrection week, let us submit to God together as a family. Having the celebration together and learning more about Christ suffering and resurrection.
Suffering is inevitable. It is part and parcel of life as Christ suffered in order to achieve the goal. We humans need to accept this reality. The good news is, God is always there in our midst both in good and bad times. We are assured that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut.31:6; Heb.13:5). We just need to submit all our worries, cares unto God (1Peter 5:7). God’s help is always there for those who trust in God.
This Covid-19 pandemic situation – which has led to several unprecedented changes in spiritual, physical, mental and social realms – has affected people and environment around the globe. On the other hand, it has done a great deal in alleviating pollution. Mother Earth can take a rest due to fewer vehicles on the road, and factories are closed which has led to a cleaner environment. Do we need lockdown every year to spend time indoors together as a family and give the environment a rest? Let us take this situation as an opportunity to commemorate the suffering of Christ and celebrate His resurrection in our homes. The church building has changed into a house and congregation to family members. Let us take this opportunity to get closer to God together as a family.
Finally, we need Diakonia; diakonia is a way of living out faith and hope as a community, witnessing to what God has done in Jesus Christ. Diakonia involves actions of care, relief and service, but goes further and addresses the root causes of injustice embedded in oppressive systems and structures. At this juncture, there are lots of people needing help. We as Christians together as church should come out and help those people in need: old people, persons with disabilities, stranded workers unable to return to their native villages due to lockdowns and so on. They require help and provision of shelter, food, protection, encouragement and counselling. It is to be reflected in all the different expressions of being Church: in worship and proclamation, in practices of hospitality and visitation (Hebrews 13:1-3), in public witness and advocacy.
Every Christian is called to be a witness to God’s transforming grace through acts of service that hold forth the promise of God’s reign. To practice diakonia is to heal relationships, and nurture partnerships for the sake of God’s good creation. It is bringing people and communities’ together. Diakonia stands out as a reason for unity and as such also needs to be seen as its instrument.
As a part of the conclusion I wish to state some prayer points and request readers to remember in your prayers:
- Pray for people/nations affected with the pandemic Covid-19.
- Pray for nations to be generous towards poor people suffering in their communities.
- Pray for frontline workers, who are sacrificing their lives to save many lives.
- Pray that nations will stop using biological weapons. Not to take lives but to save lives, nature and wildlife.
- Pray for scientists, researchers and those involved in looking for a cure to this Covid-19.
- Pray for churches and NGOs around the globe serving people in their physical and spiritual needs.
- Pray for leaders of the nations that they listen to God and take courage and release people from this situation.
- Pray for the churches once again as we commemorate the suffering and resurrection of Christ to be more enlightening and discerning to the will of God.
- Pray against and rebuke the evil principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).
May the good Lord be with each and every one of us as we come together to remember the suffering and resurrection of Christ. God bless us all.
Click here to read more INSiGHT articles: https://archive.cwmission.org/easter-insight-issue-2020/