COVID-19: “We are Easter people”
Church leaders share messages of hope and life in advance of exceptional Easter
(LWI) - Offering solace and words of hope, leaders from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches are sending Easter messages during exceptional times, as countries around the world are on lockdown because of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Church members are preparing for Holy Week and Easter worship with many churches not having physical worship services, but instead facilitating worship online or in smaller groups.
The most holy time of the year
The church leaders speak of entering the most holy time of the church year unable to gather for worship in church buildings, but instead gathered as one church at home. Through letters and videos shared with the churches, fear and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 and the ensuing stay-at-home directives are addressed.
“In these special days of looking backwards through Jesus’ life, we, who must still “live our lives forward”, are given sustenance, power and encouragement for the journey. Remember, that we are Easter people, and that our risen Lord is walking with us in these difficult days,” wrote the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) National Bishop Susan Johnson together with five Synod bishops.
Presiding Bishop Rev. Jerzy Samiec of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland (KEA) wrote of the importance for Lutherans to act in accordance with Lutheran teachings. “As part of the universal priesthood, all Lutherans have a special responsibility during this time to nurture in our homes a community that awaits God’s support. We can earnestly pray, read and meditate on the Word of God and sing.
Experiencing Easter during a time of uncertainty and suffering might serve as a reminder that, “the Easter story is the story of love, forgiveness and reconciliation which we have received from God," wrote said Rev. Dr Jack Urame Head Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea (ELCPNG). During these challenging times we should "share God’s love by being engaged in the action towards prevention to save human lives.”
“God is everywhere”
“The church of tomorrow, which is already taking on new forms, may already be visible here,” wrote Bishop Kristina Kühnbaum-Schmidt of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Germany (ELKN) together with bishops from dioceses of the church. "A church that is existentially challenged by social change. A church too, which is constantly in distress, but knows itself comforted by Christ and conveys this comfort to a world that needs it more than ever.”
Easter worship this year “will be different, but it will not be less relevant, less significant or less important," wrote Rev. President Sílvia Genz of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB). “God is not stuck in a place; not even stuck in time. God is everywhere and at all times." For many people in Brazil, this will be their first Easter without in-person worship.
Reflecting on the rapid spread of COVID-19 globally, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (EVL) Archbishop Tupio Luoma said in a video message, “One of the remarkable things is the invisible boundaries that were drawn so suddenly,” he said, “but prayer surpasses all visible and invisible boundaries of time and place.”
Bishop Brian M.J. Abrahams of the Moravian Church in South Africa (MCSA) on behalf of Moravian Church Bishops, concluded his pastoral letter with a call to remain faithful, “We must appreciate the extent of the threat that this disease presents, we must accept the anxiety that it causes, but we cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by fear and panic. We have been anointed to serve the flock of Christ, and we will do so resolutely, with faith and commitment.”
Also responding to a nationwide lockdown, Bishop Abrahams advised members to share the Passiontide via voice messaging apps on their phones, as well as other practical precautions.
For the first time in the history of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) “there are no public Holy Week or Easter celebrations in Jerusalem,” wrote ELCJHL Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar. “This virus is leading us into new ways of living in community, new ways of loving our neighbors, new ways of serving God. We are all in this together: one world, one Body.”