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My Reflections on Easter 2021

by Ahmed Yahaya Joe
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Ahmed Yahaya – Joe

This iconic photograph was taken in Gianyar Stadium on June 4, 2017. It features Bali United’s Hindu defender Ngurah Nanak, Christian midfielder Yabes Roni and Muslim striker Miftahul Hamdi celebrating their team’s 3-0 victory over Perseru Serui FC in Indonesia’s premier league. The moral here is what team work can achieve irrespective of religious differences when focused on the same goals.

How did we miss it in Nigeria?

 We have not been carefully understudying the real nature of class struggle and the true character of those engaged in elite dynamics that is how. Intense competition for power and domination of our political economic space has constantly resulted in the manipulation of religion and its cousin, ethnicity. This has been detrimental to national integration and good governance.

Intra class conflict among Nigeria’s ruling elite is a major factor in the preponderant misuse of religion as a tool for political mobilization and territorial behaviour.

What is the way forward?

According to Dr. Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe, Owelle of Onitsha (1904-1996) as Nigerians – “Let us forget our differences”

But Sir Ahmadu Ibrahim Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto (1910-1966) in reply stated – “No, let us understand our differences. I am a Muslim and a Northerner. You are a Christian, an Easterner. By understanding our differences, we can build unity in our country.”

See details in; Values and Leadership in Nigeria (1986) by John Paden

Early this morning as I stepped out for my morning exercise stroll, a Muslim neighbour of mine greeted me; “Yaya Easter?” – How is the Easter celebration? We soon digressed into national issues eventually hinting me of how he was preparing for the coming Ramadan month. My neighbour was quite taken aback when I enunciated that Good Friday was actually the culmination of a 40-day fasting period called Lent that had started on Ash Wednesday with Easter as a metaphysical milestone of cosmic proportions.

I marvel at the coincidence that, today April 4, is also the 22nd day of the Hebrew month of Nisan for the Passover feast (Pesach) a highlight that started on March 27 (the 15th day), it is the most important date for Jews as it commemorates the epic departure of the Hebrews from Ancient Egypt after bondage for 403 years circa 13th century BC as musically re-enacted by Bob Marley & The Wailers in the 1978 hit track and album – Exodus.

Anyway; “The name Lent is a Germanic word originally used to refer to the spring season generally. Over time, it replaced the Latin “Quadragesima” which means “forty days.” Lent lasts forty days because, according to biblical accounts, Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days of fasting, meditation and reflection before beginning his ministry (Luke 4:1-12)

Calculating the days of Lent varies between Western (Protestants, Catholics, Anglicans) and Eastern (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern-rite churches affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church) churches. In Western churches, Sundays are skipped when counting because Sundays commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In the Catholic Church, the official end of Lent occurs on Holy Thursday with the mass of the Lord’s Supper.”

Fasting during Lent is not obligatory for all Christians. It nevertheless; “includes abstaining from any falsehood in speech and action, abstaining from any ignorant and indecent speech, and from arguing, fighting, and having lustful thoughts. Therefore, fasting strengthens control of impulses” but with a caveat;

“When you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” – Matthew 1:16

According to St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Revenna (400-450 AD);

“Fasting is the soul of prayer; mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others.  If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.”

Why is fasting during Lent not obligatory and why do some Christians not observe Good Friday nor celebrate Easter?

Desmond Mpilo Tutu, the South African cleric and theologian offers an insight;

“A man crossed the street and accosted a pedestrian, asking him, “I say, which is the other side of the street?” The pedestrian, somewhat nonplussed, replied, “That side, of course!” The man said, “Strange. When I was on that side, they said it was this side.” Where the other side of the street is depends on where we are. Our perspective differs with our context.”

The Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town concludes on the need for religious tolerance across board as exemplified by the young footballers of Bali United;

“Accidents of birth and geography determine to a very large extent to what faith we belong. The chances are very great that if you were born in Pakistan you are a Muslim, or a Hindu if you happened to be born in India, or a Shintoist if it is Japan, and a Christian if you were born in Italy.

I don’t know what significant fact can be drawn from this — perhaps that we should not succumb too easily to the temptation to exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith. You could so easily have been an adherent of the faith that you are now denigrating, but for the fact that you were born here rather than there.”

When Karl Marx (1818-1883) described; “Religion as the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soul less conditions.”, Helder Pessoa Camara (1909-1999), a socialist became challenged to be ordained as a priest in 1931. He rose to become the Bishop of Rio de Janeiro and subsequently an Archbishop in Brazil.

He advocated a people’s revolution through “Liberation Theology” arguing “My socialism is special, its a socialism that respects the human person and goes back to the Gospels”, insisting “My socialism is justice.”

He remains one most controversial Catholic leader worldwide in modern times who due to his controversial statement “I respect a lot priests with rifles on their shoulders; I never said that to use weapons against an oppressor is immoral or anti-Christian”, he was denied the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his work in emancipating the poor and the downtrodden of Brazil. He openly challenged the political and economic system declaring;

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

Camara admonished; “his brother bishops to live lives of evangelical poverty: without honorific titles, privileges, and worldly ostentation. He also encouraged peasants to free themselves from their conventional fatalistic outlook by studying the Gospels and proposing the search for social change from their readings.”

Unfortunately, Nigeria is yet to get that kind of conscientized religious leader that who will wrestle the system to the ground instead of benefit from it as religion Marx arguably concluded being “the opium of the people”

In conclusion, to you your religion as;

“It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god” – Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

And to me my religion because;

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” – Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)

Happy Easter my friends!

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