A friend and I were recently reminiscing about our high school days and how excited we used to get about the Saturday before Easter Sunday — call it Easter Eve. Whilst it’s a mostly ignored day among many people, it was a much anticipated day at my school; for it was one of the few days when the normal school routine was broken giving us some semblance of freedom. I say freedom because it was the only day when it was legal to own and be seen with a candle while at school.
On this particular day, mass was conducted in the evenings, at around 7pm as opposed to the usual morning mass but the excitement mostly stemmed from the manner in which it was conducted. Mass would always start with a candle lighting ceremony. We would all converge in front of the chapel where the priest dressed in dull green or purple garb would light a gigantic candle. Those lucky enough to be next to him would light their little candles off the flame of large one after which they lit their neighbors’ candles until each and everyone had a flame.
We would then head into a dark Chapel—the lights having been previously switched off to a mournful “Carry Your Candle” hymn. We literally carried our candles into the darkness! The mass would go on this way, with the candles as the only light and the mood; sad, somber and mournful to convey our sorrow at the death of Jesus.
Halfway through the mass, at “midnight”, the Priest would change into bright coloured red and gold garb, all chapel lights would be switched on, candles snuffed out and ululations would ring through the chapel—our Lord, Jesus Christ had risen from the dead! The excitement was palpable, the atmosphere, electric; it felt like we were right there, witnessing the angels roll that tombstone away and Jesus walk out triumphantly, probably with a swagger in his step and a fist lifted high into the air while we stood right there, next to him celebrating this victory with Him.
With this year’s Easter just around the corner, I couldn’t help but wonder at the irony of the Church in Uganda celebrating the Jesus that conquered death while she herself remains bound in the fetters of COVID-19. More than a year since it was enforced, the lockdown on Churches in Uganda is yet to be fully lifted and whilst the larger part of the church seems to have long adapted to the “new normal” with many “Men of God” being at the forefront of the campaign to observe the COVID-19 SOPs, there still remains a few who refuse to acquiesce to the “new normal”.
Most notably among these is Prophet Elvis Mbonye of Zoe Ministries who has been an outspoken critic of the lockdown on places of worship. In his first ever live Facebook broadcast, “Secret Perspectives” that aired on 24th July 2020, Prophet Mbonye called out the church and religious leaders for sacrificing faith at the altar of science. He reiterated his sentiments during his famous 1st September honor gala stating that, “True spirituality doesn’t consult with science for validation and verification. True science consults with spirituality for validation. Science is not above God and it never will!”
He further emphasized that the church of Christ was never meant to gather online as there are several Biblical practices that cannot be fulfilled during an online service for example the laying on of hands.
In “Secret Perspectives” broadcast, the prophet paralleled the lockdown on churches today to the Biblical faceoff between the Pharaoh of Egypt and Moses. The Pharaoh was willing to let the Israelites to go and worship but on his terms and not as God had commanded through Moses.
Barely two months after this live broadcast, the ministry of health of Uganda announced that churches and other places of worship were free to open up only if all COVID-19 SOPs were to be strictly adhered to and the number of congregants restricted to 70; a number that was later raised to a maximum of 200 congregants for the larger Churches.
Going by these guidelines and restrictions, ProphetElvis Mbonye, whose fellowship has a congregation of more than 7000 people would have to hold more than 35 different services if everyone of them were to get the chance to attend church physically.
As we celebrate the spectacular resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, for a second time under lockdown, isn’t it time the church shook off the bonds of COVID-19 and rose up to take up her place of authority? For how long will the church continue to preach an all powerful God with whom nothing is impossible while at the same time cowering in the face of COVID-19? Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy to profess Lordship of a man that conquered death itself while we sit and resign ourselves to the fate of a virus?
A crucial question that we all should ask ourselves is; When the Son of man comes, shall he find faith in the earth? Shall He find us quoting faith or quoting science?