EASTER MESSAGES FROM THE LEADERS OF THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

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PASTORAL LETTER FOR THE SEASON OF EASTER ISSUED BY THE ANGLICAN BISHOP OF THE GAMBIA

To: ‘‘All the Faithful Members of the Anglican Diocese of Gambia, Home & Abroad Our Friends and Partners in Mission & Ministry

Easter Greetings be with you all.

‘‘As we celebrate Easter we need to remind ourselves that the story of the resurrection is not just an interesting feature or intriguing component of the Gospels: it is much more than that. It is the main and central theme of the Good news of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is the cornerstone and climax of all the Gospels’ promises of salvation. And as such, the resurrection is the foundational pillar upon which our faith is grounded. St Paul says, “and if Christ has not been raised our preaching is useless and so is your faith…”1Cor 15 :14-20.

The resurrection narrative from the Gospel of St Mark begins with the story of the women going to the tomb very early in the morning. This scene highlights the deep devotion and loyalty that these women had to Jesus so much so that even in death, Jesus remained their Lord and Saviour.

Mark further records that there was a young man there seated on the tomb whose first words to the women were: “Do not be afraid. He is risen. Come and look for yourself where he was laid.”

In keeping with the tradition of the times, the women had come with spices to anoint a dead body. They had come to look for the dead among the dead. But Jesus was not dead. He was alive which is why the angel asked them: ‘‘why do you look for the living among the dead?’’

And so reflecting that very same theme, and just like those women several centuries ago, today we often find ourselves in what we believe to be a hopeless and mournful situation. We feel that things are so desperate and that nothing can be done, forgetting that Jesus rose from that tomb, that Jesus is alive and that Jesus always gives us hope and joy. Even in the darkest moments of our lives, the glory of Jesus is able to shine through us like a bright light illuminating our darkness. We simply need to go looking for Jesus just as the women did on that glorious Easter morning.

The women were then given an assignment: they were told to go and tell the disciples and Peter that the Lord is risen. And it’s important to note the special mention of Peter by the angel. In the last scene where Peter was mentioned, we saw him denying Jesus three times. But by his special mention here, Mark is telling us that Peter still deserved some love and restoration even after his denial of Jesus; that he could still be reconciled to the one that he had denied. In much the same way, Jesus’ resurrection was all for our forgiveness and for our reconciliation. The charge given to the women is also the charge given to the church and by extension to all of us – come and see the empty tomb and go and tell the disciples and the sceptics and those who may have denied Jesus somewhere along the way, like Peter – that Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

This Easter we are reminded of our duty as Christians to go out to proclaim the Goodnews of the resurrection: that Jesus Christ the Saviour is risen from the dead and that mankind’s sins have been forgiven. We are to tell this story over and over again, and live out its message of forgiveness, particularly to those who have hurt us or done us wrong. Earlier this week, all three mainstream churches held a Service of Holy Chrism during which the clergy in a moving example of servant-leadership humbled themselves before their congregations and renewed their priestly vows, committing themselves to following the example of Christ in the way they serve their flock. We believe that in His life, Jesus Christ was the epitome of the servant leader, and one that all leaders across the worldwide church of God and beyond, would do well to emulate.

As serendipity would have it, we are celebrating Easter at a time when our Muslim brothers and

sisters have just entered the all-important last ten days of their holy month of Ramadan: a time of forgiveness, a time of empathy, a time of generosity. Such is the blessing of our country’s inter-faith harmony. Just two days ago on Good Friday, many Muslims would have broken their fast with servings of naan’mburu provided by their Christian friends and neighbours. And in a couple of months on the feast of Tobaski, Muslims will return the gesture and send gifts of mutton to their Christian friends and neighbours. None of this unique blend of religious tolerance and harmony should be taken for granted as it has come under threat in so many other countries. And as we wish His Excellency the President of the Republic and his Government, a happy Easter Season, we also

congratulate him for his staunch commitment to the peace and unity of this country, our beloved

Gambia.’’

2024 EASTER MESSAGE Issued By The Most Rev. Dr. Gabriel Mendy C.S.Sp. Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul

 ‘‘THE PEACE AND JOY OF THE RISEN CHRIST

RENEWS US AND OUR WORLD TODAY’’

Photo of Most Rev. Dr. Gabriel Mendy C.S.Sp

‘‘Before Jesus endured his passion, crucifixion, and death on the cross, he offered his disciples his peace. He conferred his peace on them too on Easter Sunday when he rose from the dead and appeared in their midst. But his peace was a special form of peace that he alone could offer his disciples. It was different from other forms of peace they experienced in their lives. He said to them in Jn. 14:27-28, “peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor let them be afraid.” So, his gift of peace was not the peace the world or any authority could offer. His peace he embodied and personified as the Prince of Peace and the Risen Lord was what he offered and blessed his disciples and that is the peace we pray for and wish each other in every Mass and liturgical ceremony we celebrate. His disciples were once again at ease when he appeared to them on Easter Sunday and blessed them with his peace. They were filled with joy in Jn. 20:20 when he offered themhis peaceand showed them his hands and side. The risen Christ was, therefore, their source of peace and joy when they were confused, afraid, and uncertain about their situation and future in life. His resurrection we celebrate at Easter should equally be a cause of joy and peace for us in our different situations in life. We should also experience the peace and joy of the risen Christ and it should change and transform our lives and world today. This is what I will reflect on in my Easter message on: The Peace and Joy of the Risen Christ Renews us and our World Today.

          The peace and joy the risen Christ conferred on his disciples and our world is clearly noted in the Gospels and Easter liturgy of the Church. The Evangelists consistently observed that the disciples experienced peace and joy when the risen Christ appeared in their midst on the first day of Easter andafter his resurrection. The women were afraid and filled with joy in Mt. 28:8-9 when they discovered that Jesus rose from the dead. But he blessed them with his peace on their way from the tomb. On the road to Emmaus when the risen Christ accompanied his disciples and revealed himself to them at the breaking of bread, they confessed in Lk. 24:32 that their hearts were filled with joy when he explained the scriptures to them. They were also filled with joy and wonder when he appeared to them again with the other disciples in Lk. 24:41 and he showed them his hands and feet. When heappeared again a week after Easter, we are told in Jn. 20:26 that he blessed them with his peace as he did on Easter Sunday. He offered them his peace when he met them behind closed doors for fear of the Jews before he addressed Thomas’ doubts about his resurrection. These passages clearly indicate that the risen Christ continuously offered his disciples his peace and joy during his post-resurrection appearances.The effect of his peace and joy on his disciples and the world is also expressed in the Easter liturgy, especially, in the Exsultet or Easter Proclamation and the Easter Preface of the Mass. The Church affirms in the Exsultet that “the night Christ rose from the dead is our light and joy. It restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride … That the risen Christ who came back from the dead sheds his peaceful light on all mankind.”

          Jesus was fully conscious of his disciples’ fears, doubts, and sorrows before his death and resurrection. He knew they were confused, discouraged, worried, and afraid when he informed them about his crucifixion, death, and resurrection. So, he offered them what they truly needed to overcome their fears, doubts, and pain. He blessed them with his peace and he filled them with joy after his resurrection. His disciples were no longer the same, as a result, when they encountered him and experienced his peace and joy in their lives. They fully believed in him as their risen Lord and they were transformed, renewed, and strengthened to overcome their fears and despair in life. In our various situations in life, we also have our doubts and despairs like the disciples of Jesus. We are sometimes worried, troubled, and disappointed about our hope in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The risen Christ equally understands our disposition and he also offers us his peace and joy to renew and transform our lives and our world today. So, we should not only celebrate Easter Sunday as the feast of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We should also celebratethis day and the Season of Easter as a moment in our lives we encounter the risen Christ and experience his peace and joy. For, the risen Christ was the source of his disciples’ peace and joy after his resurrection from the dead. We should equally be filled with his peace and joy as we celebrate his resurrection and encounter him in our lives and world today. The Easter Season should, in that sense, be a Season of peace and joy for us when we rejoice and be glad in the risen Christ.

          The disciples were renewed in their faith and purpose in life when they encountered the risen Christ and experienced his peace and joy. They were no longer sad, intimidated, and frustrated again when the risen Christ blessed them with his peace and their hearts were filled with joy. We should also as disciples of the risen Christ be fully renewed and transformed by his presence and his gift of peace and joy he has offered us. We should be inspired and sustained by the peace and joy of the risen Christ and embody these spiritual gifts in our lives. So, we should peaceful and joyful throughout this Easter Season and beyond based on our encounter and experience of the risen Christ in our midst. For, the risen Christ has conquered sin and death and offered us his peace and joy so we have a cause and reason to live our lives with renewed hope and purpose. The psalmist was fully convinced in Ps. 118:16-17 that the Lord’s right hand has triumphed, his right hand raised him up. So, he will not die, he will live and recount the deeds of the Lord.” He acknowledged the power of God’s right hand in his life and he was certain that he will not die or be destroyed. For that reason, he said he will live and recount the deeds of the Lord. We should also live our lives with a new purpose and meaning based on what God has done for us in the risen Christ. He is alive in our midst and he has offered us his peace and joy. Our lives should also be renewed and transformed and we should, in turn, recount the Lord’s deeds and blessings for us as we celebrate his resurrection.

          The peace and joy of the risen Christ also renews and changes our world today. The Church clearly acknowledges the cosmic and universal impact of Christ’s resurrection in the Exsultet or Easter Proclamation. It says:“Rejoice, O heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels, Exult all creation around God’s throne, Jesus Christ, our King is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation! Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her, radiant in the brightness of your King! Let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness.” So, the Church fully affirms the impact of the risen Christ’s peace and joy on the heavens and the earth before it calls on Mother Church to rejoice in its Easter proclamation. We should not, consequently, lose sight of the risen Christ’s influence and effect in our society and world at large as we celebrate his resurrection and victory over the powers of darkness, sin, and death. His resurrection and appearance has restored our lives and his victory over the forces and powers of evil has reconciled humanity with God and redeemed our world from eternal damnation. Every living creature on earth, consequently, has a cause and reason to rejoice and be glad. For, Christ has conquered our fears of evil and death and offered us his peace and joy that the world cannot offer us. So, we should not only be grateful to God for raising Jesus from the dead, we should also celebrate his resurrection at Easter with a better understanding of its meaning and impact on us. If we are filled with the peace and joy of the risen Christ and if we are renewed by his gifts and blessings, we should equally be inspired and motivated to be agents of his peace and joy in our world today.

          As we celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the dead and his appearance in our midst, we should be renewed and inspired by hispeace and joy in our relationship with one another. His presence in our midst and his blessings should not, for that reason, be meaningless and worthless. It should have a positive effect and we should also become agents of his peace and joy in our society and world today. So, we should carefully reflect on the Scripture passages of the post-resurrection appearances of the risen Christ and the Church’s liturgical texts during this Easter Season to understand and appreciate the spirit of peace and joy that isemphasized in these sources of our faith and hope in the risen Christ. The old version of the Easter Preface of the Mass always concluded in these words: “The joy of the resurrection renews the whole world while the choirs of heaven sing forever to your glory,” to indicate how the peace and joy of the risen Christ affects and transforms our world. The new version of the Easter Preface now says, “overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly powers, with the angelic hosts sing together the unending hymn of glory.”As the Bishop of the Diocese of Banjul, I fervently pray that our lives and world today will be renewed and filled with the peace and joy of the risen Christ. I wish the priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, lay faithful of the Diocese, our brothers and sisters in Christ, our Muslim friends and believers of other faiths, and all Gambians at home and abroad a blessed, a peaceful, joyful, and meaningful celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. May we always experience his power, peace, and joy in our lives and our world today. Amen!’’

2024 EASTER MESSAGE FROM THE LEADER OF THE METHODIST CHURCH OF THE GAMBIA

Photo of the Most Rev. Bannie E.F. Manga

‘‘The events of this day that we celebrate with shouts of Joy define the very essence of our faith. Christians and our faith values in Christianity are anchored in the Resurrection encounter that we call Easter. In the resurrection that we celebrate today, Jesus, the pivot of our faith climaxes his ministry amongst us as Human beings. Easter establishes and projects our songs of Hallelujah and Praises. We will burst out in our churches, homes and environs with acclamations of Christ is Risen… and our responses will be He is Risen Indeed Hallelujah.

‘‘In other to appreciate this Easter encounter and experience, it will be prudent to set the context, significance and narrative of the life and witness of Jesus into perspective. Christians don’t just claim and declare sayings and positions.

‘‘We establish and live our faith in what we acclaim and teach. In the birth narratives about Jesus Christ, we are informed that the angel Gabriel said, ‘with God, nothing is impossible’ (Luke chapter 1 verse 37). This understanding sets the tone and perspective with which Jesus and his ministry must be understood. Jesus is the reflection of the impossibility that God can manifest especially within humanity.

‘‘In his growth, life and ministry, Jesus reveals his purposes for existence within human boundaries. His purpose is clearly spelt out as a redemptive mission – the Son of Man came to seek and find the lost (Luke 19 verse 10). This title Son Of Man, which is both apocalyptic, royal and Messianic finds its root in Daniel chapter 7 verse 13 and 14. The climax of his life and ministry is anchored in His saying, ‘…destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it’. (John chapter 2 verse 19). Jesus’ resurrection therefore is the highest point of his purpose and existence within humanity.

‘‘In the Christological hymn of Philippians chapter 2 verse 5 to 11, the resurrection of Jesus defines the humiliation exaltation pattern that St Paul seeks to depict to the people of Philiped. The resurrection therefore becomes the goal or greatest achievement of Jesus. He wakes up from the grave and beams light even in the darkness of death and hopelessness. 2 Thus understood, the question is, what is the Resurrection?

The resurrection is not just a wake up from the grave or as some would allude, a wake up from some deep sleep or coma. It is not also a transfiguration of a person from the cross to an unknown location that can’t be verified. It is not an allusion of some disciples who wanted to make a name for themselves as some scholars would want to suggest. The resurrection is an actual event that was encountered by the disciples and witnessed by all who lived in the first century.

Further to this, the resurrection was a fulfillment of Scripture. In Luke chapter 24, when the two disciples were on the road to Emma-us discussing the events of the times, Jesus appeared to them, and opened their eyes to understand the scriptures. They exclaimed in verse 32 of Luke 24, ‘weren’t our hearts burning within us as he expounded the scriptures to us’.

The resurrection of Jesus must be understood also as the preface to the ascension of Jesus into Heaven. In Acts chapter 1 verse 11, we are told that in the same way you see Jesus raise into the Heaven with clouds and Authority, a description of the Son of Man as reflected in the book of Daniel, so would he come back to claim his own. Interesting, this position is not only a Christian perspective but is shared by other faiths especially within our jurisdiction. The resurrection defines the anchor of our faith. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 12 to 19 indicate to us that if Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, then our faith is baseless, and we are most to be pitied.

Now on the merits of the existences of our faith and the values and assurances that our faith in Jesus continues to establish within and around us, the boldness of the Church through out the ages in proclaiming the mystery of our Faith – Christ has died, Christ is Risen and Christ will come again – Easter gives credence to us as Christians and defines us as a people. This resurrection thus renews hope, life and persistence to a people who live within a sense of hopelessness, uncertainty and a gloomy and possibly dark future.

In the resurrection of Jesus, who has portrayed himself as the voice of the voiceless, the liberator of those in bondage, the redeemer of humanity from sin and death, the Messiah, the ultimate vindicator of humanity and the bridge of humanity with God – we are revived and renewed. We are revived and renewed to be active participants in the will and purposes of God. We thus become the hands and feet and agents of God in this broken and sometimes ungodly world 3 of ours. We become a letter from God and a sweet-smelling fragrance to our generation (2 Corinthians chapter 3 verse 1 and 2).

Further to our understanding of the resurrection, we appreciate that the grave does not end our pilgrimage as human beings. The grave, which was dark and fearful now becomes a gateway that is beamed with the Light of God. The grave does not have a final say on our lives. There is hope and a pathway beyond the grave. This will explain why even in the face of death, we can celebrate and raise songs of victory. 1 Corinthians 15 verse 54 to 57 sums it best for us with these words – 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 the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. The question is, what are the Implications of the resurrection for us as a people of faith in the 21ST century?

Let me proffer some suggestions. As believers of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead:

1. We are a renewed people for a better perspective of and to Life. It means therefore that we cannot continue to view life from a past colonial or myopic or narrow perspective. We are renewed to look at life from a broader and better perspective. Jesus called it Life in its fullness (John 10 verse 10).

2. We are called to actively participate in the purposes of God. God intended that human beings takes care and subdue the earth. (Genesis 1 verse 28). With sin and the fall of Humanity, we missed that perspective. However in the resurrection and it’s celebrations, we are called to soberly reflect on ways we can participate in making this world a better place for all. It should not be left in the hands of a select few but should be a collective responsibility and participation.

3. We are a Hallelujah people. Hallelujah is paralleled to Praise the Lord. Consequently as an Easter people, we will join with the hymnist in daily acclaiming – Fill thou my Life, O Lord my God, In every part with Praise, That my whole being may proclaim Thy being and Thy ways. (MHB 604 stanza 1)

4. Easter reflects therefore the victory won for us by Jesus the Christ. Consequently as a victorious people, we must seek to reflect the same. A victorious person does not meddle with things that hold the other in bondage. A victorious person is liberated and free to maximize his potential. In so doing, we do not seek to enslave others but seek to live as an reflection of who God has allowed us to be.

In summary therefore, to declare that we are an Easter people means that our hope in God is sustained. It also means, in the words of the Hymnist thatJesus, still leads on, Till our rest be won, And, although the way be cheerless, We will follow, calm and fearless; Guide us by thy hand To our Fatherland. (MHB 624 stanza 1).

With this in mind, we shall continue to be revived, renewed and encouraged that surely we shall over come someday.

On behalf of the Methodist people in the Gambia, I declare to you the Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed, Hallelujah.

May his presence ever surround us and lead us into continuous joy and bliss even now and forevermore. God richly bless us all and keep us in peace, love and unity.

Most Rev. Bannie E.F. Manga.

Presiding Bishop and Chairman of The Gambia Christian Council, March 2024.