People of God , we worship God again today as his beloved people on this Solemnity of the Ascension. The Church celebrates the Ascension forty days after the Resurrection of Jesus. He was lifted up to heaven and his disciples gazed after him until the angels told them: “Why gaze in wonder at the heavens? This Jesus whom you saw ascending into heaven will return as you saw him go” (Acts 1: 1-11). That is what the Church celebrates today. To the faithless mind, grounded only in the ephemeral things of the world, this is nonsensical but to us who are baptised into Christ, this is another reassurance that this earth is not our final home.
The disciples were not exactly jumping for joy when Jesus was lifted up, they were at best wondering with eyes lifted up. This was probably the worst period in which their “Oga” should leave them. Things were not easy for them. Christianity at the beginning was not going to be an easy piece of cake. Surely if they could they would have held him back to stay and see them through the tough times. They would have sung songs like: Baba mai lo ajantiele, or Abide with me, or I need thee every hour. That is why angels had to tell them to go about their assignment, that Jesus would come back in the very same way. That same Jesus has even promised to send them the Holy Spirit.
We are at such a point all over the world now. If it were possible, we would probably postpone the ascension so that Jesus would stay and help us resolve the troubles we are in and they are many. Who will deliver us from COVID 19. Who will save us from the Corruption 19, Hunger 19, Unemployment 19 or Falsehood 19 and more, all of which have all been inflicted on Gods people in the name of helping out? That feeling is understandable.
The Ascension presents us with so many important facts that encourage us. 1. It reminds us that nobody, no power in this world can restrict, curtail, lockdown or quarantine God’s plan. No virus or army can legislate on his ascension He will go and come as he will and even send the Holy Spirit when he wants. Glory be to him. 2. It also reminds us that our homeland s not here but in heaven (cf. Philippians 3:18-20). He promised that he will come to take us to be with him where he is. (I want to go to heaven in the morning Tis heaven, yes heaven is the price.) The questions to ask ourselves are: Are we prepared, are we ready? Shall we be found worthy? (Try sing this song and mean it: “I will be ready, I will be ready, I will be ready when the Lord shall come”
That question is for all believers in God not just for Christians, but for Muslims and Traditional Worshippers, be they in government, civil service or in the marketplace or in our homes. All African religions believe that God will one day call us back and reward us for our life endeavours. With your current conduct, will it take you to heaven? I said in a homily not long ago that this period should be the best period for Nigeria. Christians have just finished fasting and repentance and are in Easter mood, Muslims are now concluding their fasting and are getting into Ramadan mood. Most of us should be very holy people by now. There should really be no more cheating, lying, stealing killing and deceiving now in our State, in Nigeria. But are things like that? We know too well that the contrary is the case. We are not yet where we want to be at all.
So, we all need God more now, whoever we are, than at any other time. This is the more reason we again ask the government authorities as many have done before to open up our mosques and churches and worship centres and do the needful to enforce regulations where necessary. Our authorities must know that spiritual death is far much worse than physical death. Jesus said we should fear more those who kill the body and soul and cast them into hell fire (Matthew 10:28).
At the beginning of the Corona Virus pandemic we accepted precautionary limitations on our worship because sincerely nobody knew what had hit the world. Now after many weeks we do have a fair idea. Even though we do not yet know how to cure it, we know some means by which to prevent it. It is now time to restore the citizens’ fundamental right to worship. Our Churches and Mosques offer services that are far more important than those offered by our motor parks and markets. They help people cope with every kind of situation and help them to be better citizens. They are far more able to follow the rules laid down for hygiene and safety than those who manage the motor parks and markets which have been opened. This is to say nothing about the social and charity works of the Church which has for too long been impeded.
Finally, prayer in community achieves much more than we give it credit for. Check out the Pentecost Day prayer, or ask Paul and Silas in the prison cell (Acts 16:22ff). It is our most powerful weapon in the face of trouble and of COVID 19, more than the PTF more than the NCDC and more than any government (cf. Psalm 127). “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the builders labour”. Let people return to communal prayers!
We Nigerians are not ashamed to be called the most religious nation in the world and we ought not to be. We have not seen any credible evidence that prayer hurts in any way. We are more ashamed as we ought to be, of being called the most corrupt nation in the world. Evidence abounds that corruption is abundant in our nation and it hurts and kills. Should we not better lockdown corruption and related viruses and open up our places of worship, diligently enforcing enabling laws as we should?
So, we are all challenged today by the Solemnity of the Ascension to think more about our souls and heaven. Government and the governed, all have work to do to make heaven. Show more evidence of your faith and Nigeria will cope better with any problem.
Happy Ascension Day!
Bishop Emmanuel Ade Badejo of Oyo Diocese
SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION OF JESUS, May 21, 2020