Churches’ Easter celebrations to continue amidst “circuit breaker” measures
Emilyn Tan // April 4, 2020, 3:18 pm
“When it comes to worshipping the Lord during Easter, we are not limited by geographical boundaries. In the Spirit, there is no distance," reminds Pastor Bobby Chaw of City Harvest Church. Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash.
Christians were one month into Lent when the suspension of religious services was extended, as part of the second set of social distancing measures (March 24) designed to stem community spread of coronavirus.
But with a daily increase in new COVID-19 cases as well as local transmissions and clusters, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced new and stricter “circuit breaker” measures yesterday (April 3) in a nationally televised message.
The measures, to begin next Tuesday (April 7) and last until May 4, includes the closure of most workplaces, schools and institutes of higher learning. There will also be tighter controls on people movements and gatherings.
In spite of the unprecedented situation, believers can have a meaningful Easter where “we can still meet the Lord”.
“Avoid socialising with others beyond your own household,” PM Lee said, singling out the elderly as especially vulnerable. “Avoid visiting even extended families who are not staying with you. Go out only to do essential things.” This includes buying food or exercising in the park.
“The spirit of these measures is to get all of us to minimise physical contact … so that the virus won’t be able to be spread,” he said, thanking healthcare workers and adding that all citizens are now on the frontlines with them. “Each and every one of us can and must do our part to keep everyone in Singapore safe from COVID-19.”
Churches across Singapore have already been hard at work on plans to go online with the upcoming Holy Week and Easter celebrations, one of the most significant dates in the Church calendar.
Armed with Good News amidst a daily dose of bad news, pastors to whom Salt&Light spoke were unanimous in believing that, in spite of the unprecedented situation, believers can have a meaningful Easter where “we can still meet the Lord”.
The Presbyterian Church
The Singapore Church celebrating Easter this year in front of screens, is not by choice, but it “will leave a lasting impact”, said the English Presbytery’s (EP) Vice Moderator, Rev Adrin Muñoz, Associate Minister of Adam Road Presbyterian Church.
“‘Meaningful restriction’, I’d call it,” he told Salt&Light.
“One may closely identify with the early believers, who just heard of the Lord’s resurrection. They celebrated the resurrection behind locked doors for fear of persecution.”
The entire EP congregation – consisting of 17 churches – usually gathers as one for Holy Week, returning to their individual churches for Easter Sunday services. This year, EP Holy Week Convention 2020 is going online.
“The current crisis reminds us of our mortality. Easter to me is the promise of a better world and a better body awaits me, undeservedly.” – Rev Adrin Muñoz
Asia Journal of Theology Editor Rev Dr Simon Chan’s sermon series on “Jesus: A King Beyond Our Wildest Imagination” will be uploaded daily, from Wednesday to Friday, April 8 to 10.
Noting that “Ecclesiastes tells us that the living should take to heart that death is the destiny of every man (Ecclesiastes 7:2)”, Rev Muñoz added that “the current crisis reminds us of our mortality – we all die and the world moves on.
“Easter to me is the promise of a better world and a better body awaits me, undeservedly.”
The Methodist Church in Singapore
“This has been a Lent to remember in the 135th anniversary of Methodism in Singapore,” wrote Rev Dr Chong Chin Chung, Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS), in a “Pastoral Letter to All Methodist Brothers and Sisters”.
“Carry God’s love and hope in your heart and head and express it with your hands.” – Bishop Chong Chin Chung
Noting that every worshipper has an “important part” to play, he said: “Giving up the pleasure and privilege of worshipping God together for a season is a sacrifice we will make to save our nation. I ask all Methodists to heed this trumpet call to action.”
He referenced Acts 8:4 and called on his MCS flock – some 44,000 members spread out over 46 churches – to “join a small group as you carry God’s love and hope in your heart and head and express it with your hands”.
A list of recordings and livestreams of its churches’ services can be found on the MCS website. Among those holding a Maundy Thursday (April 9) service is Covenant Community Methodist Church (CCMC), online at 8pm. (See sidebar)
Dr Anthony Goh, Chairman of the MCS Council on Communications, told Salt&Light: “Each local Methodist Church will observe Holy Week in its own special way. Just as God created each of us uniquely, Methodist Churches across Singapore cater to a wide range of worshippers with differing needs, styles and requirements, although we are all one church under one God.”
The Diocese of Singapore
In a pastoral note to Anglican church leaders, Bishop Rennis Ponniah noted that the Church had been put on “a different footing” but that it could still attend to “the common life and witness that the Lord calls His people to”.
“Fear not. Keep your eyes fixed on the Lord.” – Bishop Rennis Ponniah
Speaking of weekly worship services as an “essential rite that sustains our life of faith”, he urged the use of “any available and personal means (eg text message, teleconferencing etc) to feed the flock with a word of encouragement and hope from the Bible”.
He himself has been preaching a Lenten Mid-Week Sermons series on the Passion narrative in the Gospel of Mark. It concludes with the third and final part on Wednesday, April 8, and is accessible at the St Andrew’s Cathedral website.
Easter will be marked online separately by each of the Anglican Diocese’s 27 churches, which together have a weekly attendance of about 21,000 people.
Quoting John 10:10, Bishop Ponniah emphasised that the fullness of life Jesus came to bring “is accomplished also by His grace, strength and spiritual formation through times of adversity”.
“Fear not,” he encouraged. “Keep your eyes fixed on the Lord. Stay in covenantal relationship with Him. We will trust Him to protect us, provide for us and use us for His glory.”
In a limited survey of the programmes independent churches are offering, Salt&Light found the following:
Hope Church is featuring a video interview with Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist, who will share his experience contracting SARS in 2003. Entitled “Hope Over Fear”, this Easter celebration will be accessible at six timings from April 11 and 12.
Dr Leong is quoted in its publicity materials as saying: “When I was diagnosed with SARS, my wife was pregnant. I wasn’t afraid of dying, I was more afraid of suffering. You learn to think about what’s important, your friends, your family, and you learn to think about what happens next.”
“May you experience the joy of Easter, which no social distancing or virus can take away.” – Redemption Hill Church
“Novel” is what Redemption Hill Church (RHC) calls its Easter initiative: It is offering to send a care package of sorts via snail mail to its congregation. The package comprises a note of encouragement from its pastors and three postcards featuring photography and hand-lettering by RHC members. The hope is that these postcards will, in turn, be sent out to others, “to encourage them during this trying time”.
An announcement on its website also said: “While we are saddened that we are unable to gather in person for Good Friday and Easter this year, we want the hope we have in Jesus and our unity in the Body of Christ to ring loudly.
“May you experience the joy of Easter, which no social distancing or virus can take away.”
RHC’s livestreamed services, themed “The Great Exchange”, will be held online on Good Friday (April 10) and Easter (April 12), 10am.
The Easter Sunday service at Covenant Evangelical Free Church (CEFC), which is being livestreamed at 9.15 am, is an opportunity for a family celebration, Rev Tan Kay Kiong told Salt&Light. “We know that no matter what the circumstances are or how we gather together, what remains unchanged is the suffering, the death and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“What remains unchanged is the fact of Good Friday. What remains unchanged is the fact of Easter.”
In fact, seats in public places that are crossed-out to denote a safe-distancing space should take on a different meaning for Christians, said his colleague, Rev Tony Yeo. “The crosses should remind us of the Cross of Christ!
“The message of Easter is still this: Jesus is the hope of the world. Let’s be reminded that the presence of God is absolutely still with us. That is why He came.”
City Harvest Church (CHC), which has more than 16,000 members, has been livestreaming its services since the middle of February. For Easter weekend, it is keeping its regular English service times on Saturday at 5pm and Sunday at 10am. Its Chinese service goes out on Sunday at 10am.
“When it comes to worshipping the Lord during Easter, we are not limited by geographical boundaries. In the Spirit, there is no distance.” – Pastor Bobby Chaw
Referencing Acts 2:46-47, CHC zone pastor Choong Tsih Ming said to Salt&Light: “We should use modern technology to our advantage. We must go beyond what’s traditional, to use the tools we have to connect with people.
“Church is all about people being connected, just as Jesus’ death reconnected us to the Father. I feel God is giving us a push forward: ‘Come, use everything I have given you to the advantage of the Church.’ ”
Echoing the same sentiment, Pastor Bobby Chaw, Executive Pastor and Principal of CHC’s School of Theology, said: “When it comes to worshipping the Lord during Easter, we are not limited by geographical boundaries. In the Spirit, there is no distance (John 4:23).
“In Luke 24, the disciples were scattered because of persecution – likewise, we are scattered because of the virus now.
“But the two disciples on the road to Emmaus still met Jesus, and they broke bread with Him. My hope is that we will all still break bread at the same time during online service, and we will each meet with the Lord this Easter.”
Why Christians mark Holy Week and Easter
Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and carries on through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It marks Jesus’ journey to the Cross, beginning with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ending with Gethsemane, Calvary, and the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.
“A Saviour is born at Christmas. But He completed the work of salvation through what took place at Holy Week.”
According to Rev Malcolm Tan, pastor-in-charge of Covenant Community Methodist Church (CCMC): “The three great days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday commemorate Christ’s gift of the Lord’s Supper and His giving of the Great Commandment (John 13:34) on Thursday, His crucifixion and death on Friday, and His entombment on Saturday. The resurrection is celebrated on Sunday.
“These things which brought about our salvation took place in real time and space, within history, not mythology. Hence, we celebrate those days in our Church Christian calendar,” Rev Tan said.
“It also implies that Christmas by itself is an incomplete celebration. Christmas is special because the Son of God became Man.
“But Christmas is actually more than special because the Son of God became Man in order to die a cruel death to bring about our redemption.
“Holy Week therefore gives us a greater basis to celebrate the life of Christ. We say that a Saviour is born at Christmas. But He completed the work of salvation through what took place at Holy Week.
“We celebrate Holy Week to bear witness to the fact that these things actually took place in real time.”