Good Friday in the time of the coronavirus

For the first time, churches will be empty on this Good Friday.
For the first time, churches will be empty on this Good Friday.
Image: 123RF/Goran Bogicevic

Good Friday for the year 2020 will go down in history like no other.

In other years, church goers would now have their church clothes ready, prepared to flood churches all around the country to mark what could easily be deemed the biggest day on the Christian calendar.

But as the coronavirus lockdown period continues, families under lockdown will be attending church differently this Easter period, with scores of people expected to rather gather in front of their television or laptop screens for their yearly dose of crucifixion and resurrection sermons.

This has become life for millions of South Africans as the country’s government tries to contain a potentially catastrophic virus which has already infected over a million and a half people and wiped out over 95,000 people worldwide.

When the lockdown was announced two weeks ago, churches across the country quickly jumped on board and changed their weekly routines to accommodate the regulations. One of those churches was the Hope Restoration Ministries which has scores of branches and thousands of members across Gauteng.

The church had planned mass church services for most of the week, with congregants expected to gather at a stadium. But from Wednesday evening, the church’s members have been turning online twice a day for sermons.

The services, which were streamed by hundreds who at times turned to Facebook to leave their comments of amen and appreciation of the services, happened at the church’s almost empty Kempton Park building.  With no worshiping team or band members in the background, old tapes of worship were played before the pastors ascended to the pulpit to deliver their sermon.

On this Good Friday, the church requested its members to prepare their own holy communion to administer among their families in their homes.

Meanwhile, in Witbank, with congregants unable to worship together as per normal, last week pastor of Gateway Church International, Stella Phetla, took to the church’s Facebook page to urge congregants to take this form of sermon just as seriously as any other.

She shared a post on how to attend church services online:

  • Get out of bed and get dressed. This will put you in the right mind for worship.
  • Go through your normal church day routine.
  • Gather together as a family. There shouldn’t be multitasking as worship is a family activity.
  • Stream to your largest available screen in the house. It will make it seem like you are there.
  • Sing along, loud and proud. It may feel weird but it also feels weird to the people leading worship in an empty room.
  • Preach with the preacher. Say amen, clap, shout, take notes, have a time of prayer at the end, make your home a sanctuary.

In an interview with PowerFM on Thursday Reverend Frank Chikane of the SA Council of Churches said because people were used to gathering with fellow church goers on this particular day, it would be normal for them to feel some emptiness.

Chikane said the bigger picture however, would be about saving lives.

“If it means we will save lives by worshiping and remembering Christ’s death at home, that is what we need to do,” he said.

“And it’s not only that - if you have a crisis, the church of Christ must deal with the crisis. It’s not just about its own worship. Our worship should be about how we participate in taking care of the vulnerable victims, people who have lost their livelihoods, have no food. If Christ came today, that’s what he would worry about. He would be where the people are. Now that we cannot be where the people are, we need to use high tech operations, virtual meetings, telephones,” Chikane said.

He added that church as it was known before had to change.

If anything, he added, the virus was also reinforcing Ubuntu among the people in the church.

“It teaches us that even if you try and take care of yourself, you will get into trouble if others don’t participate with you to deal with the problem. It teaches us Ubuntu, to care about each other – what I do will affect you and what you do will affect me. That is the gospel truth that we should help each other, work with each, love your neighbour, love your enemy for that matter, to make sure they are not in a situation that no human being should be placed in,” he said.

He said now, more than ever, was the time for churches to open their doors for those in need, especially for those needing shelter to separate from their families during quarantine or isolation.

“The churches must now become what Christ would have wanted them to be, not be about themselves and their buildings," Chikane said.