This was the greeting the risen Lord gave His frightened disciples when He appeared among them on the evening of the first day of the week. The gospels tell us the disciples were in great fear because of the arrest, torture and crucifixion of Jesus, and the news that the tomb of Jesus had been opened and His body was not in it. They feared the Jews, the Roman soldiers and even Jesus before they were sure of His resurrection. Fear of the unknown had caused the disciples to panic and, according to the Gospel of John, they hid in a house and had the doors locked. Then Jesus appeared, stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” He also showed them His hands and His side. The disciples’ fears were dispelled and they were glad. (John 20:19–23)
The disciples had followed Jesus for three and a half years, and had seen numerous miracles performed by Him. They listened in awe to His teachings about the kingdom of God. They were the witnesses when He healed the sick, cast out demons and even raised the dead. But unless they genuinely experienced Jesus in their lives and believed in Him, they still panicked when they encountered unknown perils. These were natural reactions of man throughout history, and also of Christians today.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak early this year there was panic among people in the coronavirus epicentres of the affected countries, which included Singapore and several developed nations. The overreaction was due mainly to the fact that COVID-19 was an unknown virus, and people did not know what to expect. All of a sudden they seemed to have lost their rationality and sound judgement.
Jesus told his disciples that He would give His peace to all who believe in Him, but the peace is not as the world gives (John 14:27). He also said that they would have peace in Him for He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Among the followers of Jesus were those who remained loyal and steadfast in their belief. These included Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and a few other women. They were near Jesus when He was crucified; even after Jesus had been buried, they came to the tomb on the first day of the week at dawn in remembrance of Him, and brought the spices they had prepared. Were they not afraid? How could they remain so calm under those circumstances? I believe it was because of their steadfast love for the Lord and their unswerving faith in Him.
The global death toll due to COVID-19 has soared to several thousands and the fatalities include doctors and healthcare workers. The deaths were grievous losses to their bereaved families. They were sacrificial victims of the pandemic, but they have also become case studies for researchers and health experts in the process of identifying effective treatments and developing vaccines for the thousands affected by COVID-19. Leaders of this fight against the virus will need to be resolute in their goal to save lives. They’ll need to remain calm in making quick and decisive responses, which are effective and sustainable, and lead their people to act in concert.
This year has started very differently from those of the past. We experienced many unexpected crises in the period from Lunar New Year, to Lent, and to the Holy Week and Easter in April. They put to the test all the beliefs and notions we have held over time, and of how Christians respond to grim situations. It is not about making decisions about whether to attend Sunday services or gatherings, and participating in mass activities. It is about how Christians demonstrate a high degree of social and civic responsibility as citizens, how we extend love and care to our neighbours in need, and how we help and support the poor. It is also about how, despite the economic crisis prompted by the pandemic and the impact on our own financial well-being, we maintain our deep faith in God—He is in control!
Let us exercise our Christian character as we face the current serious situation. We will let life go on as normally as possible and continue to uphold our social responsibilities. Remember to extend care and love to the people around us and share the message of victory and hope in our risen Lord.
Thus says the risen Lord: Peace be with you!
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference from 2008 to 2016.