By Okey Ifionu 

Life here on earth is both temporal and temporary. Man is a bird of passage, a rainbow in an azure sky. Like a will-o’-the-wisp, he is here today and gone tomorrow. That sounds rather obvious, doesn’t it? Yet many evidently don’t seem to be sufficiently aware or conscious of that. Look at the world around you; you would think that, with all the deadly pursuit of power, splendour, honour and majesty by man, he is here on earth permanently. The bickering and jockeying for material glory and the vanities thereof appear to belie the reality of man’s true condition on earth. How many people truly meditate on the brevity of life in this realm? How many people think, as the hymn writer, that “time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away,” and that “they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day”?

Well, the third session of the 6th Synod of the Diocese of Lagos Mainland was a timely reminder to us of our pilgrim status on earth and the need for everyone to prepare for life in eternity. However pleasant or depressing life here on earth may be, it is only for a season. No man or woman will be here forever!

With the theme of the synod drawn from the Bible book of Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 13, “We are but Strangers and Aliens on Earth,” the Synod kicked off with a spirit-lifting opening service at the Cathedral of St Jude, Ebute Metta. It was led by the diocesan bishop of Lagos Mainland, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), the Rt. Rev. Akinpelu Johnson, a veritable Bible scholar and theologian.

In the first homily which was brought by the bishop of the Diocese of Lagos West, the Rt. Rev. James Olusola Odedeji, he dissected the theme admirably, with gripping anecdotes aimed at showing that man is only an immigrant in the world, and pointing out the futility of holding fast to the present world instead of our faith in Christ Jesus. The crux of that sermon is that all things are vanity outside God. Believers must emulate the biblical heroes of faith who anchored their lives in God. Man has no permanent home on earth. Life does not end here in this realm. The spirit of man, like the God who created man, is immortal. The Bible is replete with references to the significance of life in the hereafter.  

Bishop Johnson’s choice of the theme for this year’s synod, couldn’t come at a better time. It is indeed a wake-up call to a complacent church and a self-centred world.

It is a subject that should be of interest to not only all people of faith, but all mankind.

Death, which is a universal phenomenon, should constantly remind man that he is only a pilgrim to the earth, and that however long he may live here, he is fated to return (die) someday to his maker. How each of us will be received by God will be determined by how we lived on earth.

In session after session at the synod, the theme echoed loudly. Whether it was the sermons or the Bible studies or the Bishop’s charge, the matter of man’s sojourn on earth and the ephemerality of that sojourn was in focus. 

Bishop Odedeji, who took the first shot at the theme, roused his audience a great deal on the subject. It was a sermon that could make anyone who thinks he stands to take heed lest he falls.

The Rt. Rev. Odedeji, famous for his adroit use of anecdotes to drive home moral or theological points, stimulated the congregation to expect more during the following sessions of the synod. The prelate exhorted his audience to realise that both heaven and hell are real, and that God being a righteous judge, will not admit anybody who is not qualified to His eternal Kingdom. The only passport for entering that Kingdom is faith in Christ Jesus, the redeemer of mankind. He then shared a touching story of a young man who had wangled his way into a university where he ostensibly studied a course but on the graduation day his elated father discovered to his chagrin that his son’s name was missing from the graduation roll. It turned out that he had not actually gained admission into the university. He was a pretender! So will it be, the preacher declared, for those who might be “working for” or “serving” God without knowing Jesus as their Lord and saviour. Such people, he said, have no place in God’s eternal Kingdom. No one can wangle his or her way into eternal life with God. Everyone needs a visa and only Jesus can issue it. In his words, believers should not be “entangled with worldly passions but focus on Christ.” One  synod delegate described that opening sermon as “a voice from heaven calling men to think their lives over.” It was indeed!

The Bible study leader, Venerable Chidiebere Ukachukwu, took a practical dig into the  subject in two study sessions. In his exposition, Ukachukwu brought home the vanity of man’s consuming passion for self-glory and his striving to amass material wealth despite the uncertainties of his tenure on earth. However much a man acquires, wealth, knowledge, social influence, etc, he will inevitably die, leaving all of that for those who may fritter them away sooner than later. Little wonder the Bible says that everything is ultimately vanity without God. Ukachukwu challenged believers to rid themselves of excessive materialism, which has ruined many believers, and robbed them of their place in the pleasant courts above.

In his nearly 100-page presidential charge delivered standing all through, the president of the Synod, Bishop Johnson, delved into the theology of living and dying, and what follows thereafter. He enraptured his audience with his erudition and exegesis. Man is truly a stranger and alien on earth, even if he is not always conscious of that. This truth leaps out from many pages of the Bible. Acknowledging that the question of afterlife is common to  “virtually all belief systems”, Bishop Johnson said that man has a “non-physical part that continues after physical death” for man is made up of body, soul and spirit.”

In Christian eschatology, the study of afterlife, “death is a gateway to eternal life” where “Jesus is both the intercessor and redeemer who pleads for, judges and vindicates the faithful believer.” He reminded delegates and his online audience that Christian “baptism symbolises a death to sin and rising to new life.”

Bishop Johnson said that the gift of resurrection is an indication that Christians will share in Jesus’ resurrection to immortality in a spiritual body as espoused by Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth (1Corinthians 15:35–49). He made a vital link between this year’s synod and those of the 2022 and 2023 synods which all focused on other aspects of the Christian rites of passage–Baptism and the Eucharist. Each of these rites is a gateway to afterlife.

“The position remains that when the Christian understands Christ’s salvic work, has faith in him, and obeys Him, then eternal life in God is available,” said the bishop. “To partake in it, the Christian must ensure adequate preparation which does not allow for spiritual carelessness or waywardness.” Those who live corruptly and amass wealth illegally must remember that a day of reckoning is coming.

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Bishop Johnson’s presidential address was a fitting call to action to all followers of Christ. 

His choice of Henry Francis Lyte’s evergreen hymn *Pleasant are thy courts above*  was quite apt in drawing the curtain to his riveting address. The prayerful tone of the last stanza of that hymn, is for everyone who sincerely aspires to live in the beautiful courts above. It reads thus:

“Lord, be mine this prize to win;

Guide me through a world of sin;

Keep me by thy saving grace;

Give me at thy side a place.

Sun and shield alike thou art;

Guide and guard my erring heart;

Grace and glory flow from thee;

Shower, O shower them, Lord, on me!” 

Truly grace and enduring glory flow only from God.

Taking it from there, the charismatic bishop of Langtan Diocese, the Rt. Rev. Stanley Fube, who took the closing  sermon at the Synod thanksgiving service, stressed the importance of coming under the tabernacle of grace through faith in Christ Jesus, without whom no one can attain eternal life in God. The visiting bishop seized the opportunity to congratulate the Registrar of the Diocese, Lady Chikwue Ochiagha, who has just stepped down as the chairman of the Synod Planning Committee, after serving diligently for 17 years. 

As synods go, this was very edifying and challenging to delegates who are expected to live out the lessons learned from the various  sessions. 

Long live the Diocese of Lagos Mainland, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).

• Venerable Ifionu is a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Lagos Mainland

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