Thursday, 28 March 2013

Praying through the Passion and Easter 2013 
A resource from Christian Concern for One World

MAUNDY THURSDAY -- Bread, Wine, Water The disciples had met for the most important meal of the year, the Jewish Passover. They had broken bread and shared wine -- and in the process had heard Christ declare a new covenant. And then He had washed their feet, giving them a new commandment to love as He had loved. Around the world, Christians will be remembering the Last Supper this Thursday. In some churches there will be reenactments of the Passover meal, and people will volunteer to wash others' feet or to have theirs washed. But for some, food for a meal or clean water for drinking, let alone washing, will not be available. 

A friend of CCOW has just forwarded us this email from colleagues in Tanzania:

"Here we are ok but no rain and it is very hot because we get a strong sun and people suffering from hunger is a very big problem. The maize price now is very high and money is not available. The cost of 20 kg of maize now is 20,000/= (£10) when the usually price was Tshs 5000/= (£2.50) or 8000/= (£4) and we don't know when the rain will come. Please if you can able to do something with your congregation. It is a very bad condition here, some people eat leaves of trees."

We have been asked to pray for those affected by the drought and rise in food prices in Tanzania, and especially for better training to overcome the problems of drought. Please also pray:
 for all who are not able to access the food and water so essential for life
 that recalling the generosity with which Jesus gave of Himself in love, those of us who have access to food and water may love our neighbour by sharing what we have been given

Lord Jesus, you revealed the new covenant In the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup. As we commemorate the Last Supper We pray for all who will go hungry tonight, All who will thirst, And all for whom the water they share will be the bearer of ill health. As we recall your commandment to love one another as you have loved us, We pray that you will show us what we can do To help our brothers and sisters Have access to the food and drink they need. Help us to share the gifts you have given so abundantly. Help us to change unjust structures that concentrate resources in the hands of the few And leave so many without. And grant that the sustenance we receive from your table May strengthen us to follow where you lead.

Further Reading: According to the FAO's Global Food Price Monitor Bulletin, maize prices in Tanzania are high in part because of the local drought; they are also affected by high prices throughout the region ... which are in turn partially caused by the drastic impact on production of the recent US drought and by the use of maize for biofuels. Changes in the weather because of a changing climate … the impact of biofuels targets … these are among the issues on which this year’s Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign is focusing. You might wish to read the campaign's policy report or to look at their website in general. You might also wish to read Food for Life, A Theological Paper from the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance or Christian Aid’s Hungry for Justice.

Action Points: What can you do to help those who have difficulties in accessing food or water? Consider:
 giving to a group, agency or project that assists with development or humanitarian relief
 campaigning with Enough Food for Everyone IF, or with other groups (such as Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance) or agencies (such as WDM, War on Want) that are working on aspects of food justice
 changing the way you eat: can you buy more Fairtrade products, so that producers are better able to make a living, or eat less meat and/or fewer dairy products, thus taking up less of the world’s grain resources. (Have a look at the Anglican Diocese of Sheffield’s Lent Challenge)

GOOD FRIDAY -- Persecutors and the Persecuted Soldiers had arrested a man and taken him for trial. Once he was condemned, they stripped him, clothed him in mockery, taunted him, whipped him, and crowned his head with thorns. And then they led him out, staggering from loss of blood and from the heavy burden of the instrument that would kill him. At Golgotha they drove nails into his hands and feet and then, aware that the juddering of the cross as it was pulled up would be the beginning of yet more torment, raised the cross and watched him struggle to breathe until he died. It was their job. It was what the state had told them to do. And He forgave them: "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do."

 As we pray this week, people will be giving and being given commands that result in the torture or death of innocents. It is hard -- as it is with the Passion of Christ -- even to contemplate the suffering that results ... hard to understand how humans can do such things to each other. Pray for the people who are suffering, and pray that the infliction of suffering will be ended. But mindful of our Lord, who forgave even at the moment of his torment, pray, too, for those who are carrying out the orders to torture or kill as part of their "job." Pray that they will be given the strength to recognise and resist evil, that they will be able to escape from the situation which requires them to do what is wrong, and that they may work for forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Give thanks for those who work for peace and reconciliation, and who provide places of healing for people who have been swept up into conflicts.

Pray especially:
 for those suffering, or at risk of suffering torture in Syria, Sri Lanka, Mexico and Eritrea (see below)
 for those who suffer torture in other countries around the world -- sometimes at the behest of state agencies, sometimes as the result of conflict, criminality or endemic corruption.
 for our own government, and the governments of the US, Canada and other Western democracies as they confront their possible complicity in torture (or even use of it) and grapple with their obligations to people deemed at risk of torture if deported or handed over to others
 for those who torture, who lose their humanity as they seek to remove humanity from their victims. Pray that their hearts may be turned from cruelty, and that they may recognise in each person the image of God.
You might wish to use the Action by Christians against Torture Prayer, which begins:
Lord Jesus, You experienced in prison the suffering and death of a prisoner of conscience. You were plotted against, betrayed by a friend, and arrested under cover of darkness by men who came with clubs and swords. You were tortured, beaten and humiliated, and sentenced to an agonizing death though you had done no wrong. Be now with prisoners throughout the world. Be with them in the darkness of the dungeon, in the loneliness of separation from those they love …

Places for Prayer:
 Pray for Syria (prayer resources here). Further Reading: Human Rights Watch’s "Torture Archipelago"; Save the Children’s Untold Atrocities; Amnesty International’s briefings on abuses by both Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups.
 An increasing body of evidence indicates that Sri Lanka continues to torture ethnic Tamils, including political prisoners and those returned to Sri Lanka after their asylum bids were rejected by the UK. Further Reading: Freedom from Torture press release on people granted asylum after removal and torture; Human Rights Watch press release and report on sexual violence against Tamils in Sri Lankan detention centres; Guardian story on Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice report.
 Other places that require prayer include Mexico, where the "war against drugs" has led to state, as well as organised crime, tortures and "disappearances," and Eritrea.
Action Points: Praying: Torturers are often trying to silence others, which is why remembering and sharing the stories of those who are being tortured is so vital. Why not look at Human Rights Watch's report for 2013, choose a country and pray for the people/situations mentioned?
Writing: Desmond Tutu has started an e- petition on behalf of Nobelist Liu Xiaobo and his wife; Amnesty always has actions on behalf of individuals at risk in many countries.
Giving: Finally, could you give of your time or money to a charity such as Action by Christians against Torture or Freedom from Torture, and the people for whom it works?

GOOD FRIDAY -- Power, Corruption and Transparency The Gospels suggest that Pontius Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. He could find no fault in Him. He wanted to release Him. But then, the Gospel according to John tells us, the crowd suggested that if Pilate released Jesus, it would be evidence that he was “no friend of Caesar”. In danger of being accused of disloyalty to the Roman Empire, Pilate gave judgement and handed Jesus over to be crucified. Hanging on to power was more important than doing justice. It's reasonable for leaders to want to remain in power ... and there may be very good causes for their desire. They may hope to use their office to accomplish specific public goods. They may wish to provide stability during a crisis. But there are often less positive reasons as well. People may get used to privileges, or like the feeling that they can control events, or fear that their enemies will harm them if they are not in control. 

Pray that all leaders may have the strength and courage to do what is right, rather than being motivated primarily by political expedience or desire for power or gain. Please pray especially for those places where leaders are seeking to hold onto their power unjustly, creating situations in which government and the public good are subsidiary to their private interests. Pray that such leaders’ hearts may be softened, and that justice may triumph over injustice. You might wish to use or adapt some of the material from the Sanctuary Centre’s “Prayers for the Restoration of Integrity in public life – UK”

Please also pray in thanksgiving for the progress the US and EU have made over the past year on measures that will tackle one of the greatest barriers to good governance, the lack of transparency in extractive industries. This lack of transparency can lead public officials to use their posts as a path to illegitimate enrichment … and to be very unwilling to cede power. All-powerful God, who for love of humanity became a powerless child, Grant to all in authority the wisdom and the courage to do what is right, A vocation to serve their people, and a sacrificial love of those whom they serve. And grant to those who create the rules by which nations and businesses are governed wisdom to set frameworks that encourage justice and righteousness to flourish. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Further Reading and Action: As Zimbabwe’s elections near, there are concerns that Zanu PF may once again use violence and intimidation to hold onto power. Please pray that this may not happen. For those who were praying for Beatrice Mtetwa, a Zimbabwean human rights lawyer who was recently arrested, give thanks! She’s been released. Moves towards strong EU legislation on transparency in extractive industries took another step forward last week when UK Minister Jo Swinson stated that the UK would not support exemptions in disclosure requirements. Give thanks for this, and pray for the continuing negotiations around the directive. In the US, hearings have begun in a lawsuit that attacks the Securities and Exchange Commission’s rigorous implementation of legislation mandating transparency. Campaigners are worried by the direction that the questioning is taking. Please pray that the good work done by the SEC may not be undone by the lawsuit.
Detail of James Tissot, Jesus before Pilate, Second Interview. Brooklyn Museum.

HOLY SATURDAY -- The Scattered Church It was the day after the Crucifixion. As Jesus had predicted, the shepherd had been taken and killed, and the sheep were scattered, retreating into hiding. Today, worshippers in places like Eritrea or Iran or North Korea know that their shepherd lives ... and rely on Him for their strength. But they are still often scattered and in hiding, as meeting together to worship Christ can be dangerous or, particularly in North Korea, fatal. Some are particularly isolated as they are enduring imprisonment for the sake of their faith.

“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.” Hebrews 13:3, NASB

Please pray:
 for Christians in Iran and Pakistan (see the 17 to 23 March prayer email for details)
 for Christians in Eritrea. Christian Solidarity Worldwide estimates that 2,000 to 3,000 Christians are currently imprisoned for their faith. Find out more here.
 for Christians in China. Pray especially for the Roman Catholic church and the evangelical House Church movements, both of which are encountering particular difficulties with the authorities.
 for Christians in North Korea. Christianity is seen as a form of rebellion against the state cult, and tens of thousands of Christians are estimated to be in the country’s brutal prison camps. You may wish to use the North Korea Prayer Guide from Open Doors UK in your prayers. Give thanks that the UN has recently established a Commission of Inquiry “to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights” in North Korea and pray for that commission.
 for Christians in Nigeria. Continued inter-religious tensions in northern Nigeria have resulted in many deaths. Please pray for Christians in these areas, many of whom are staying away from church services, as they fear attacks.
 For Christians in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic. Conflict and rapid change have led to fragility in all these states. In Libya, though the political situation is more stable, the UN Support Mission and others have expressed concerns about religious freedom (Foreign Policy, IRIN) Some Coptic Christians have been arrested for “proselytising.” One of them died in jail, and a Coptic church was recently burned. Pray for Christians in that country.
 for Christians in Tanzania. Colleagues report increasing inter-religious tension and threats made of attacks against churches at Easter. Please pray that no attacks occur. We have also been asked to pray for greater dialogue and understanding between Christians and Muslims.

In all cases, give thanks for the faithful witness of those who are willing to follow Christ, whatever the cost. As you pray for the persecuted Church, you may also wish to remember others who are suffering discrimination or persecution. The Church of England has a general prayer which can be used for “all victims of intolerance and those oppressed by their fellow humans.”

EASTER SUNDAY -- From Hopelessness to Joy The faithful women made their way to the tomb, driven by love to undertake the bleak task of anointing the buried Jesus. The disciples waited in despair -- Peter in particular tormented by his betrayal of his Lord. And then ... "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" ... the astounding revelation that Christ had risen ... the transformation from hopelessness to joy ... the further revelation of God's purposes, love and forgiveness. 

So many situations today can appear hopeless. People often feel, for example, that world poverty is a constant ... that things only get worse and worse … that nothing anyone does makes a difference. And yet, while there is much that remains painful and there are some situations which decline, there are profound positive transformations. In the past few decades, for example, thanks to work on global public health, polio has all but been eradicated; thousands more children live every day because of increased vaccination and other interventions; and millions of people are on life-saving HIV/AIDS medication. As economist Charles Kenny noted in a recent comment: “The (donor funded) Measles and Rubella initiative supported delivery of 225 million measles vaccine doses in 2011 alone. Measles vaccination rates worldwide went from 16% in 1980 to 85% in 2010. In 1980, measles killed 2.6 million people a year; that number was down to 139,000 in 2010.” Each large-scale change like those mentioned above includes myriad stories of individual or local transformation. Last year we visited nurses in local clinic in a South African township. In the past, antiretrovirals had been scarce. Now, thanks to a decision to use domestic funding and aid to provide medicines on a large scale, the government sent what the nurses needed at the beginning of every month. If they needed more, they had only to ask. The change was massive … and so was their delight.

Nor are positive developments limited to “over there.” In this country, pressure to focus on the domestic to the exclusion of concern for others has been huge. And yet thousands of campaigners are pressing for action on development, seeking to love their neighbours as they love themselves.
At this time when we joyfully remember the Resurrection, please also give thanks for the ways in which “God’s glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” manifests itself in transformed lives and transformed societies. Praise be to God!

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98: 7 – 9)

Even where situations continue to feel intractable, we know that the God who raised Jesus from the dead has the power to break in and transform our world's sin, confusion and sorrow. As we contemplate big issues such as climate change, crippling inequality, persecution and high food prices, please pray that God's transforming power may bring forth the Kingdom in these areas, changing seemingly hopeless scenarios into occasions that reveal His gifts of joy, peace, justice and love. Further Reading and Action: The Global Poverty Project's presentation at TedxWarwick looks at the myth that "nothing changes" (and other myths as well). DfID has an excellent page of case studies showing how aid has enabled progress in ways that are both large and small scale. Or look at the website of an agency you support to see the good news they and their partners are sharing!

No comments:

Stay up to date with the 'Rural Church and Community Matters' blog: