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Prayer Service for Ukraine
Luke 21: 7-17
“The Final Word”
Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis
March 6, 2021
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Holy Trinity, who creates, redeems, and sustains us all. AMEN.
Sometimes in Lent, we wish God did not know us so well. The secrets we hold in shame. The petty fights we enjoy. Our own meanness and spite; indifference to our neighbors; desecration of the earth.
But tonight – this Lent – we gather in gratitude to God, who indeed knows us well. The desperation we feel in the face of a massive military invasion of Ukraine. The raw, human ache that reminds us how small we are in the long shadow of empires and the world affairs that unfold before our eyes. This Lent, prayers for mercy and peace are foremost in our hearts and on our lips.
We are here in the safety of the Basilica of St. Mary to pray for those who wait and watch for a new day to dawn from far less secure places – particularly in the cities and borderlands of Ukraine.
For some of you here tonight, the neighborhoods under rocket attack, the ports under siege, the countryside violated by the invasion of tanks and troops, is your home place in this world. If not the place of your own growing up, the land of your relatives and friends, the homeland your siblings now rally to defend. May you know that God knows you well in all your fears and hopes and resolution to stand with those you love.
For many of us here, it is an almost impossible thought to think – that in this century one nation would cross into the land of another sovereign state in Europe, and to do so as the whole world watches. We pray with heavy hearts this night for all the lives that have been lost; for all that has already been destroyed or placed under horrendous threat. God also knows our longing for peace and restoration; our prayers for those sent into harm’s way.
Thousands of civilians killed in the first days of the invasion. Millions of persons displaced, many of them women, children, and the elderly. The brave Ukrainians, fighting to defend the very neighborhoods where they so recently simply got up in the morning and went off to school or work or mass. All those endangered tonight and tomorrow as the bombing continues. Those for whom danger creeps closer every hour.
Some of these are people you know by name. Family, co-worker, an in-law, a former schoolmate. The anguish of keeping vigil as you wait news of safety or harm is almost impossible to bear, as any of us who have ever waited in a hospital corridor can attest. And known to us or not, all the people in the midst of this crisis are people with names and faces, hopes for their children, and a desire for peace.
One of the insidious tricks of war is that it causes us to lose sight of the humanity of those on the other side – civilian or soldier. And I mean the people of Russia, whom we also lift in prayer this Lent. The God who knows us, loves us, sees us, and hears our prayers is the God, who loves those on the other side of this aggressive and unprovoked violation of global peace.
Tonight, in God’s Word we hear, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified … Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom … “ (Luke 21:9-10) Do not be terrified. How often in the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers – Do not be afraid.
Friends, the terrible suffering underway in Ukraine is not God’s will for how we are to live as nations among nations on this earth. This terrible moment again in human history – and all the memories it elicits of other times of war and suffering – is not God’s way of schooling us because of our lack of faith. It is but one more manifestation of how very broken and brutal a fallen world can be. This Lent God calls all of us back to the sure and certain foundation on which alone we can stand when the earth shakes and the world, as we know it, is turned upside down.
The solid rock on which we stand is not our unencumbered way of life in America; nor the economic prosperity we like to enjoy; or even the uninterrupted days of our lives in which we are not forced to look evil and violence and injustice straight in the eye. The solid rock on which we stand is Jesus Christ, who says to us – Do not be afraid.
This Lent we have our eyes trained to see afresh where his journey on this earth led. First, to the cross. Then to the tomb. To that awful day when it seemed all hope had been in vain. When it sure looked like evil was stronger than good. When it seemed that the power of the strongest bully, the desires of the greediest empire, the cruelty of the tyrant was the final word.
But not then; not now. The final word belongs to God. To the God, who raised Christ Jesus from the dead.
This Lent, we watch and we pray with the people of Ukraine. We do what we can to offer aid and refuge. And whatever sacrifices we are called to bear in the days ahead we will do so in solidarity with all who suffer in this wide world.
This Lent – “We lift our eyes to the hills – from which our help comes. Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. The Lord who will keep us from all evil; who keeps our life. The Lord who will keep our going out and our coming in from this time on and forevermore.” (adapted from Psalm 121). Amen.
Bishop Patricia Lull