Weekly Prayers from CCOW
Holy Week & Easter Reflections 2017
French Elections - A French Christian Perspective
The Easter readings speak of the great joy of those around Christ at His resurrection, as they begin to understand what has happened. This week's Revised Common Lectionary readings show the next stages - the disciples continue to deepen their own understanding and begin to communicate the Good News with the wider world. Pray that we 'who have not seen and yet have come to believe' may deepen our faith in these Eastertide weeks - and may share that faith with others.
French Elections - A French Christian Perspective
The first round of the French elections takes place this Sunday. Five major candidates are running: the two who receive the most votes will go through to a second round of polling on the 7th of May.
Over the past year, many countries have seen campaigns and votes that broke with convention. The French election fits within this trend. The two major parties, which have governed the country since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958, have lost voting share and may not be represented in May; candidates who have created new parties and movements are surging; and the polls show the top four candidates - François Fillon of Les Républicains (centre-right) , Marine Le Pen of the Front National (far right), Emanuel Macron running for his own party En Marche (centrist) and Jean Luc Mélenchon running for his own movement La France Insoumise (far left) - so closely grouped that it is impossible to predict who will go forward to the final round.
The election involves many specific policy issues (FT summary; Le Monde summary; Le Figaro summary) candidates differ on taxation and government spending, regulations on business and employment, the role of trade and globalisation, the nature of the public sector, immigration policy, approaches to national security, and social questions such as healthcare, housing policy, the role of religion and religious symbols, the nature of the family, and the structure and nature of the educational system. Underlying these - and often debated in themselves - are fundamental questions about national identity: should France be part of the European Union? Or not? Who is 'French'? Who is not? What is the role of the past? What is the role of the state?
While the churches have refrained from endorsing any particular candidacy, they have been calling on their members to engage with the underlying issues, to vote - and to make their voting choices in a way that is consonant with their beliefs. Statements and study documents issued by the [Catholic] Bishops Conference of France (see below), French Protestant Federation (statement), and the National Council of Evangelicals in France (English summary; French study document) have highlighted what each group thinks are the main issues in question.
We are hugely grateful to the Roman Catholic deacon Jean-Claude Chipiloff, from the parish of Nuits-Saint-Georges in the Diocese of Dijon, who has shared the reflection below with us, to help inform our prayers:
In the Autumn of 2016, the Standing Committee of the [Catholic] Bishops Conference of France published a booklet called 'Rediscovering the meaning of politics in a changing world'.
Chapter 7 of this document is called 'The question of meaning'. Here is an extract:
'Over the past fifty years or so, the question of meaning has, little by little, been abandoned in political discourse. Politics has become 'managerial', more the supplier and protector of ever expanding individual and personal rights than of collective projects. Management-type speeches have accompanied the advancement, growth and development of our country – but without concerning themselves with the 'why'. Economic wealth and the consumer society have facilitated this marginalisation of the question of meaning.'
In a climate where politics is greatly discredited, twenty or so Catholic movements published on 13th April an opinion piece calling believers to 'make their vote consistent with their convictions' before the first round of presidential elections.
With less than a week to go before the first round of voting, I am very concerned about the way the campaign for this 2017 presidential election campaign is developing:
• Two of the main candidates are the subject of judicial proceedings
• The candidates of the two political parties which have governed France since 1958 are not certain of making it through to the second round of voting
• Nationalist populism (far right) and the far left are appealing to a significant number of voters
• The theme of leaving the European Union is catching on. But the European Union has been a factor contributing to peace and the economic development of Europe since 1945.
• Abstention is appealing to an important number of voters
• Key themes have been forgotten, such as :
o The fight against unemployment
o Fraternité and solidarity
o Care for the marginalised
o Welcome for refugees
o International solidarity
I have the impression that a certain number of my compatriots are withdrawing fearfully into their own shells. I feel that this is due to the lack of a long-term programme on the part of the different candidates. The president of the Republic is elected for five years. None of the candidates is promoting a plan for beyond five years. Politics has become a profession; it's no longer seen as public service. As those who have recently served terms as presidents of the Republic have failed to restore hope to the French, more and more voters are turning to candidates who have never been elected to office. You'd need to be very clever to say who the two candidates in contention for the second round of voting will be …
I feel rather sad when I see what has happened to political life in France. But nonetheless, I continue to hope, as my country has considerable resources. It has always found a way to recover … and it will do so again.
• that the country will be at peace. Pray for an end to terrorist violence and pray for wisdom and courage for all who seek to protect the country against violence. Pray that the French people will remain strong and calm and will not allow violence to make them live in fear and make choices from fear.
• that as they vote, people will be able to find faith in the future, turning away from despair and cynicism, recalling God's goodness and the gifts they have been given, and working out the role they can play in building up the common good
• that the media will report truthfully and responsibly, and that people will be careful to seek out the truth about candidates and their positions.
• that the country may make choices that help to protect the vulnerable and that do not further exclude people who are socially or economically marginalised
• that people will continue to feel a sense of solidarity with those outside their borders, and will be open to those seeking refuge from conflict. That whoever is elected will both seek the common good for all France's inhabitants and also enable France to play a positive role in Europe and more widely
• that at a time of turmoil Christians and their churches may offer a living witness that Jesus Christ offers, as always, a way of love, truth and reconciliation - and that more people will come to know Christ through their witness
These prayer points are adapted from the reflection above, some of the statements by churches cited above, the website Prier Pour la France, prayer points offered by the European Evangelical Alliance, and the suggestions by the Communauté de Vie Chrétienne.
We are very grateful to Canon Tony Dickinson, European Contact for the Diocese of Oxford, for putting us in touch with Jean-Claude Chipiloff and others, and for assisting us in finding Christian materials relating to the election.
Last year, many people said they found Elizabeth's 'Seeing Hope, Seeing Resurrection' powerpoint helpful at Easter. So this year she's done an updated version of it, which you can access here.
It comes with hopes from all of us at CCOW that you will have a blessed Easter and Eastertide. May you and all you love know the joy of the risen Christ.
Day 3 Good Friday
Standing by the Cross
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
Anyone who has watched someone they love suffer knows the pain it involves. John and the women watching the Crucifixion would have had to bear not only the sight of Jesus' physical agony, but also the mockery and abuse he suffered from spectators, and the apparent death of all the hopes embodied in Him ... even of His own sense of unity with the Father.
They could do nothing about any of it. Crucifixion denies the possibility of the comforting touch or lovingly offered gift to ease the pain. Stopping the abuse was an impossibility, given the powers involved. And to offer spiritual hope in these circumstances was beyond their power.
And yet they stayed, bound by love for Him, as He suffered. And they offered the only things they could offer. Presence. The knowledge that people who loved Him deeply were there alongside Him. Perhaps, though it's not mentioned, words of encouragement or prayers.
The narrative in John's Gospel shows His awareness of their presence - and that, as the Gospel says earlier about Christ's care for His disciples generally, "having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." Almost His last action is to give His mother a new son, the Beloved Disciple a new mother.
In its tenderness, this moment offers a contrast to the horrors around it. And in the way it points to the future beyond the Crucifixion - both in practicalities and in anticipating the relationships of mutual care among Christ's followers, the Church - it offers a hint on Good Friday of the community of love, the new Body of Christ, that will emerge.
In our lives
Where do you currently feel most powerless in the face of suffering? Offer that situation to God in prayer, being present in prayer even if you cannot be present in person, and asking Christ, who knows the deepest reality of suffering, to offer those involved His comfort and healing, which go beyond anything we can offer.
In the world
Today many people will face hostility, opposition and/or persecution because they are Christians. Can we stand alongside those who, because of their faith, are joined with Christ in His sufferings?
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Open Doors, among many organisations, have information about people suffering for their faith. Take some time to look at one (or more) of the situations they describe - and bring it to God in prayer. You might also want to look at CSW and 24-7 Prayer's special Lent programme, Stories from the Wilderness, which offers remarkable short video testimonials from Christians in different contexts.
If you'd like to offer words of encouragement to Christians facing hostility and persecution, CSW and 24-7 Prayer have also created a website, Sending Hope, from which you can send a message.
Day 2 Thursday
Cleansing the Temple
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.
And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.
And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:15-17
When the crowds jubilantly acclaimed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, the scene was filled with Messianic symbolism - from Jesus' riding on a colt to the phrases used by 'those who went ahead and those who followed behind'. Christ's miracles done outside the Holy City had created a sense of excitement and anticipation: people might well have hoped that He was indeed the Messiah and was now, finally, preparing to reveal Himself and to claim his throne.
We don't know precisely how those who were identifying Him with the Messiah thought he might act; expectations of the Son of David would have been quite diverse. But it seems that there was a strong tradition that the Messiah would assert His power by reclaiming and cleansing the Temple. And so it probably would not have surprised anyone that after entering the city, Jesus went into the Temple precincts.
But what He did there might well have been surprising. He took action not against symbols of the Gentiles, as some might have expected, but against the sellers of sacrificial animals and the money-changers, all of whose activities were sanctioned by the religious figures who governed the Temple.
This wouldn't have pleased those seeking a new political reality from their Messiah. Jesus, however, explains His actions by referring to passages from Isaiah (56:7) and Jeremiah (7:11). The first of these celebrates the Temple's proper nature as a place where all people, including the Gentiles, can have access to an encounter with God; the second is part of a long passage that condemns the false perception that the Temple itself is a guarantee of God's favour regardless of any corrupt behaviour in those associated with it.
In teaching people with these passages as he acted, Christ not only physically cleansed the Temple (or at least a symbolic part of it), but also performed a far deeper act of cleansing and reclaiming. It fits in a long tradition - God overturning a sinful status quo in order to cleanse His people from sin and restore them. God offering access to those who genuinely seek Him out and worship, whatever their background. God insisting that worship is meaningless if not allied with a life that follows God's commands of love and justice.
And it sets the stage for the Messiah's Crucifixion – the act which finally breaks down the walls that divide … and reconciles all things, in heaven and on earth, to God.
For our own lives
In our prayers, we often speak about opening our lives and hearts to Christ. But what do we expect Him to do when He enters? Can we invite Him to overturn anything in our lives that is serving as a barrier to true worship for us or for others?
For the world
Instead of sweeping away the signs of the 'other', Christ seeks to rid the Temple of sinful practices and to restore its status as a place where all people can encounter the Living God. In an age where fear of the 'other' is increasing, what might this say to the Church – and to all people - here and worldwide?
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility ... that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Day 1: Wednesday
'Take away the stone'
Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odour, for he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. John 11: 39-41
You can understand where Martha was coming from. Under normal circumstances, the stench from a body dead four days would be fairly overwhelming – not at all something that anyone would wish to encounter. And for those who had loved Lazarus, the prospect of revealing his decay – and having no escape from the physical realities of a death that was already causing them distress - would have been traumatic.
The Gospel writer portrays Martha as trusting Jesus absolutely. “I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you,” she tells Him as He enters Bethany. When Jesus promises in response that Lazarus will rise again, she agrees without question that her brother will rise on the last day. And when Jesus makes the further claim: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die,” she assents with one of the clearest confessions in the Gospels: “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Like many conversations in John's Gospel, though, this one is somewhat at cross purposes. Martha's faith in Jesus as Messiah may be total, but her understanding of his nature and power is, like his other followers', limited. Her hope for Lazarus appears to have been framed solely in terms of a resurrection at the Last Judgement, not an immediate exercise of God's authority over life and death. And so, confronted with the command to take away the stone, she questioned.
Jesus' response challenges her to reframe her thinking. He doesn't explicitly say what's about to happen – but He asks her, as a believer, to be prepared for the place of death and decay to become a place where God's glory is revealed.
The Gospel doesn't recount what Martha said next. Did she speak words to the gathered mourners that precipitated the stone's removal? Or gesture? Or simply not oppose? We don't know.
All we know is “So they took away the stone.”
And Christ called Lazarus back from death to life.
For our own lives
In our prayers, we regularly confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God come into the world. But how do we deal with the areas of our inner life where there is death and decay? Fear can cause us to bury them away. But trusting in Christ's promises to all believers, can we allow the stone to be lifted away? Can we entrust our dead places to Christ, for God's healing power to work, and God's glory to be revealed?
For the world
After visiting South Sudan in 2014, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke powerfully about his experiences visiting the site of the massacres at Bor: “We went up to Bor, landed at the airstrip there, and saw the first bodies on the road as we drove off the airstrip, and smelled the dead - they'd been unburied for two weeks in forty degrees of heat. And we drove through this town that in places looked quite normal (but the houses which were normal were mostly full of dead bodies) and in places was just wrecked. And we went to the cathedral and there we found the bodies of the clergy and lay leaders and others who'd fled there next to one filled-in mass grave, and an empty mass grave, which I consecrated. We stood with the bodies at our feet and the smell of death around us, and we prayed.”
The Archbishop called on Christians to pray: “We must be battering at the gates of heaven in prayer, remorseless, unceasing prayer.” And we are called to pray again and again: for those who have been bombarded – whether with chemical or conventional weapons – in Syria. For the Copts in Egypt, who suffered deadly violence this weekend as they marked the sufferings of Christ. For those suffering famine and violence in northeast Nigeria. And for so many others.
Sometimes when confronted with situations where the signs of death and decay – both physical and spiritual - are so overwhelming, we can struggle, both to be willing to look at the situation … and to know, if we do look, how we are to pray.
Perhaps this Gospel passage offers help. Can we, during Holy Week, look at what is happening in these and other afflicted areas of the world – and, trusting in Christ, pray for them to be places where God's healing power transforms people and situations, and God's glory is revealed?
As we do so, we can also pray in the confidence that this is already happening – in tiny ways that we may never see or hear about – for God is already at work.
To the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
Be blessing and honour and glory and might, for ever and ever. Amen
Weekly Prayers: 2 - 8 April 2017
This week's prayers:
Can these dry bones live? Whether these words in this week's Revised Common Lectionary readings make you think about dry places in your own life or other people affected by spiritual, mental or physical dryness, it's a question which we've all asked at some point. Thanks be to God for the hope of new life in this week's readings ... and in the saving work of Christ on the cross, which we are preparing to celebrate.
World Health Day - 7 April
World Health Day, held annually on the anniversary of the World Health Organization's founding in 1948, is “a unique opportunity to mobilize action around a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world." This year the WHO has chosen to focus on depression.
Perhaps the same impulses that mean we are often reluctant to talk about depression here in the UK mean that people don’t raise it as a genuine and pressing issue in other situations around the world. But it is no less real for that – and no less real than more obvious issues like hunger. Indeed, last October the WHO launched a year-long campaign, Depression: Let's Talk, focusing on depression as a global issue.
In their recent publication ‘Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders – Global Health Estimates’, the WHO report that globally the total number of people with depression was estimated to exceed 300 million in 2015.
That's more than 4% of the world's population. And contrary to the common supposition that depression is a 'Western' disease, 80% of the people affected live in low- and middle-income countries, and the highest rate of depression is 5.9% among women in the African region. Depression is more prevalent in women than in men in every WHO region (and, globally, across all age groups).
Unsurprisingly, people are more likely to suffer mental health problems in emergency situations. Mental health problems can be induced both by the emergency itself (for example as a result of grief, distress, family separation, loss of livelihood or the tearing of the fabric of ordinary life) and also by circumstances arising during the humanitarian response (for example through overcrowding in camps, lack of privacy or anxiety caused by a lack of information). In addition, an emergency can exacerbate people’s pre-existing conditions.
In a World Bank blog Patricio V. Marquez calls for more to address these issues, noting “While most of those exposed to emergencies suffer some form of psychological distress, accumulated evidence shows that 15-20% of crisis-affected populations develop mild-to moderate mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). And, 3-4% develop severe mental disorders, such as psychosis or debilitating depression and anxiety, which affect their ability to function and survive.” Mental health issues affected over 10% of people visiting clinics in Nepal following the earthquake in 2015 and recent harrowing reports from Syria show the profoundly traumatic impact the conflict is having on children’s mental health. In their recent report, Invisible Wounds, Save the Children quote a teacher from the besieged town of Madaya who told them, “The children are psychologically crushed and tired. When we do activities like singing with them, they don’t respond at all. They don’t laugh like they would normally. They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and the lack of food.” Save the Children also reference a 2015 study of Syrian refugee children in Turkey, which found that 45% of the children showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and 44% showed symptoms of depression.
As we think about and pray for people suffering debilitating depression in traumatic situations of crisis, we also want to remember and pray for people who might not be ‘clinically’ depressed, but whose mental well-being is adversely affected by crises or by chronically difficult situations – perhaps of poverty or providing long-term care. The reality of this issue was forcefully brought home to me (Elizabeth) back in 2005 when I visited a home-based care project for people living with HIV and AIDS in Zambia. At the time, antiretroviral drugs were not commonly available, and death rates were very high. I spent a morning with Anne, a nurse counsellor, visiting clients in the area she supervised. I was able to meet some of the people she helped care for: women living in extreme poverty who received nursing care, medicines, nutritional supplements and practical help with cooking and cleaning from volunteers of the home-based care (HBC) programme. The love and care shown to the clients by the HBC staff and volunteers was deeply moving and greatly appreciated by the recipients. But it came at a cost. Anne told me about the burn-out that staff and volunteers commonly experienced from the relentless cycle of “making friends with clients, seeing them struggle with insufficient food, and eventually dying… and the toll of constant funerals”.
- For all people living with depression – that they might find support and healing.
- For the WHO’s Depression: Let’s Talk campaign – that it would help to break some of the stigma associated with depression and other mental health disorders, help people to become better informed about depression, and encourage people with depression to seek help.
- In thanksgiving for the recognition, by the WHO and other agencies, of the need to integrate mental health care into how they respond to emergencies. See here for more.
- For agencies working in crisis situations as they work to provide effective mental health care.
- For the children of Syria and other conflicts, who have experienced trauma and mental scarring – that they might find healing and peace.
- For the millions of unknown people who feel overwhelmed and burnt-out by the care they provide in chronically difficult circumstances.
Pray and Fast for the Climate - April
The first of each month is marked as a day to Pray and Fast for the Climate - but we need prayers for climate action throughout the month ... so we're including the Pray and Fast April prayer points - Download Here
Please do use the materials in your public and private prayers throughout this month. And during the Easter season, look forward to some stories of hope from Christians who are working to care for creation, sometimes under difficult circumstances ....
Short Notes: Paraguay, South Africa, Brexit and Trade, Fair Trade at Easter
Please pray for ...
Paraguay's capital of Asunción erupted last night as protesters demonstrated against a secret Senate vote in favour of a constitutional amendment allowing the current President, Horacio Cartes, to run for re-election in 2018. Pray for a just and peaceful solution to the situation and to the wider political and economic issues facing the country.
- South Africa
South Africa also faces political instability - and, many are arguing a fundamental choice of direction (Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Oscar van Heerden, Mail & Guardian, Richard Calland, FT, ) - after President Jacob Zuma, over the objections of many in his party, fired widely-respected Treasury Minister Pravin Gordhan in a major cabinet reshuffle. Gordhan had opposed state corruption, and his ousting and replacement with a Zuma loyalist is seen as problematic both economically and politically. The Archbishop of Cape Town described this as "an assault on the poor," adding, “Who stands to gain when corrupt elites enrich themselves on the side while doing deals worth billions of rand with state-owned enterprises? ... I hope the ruling party will reflect on how they are betraying the hopes of our people and take appropriate action. Civil society too will have to consider for how long we stand by helplessly and watch the gains of our democracy destroyed.”
Pray for wisdom for all in government and all in positions of religious, economic and social leadership. Pray for moves that increase justice and transparency, reduce corruption and inequality, and provide stability and a better life for all South Africa's people.
- Brexit and Trade
There's much to pray for around post-Brexit trading arrangements, but today we'd commend two points. First, pray for a new campaign that asks the government to protect people from the world's poorest countries against negative trade impacts following Brexit ... and to go further by promoting development-friendly trade. Secondly, the US has just released its 2017 report on what it considers 'foreign trade barriers'. If you read the chapter on barriers to trade with the EU, you'll see that it includes many environmental, chemical and food standards that help to promote care for creation. If these are considered 'trade barriers', they will almost certainly be key negotiating targets in any bilateral deal that the US does with the UK. Pray firstly for US politicians to grow in their desire to care for creation - and secondly for UK politicians to be prepared to stand up for higher standards while negotiating new deals.
- Fair Trade at Easter
Please do remind people in your churches about Fairtrade Easter treats, especially the Real Easter Egg (available in Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and a few Co-ops, as well as online through Traidcraft and the Meaningful Chocolate Company itself). Many churches have already ordered the eggs for parishioners ... but there are always a few people still looking late in the day. The Real Easter Egg is Fairtrade-certified, offers a donation to charity, and tells the story of Easter ... a win/win all around.
It was with great regret that we learned this week of the death of John Madeley, a leading writer on development issues - especially around trade - and a good friend to CCOW for the past several decades.
John combined gentle kindness, a deep spirituality, and a fierce passion for justice for the poor. We give thanks for his life, and ask God to send comfort to all who mourn his death.
2017: Some dates for prayer and action
Collated by CCOW
“Special Sundays” and days when churches and individuals might wish to focus prayer and/or action on a
particular topic are in regular type. Green events relate to environment and food issues; blue to peace and
peacemaking; red to health, light blue to Fair Trade. Some global events that churches might wish to
pray about are in italics. Major events in the Church Year are in white on coloured backgrounds.
We hope this will be helpful whether for community or personal use. To send in corrections or to suggest
material for inclusion, email email@example.com..
Please let us have any comments by email: they're always helpful and have improved the resource over the years.