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Weekly Prayers from CCOW

For your prayers Holy Week & Easter

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Easter blessings from all of us at CCOW!

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 ... "Do not be afraid"  ... 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. Looking at the news of wars, disasters, environmental crisis and poverty, it’s easy to  feel that things are getting  worse and worse,  and to wonder whether anything 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 happening, some large – like the success of transparency campaigning or the dramatic successes in fighting polio, measles, and     Guinea-worm – and some small.

Last year, we visited a number of church-based projects offering home health care for people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS. The work of the women involved was difficult. In one case, they told us how they went in pairs around the community, visiting people to whom they’d been assigned, but also receiving referrals from community members as they went. They’d recently had a particularly striking encounter: a man with suspected multi-drug-resistant TB was living in an area of tightly-packed housing. Nearby residents were desperate: the man refused to go for help, and they were fearful that the disease would spread.  In response to their pleas, a pair of women went to the man’s house, negotiated with him, and got him to go for treatment.

We almost never hear about caregivers like these women. They are generally themselves not well off, and their work is done quietly, without fuss, sometimes on a voluntary basis, sometimes with a small remuneration. But  their presence is often transformative. Children are fed; bedridden people are clothed and bathed; stories are heard; sympathy is given; stigma is broken; medical help is received.  It’s not all perfect, of course. Caregivers may lack adequate support and training and can sometimes be worn down by the constant stress. But for many people these women, like the women who first ran to the disciples with news of the risen Christ, are bearers of life-giving hope.

And there are millions of people engaged in similar witness:  those running the church-based social projects in the UK that the Archbishops of Westminster and Canterbury visited together … the South Sudanese church agencies organising relief for displaced people … the priests keeping Muslims safe from Central African Republic militias … the diocese in Pakistan educating people about violence against women (email for details) … church members working to transform their village in Cambodia ….

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 and thanks be to God!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy, he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… (1 Peter 1:3)  

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 areas of conflict like Syria and South Sudan or big issues such as climate change, crippling inequality and repressive regimes, 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.

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 North Korea, Libya and Yemen are also scattered and in hiding as they face the real possibilities of torture and death. Yet they continue to hold on to hope founded in ‘the steadfast love of the Lord’. This is the hope of Holy Saturday, that torture, execution and death do not have the final word. Instead, Christians everywhere wait in sure and certain hope that the resurrection of Easter Sunday will come.

Please pray for the daily faithfulness of those who are willing to follow Christ whatever the cost. Give thanks for their witness and pray for continued strength for them. This prayer for victims of oppression may be of use.

Please also pray specifically for the situations in:

  • North Korea. The recently published report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea talked of “unspeakable atrocities” and human rights violations whose “gravity, scale, and nature ... reveal a State that does not have any parallels in the contemporary world.” Within this general context, it noted that “the State considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat, since it challenges ideologically the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the State. Apart from the few organized State-controlled churches, Christians are prohibited from practising their religion and are persecuted. People caught practising Christianity are subject to severe punishments .”  Such punishments can include execution, torture and imprisonment in political camps where “the inmate population has been gradually eliminated through deliberate starvation, forced labour, executions, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide.”

    Despite this persecution,  Open Doors estimates that there are 400,000 Christians in the country. Give thanks for their faith and for the attention brought to these issues through the UN inquiry. Pray also that renewed international attention on the plight of Christians and citizens of North Korea will bear fruit. Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide have helpful prayer resources for North Korea.
  • Kenya, where there have been attacks on Christians possibly related to the wider issues of Kenyan military intervention against al-Shabaab in Somalia. Last month six died and more were wounded when gunmen fired on a church congregation in the Mombasa area.  Please also pray for Somali refugees in Kenya, who are facing restrictions and deportation as the Kenyan government seeks to prevent terrorist attacks.
  • Eritrea, where Christians continue to be detained , often in inhumane circumstances, and tortured sometimes to the point of death.
  • Nigeria , where one national newspaper headline reads “Fearful Easter,” as government steps up precautions over the holiday period  in response to recent violence. Christians are among the groups specifically targeted by Boko Haram, who have made a habit of attacking around major Christian festivals. Please pray for peace and stability in Nigeria’s northern and central states and for all affected by the recent violence, remembering especially the young women abducted this week (and their families) and the victims of the recent bomb blast in Abuja.

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."
      Artwork by Cerezo Barredo

In the readings for Good Friday  we read about the suffering of the Messiah. This saving work of Good Friday offers hope for those who are suffering torture around the world that their pain is seen and known and shared by God. It is also an offer of hope to the torturers that forgiveness and restoration are possible.

Please pray for:

·         Those suffering torture or in fear of torture in North Korea, Syria, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Egypt and Colombia. Pray for their safety, and that they will not feel forgotten and alone. (See below)

·         Those who offer help to victims of torture and persecution, such as Freedom from Torture in this country or the Institute for Healing of Memories in South Africa.

·         Our own government and those 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.

·         Those who torture. Pray that they will not be bound to a path of violence, but will see opportunities for a different way of peace and reconciliation.

You might wish to use the Action by Christians against Torture prayer, which reads:

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;
Be with them in their fear of what may come to them, in the agony of their torture and in the face of execution and death.
Stretch out your hands in power to break their chains and open the gates of freedom, so that your kingdom of justice may be established now among them.

Places for Prayer:

·          North Korea. The recent UN inquiry report has documented the extent of the abuses heaped upon North Korean citizens. Children remain imprisoned from birth, pregnant women in labour camps may be executed or undergo forced abortions and there is regular imprisonment, torture and execution of entire families including children on spurious charges. Satellite maps show that labour camps are expanding, and the UN report suggests that political arrests have increased in recent months.

·         Syria. The use of torture by both government and non-government actors against perceived enemies, including peace protesters, human rights defenders and relief workers, was recently described by the UN as “widespread and systematic.”  

·         Sri Lanka.  The detention, torture and rape of ethnic Tamils by the government remains a problem. Human rights activists have also been detained without recourse to legal or family support.

·         Bahrain. Protesters as young as 13 are being detained and tortured in Bahrain’s prisons and Juvenile Centres. Accusations of blindfolding, beating and rapes have all been recorded by Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch has reported accounts of beatings with electrified rods and prisoners being subject to “waterboarding”.

·         Egypt. Protestors against the government, both Muslim and Christian, have accused the police of rape and torture whilst in detention. Amnesty International reports that proposed anti-terror legislation will make protesters more vulnerable to detention, torture and even the death penalty.

Action Points:

·         Prayer: Torturers often try to silence others, which is why remembering and sharing the stories of victims of torture is vital. Why not look at Human Rights Watch’s report for 2014, choose a country and pray for the people/situations mentioned?

·         Writing: Help the work of Action by Christians against Torture by writing letters of petition.

·         Giving: Finally, could you give your time or money to a charity such as Action by Christians against Torture or Freedom from Torture?

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 the crowd shouted that if Pilate released Jesus, it would be evidence that he was “no friend of Caesar.”  Fearful of being accused of disloyalty to the Roman Empire, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. Hanging on to power was more important than doing justice.

Leaders may want to remain in power for good reasons: the hope of using their office to accomplish specific public goods, say, or the 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 Detail of James Tissot, Jesus before Pilate,            events, or fear that their enemies will harm them if they are not in control.
Second Interview. Brooklyn Museum                       And even a good reason can become problematic if it causes a leader to use
                                                                                 dubious means to maintain authority.

Please 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.

·         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 … even creating civil war.  Pray that such leaders’ hearts may be softened, and that justice may triumph over injustice.

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 Formal Prayers: 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 for continued progress 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.

Background on Transparency:  Give thanks for the passage of the European Transparency and Accounting directives, which require EU-listed companies in the extractive industries to publish what they pay on a country-by-country and project-by-project basis. This enables people to trace the funds more accurately and can help combat corruption. Pray for those working to ensure that the legislation is effectively implemented by member states.

Give thanks for movements towards similar legislation in other jurisdictions, including Canada  and Norway, and for the adoption of a new Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative standard. Pray that the G20 will take further action on extractive industry transparency and beneficial ownership transparency. Pray especially for the US’s work in this area: the success of an American Petroleum Institute  lawsuit that attacked the Securities and Exchange Commission’s rigorous implementation of transparency legislation has left great uncertainty.


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 re-enactments 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.

This is particularly true for people in conflict areas. At present, there are crisis-level (or worse) food situations in northeastern Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Yemen, Somalia and on the borders of Sudan and South Sudan. In addition both within and outside Syria, many victims of the Syrian conflict are facing hunger and difficulties accessing clean water, as are people in camps for the displaced in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

In the Central African Republic, for example, conflict has led to a decline of more than 1/3rd in agricultural production, the destruction of infrastructure, and the flight of the Muslim traders who were vital to local trading systems. As a result, in many parts of the country less food is available, and prices have increased, although people don’t have the money to pay them. As one trader noted, “People cry when they come to the market.”

The consequences are serious. Health care practitioners are reporting that the number of children needing treatment for malnutrition has doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled in places. Sarah Shepherd, a paediatrician with the World Food Programme notes: “It’s not surprising … People have been uprooted from their homes. They’ve lost their jobs. Health care centres don’t function. Kids get sick. Mothers can’t get their kids to healthcare. They don’t have the money to buy food, even if the food was available on the market. And that creates this perfect storm … and already we’re in a country with one of the highest child mortality rates in the world.”

The situation in South Sudan is also very worrying. The UN estimates that more than 800,000 people are displaced. The World Food Programme has already given over  500,000 people food aid, and hopes to reach 2 million more.  More aid is unquestionably necessary.  Joseph El Haj Loabe, the Acting Manager of the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan’s  development agency, recently told the Anglican Alliance: "Because food assistance to displaced people has not been enough, people have been walking to the major cities to conjure up any available food, that lasts a day or two.  Some pluck leaves off trees and boil them to eat."  

Please pray for people who are unable to access sufficient food or clean water because of conflict and for all  who are working to provide humanitarian relief.

Please also pray:

  • for all people who, for whatever reason, are not able to access the food and water so essential for life, and for the work they and others are doing to improve their situation
  • that recalling the generosity with which Jesus  gave of Himself in love,  those of us who have access to food and water may show love by working for an equitable sharing of what God has 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:  Conflict is one of many factors that contributes to hunger. Others include the impact of biofuels targets, failure to give sufficient support to smallholder farmers, and changes in the weather that result from a changing climate. Some of the best summaries of the various issues remain the IF Campaign’s policy report, Food for Life, A Theological Paper from the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance and Christian Aid’s Hungry for Justice. The latest IPCC report had a section which emphasised the risks climate change posed to access to food, and the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Programme of CGIAR is a mine of information.

Action Points: What can you do to help those who have difficulties in accessing food or water? Consider:

Download prayers here
CCOW Year Planner for Churches - 2014

Do you have expertise in any of the areas touched on in this week's prayers ? If so, we'd love to hear from you with comments, thoughts or suggestions! Please do email us.