Some twenty centuries ago, Jesus stood on a hillside not so far from where people are being killed this very day and proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” And now, news of unspeakable violence and war from that place of blessing envelops us. The death and destruction that we are witnessing in and around the Holy Land is shocking to read about, and the images that are put before us – in both photo and video form – are beyond the pale. Reports of the deaths and maiming of children and the hospitalized move me to tears. I suspect that such is the case for many of you. Jesus must surely be weeping, even as he wept at the death of Lazarus.
All around us as well, faith communities are calling for prayer. And if there was ever a time for deep, concentrated, focused prayer, it is now. We must pray for all of those in Israel and Palestine who are living with the threat of violence and death, and for those who have the authority or ability to make decisions and take action to stop the hostilities. We must pray for the families who are not so different from our own – mothers and fathers, grandparents and grandchildren, who simply want to live their lives in peace. We must pray for the many pilgrims from around the world – Christian, Jew, and Muslim – who have been subject to fear of harm simply by being in a place that they hold in their hearts and souls as holy. We must pray for the innocent who are caught in the crossfire – the crossfire of bombs and bullets, and the crossfire of rhetoric that seems unable to pause long enough to see the human toll that is being tallied at an exponential rate.
At the foot of the mountain not far from where he spoke of peacemakers, Jesus sat a child beside him to illustrate the greatness inherent in innocence. In the shadows of a temple that resonates the very presence of the divine, the Son of God put his own body between those who would have killed with stones and a child of God whom they despised. And, traveling the countryside that now might well be a battlefield, in the face of those skilled in legalism, the Messiah re-defined the term “neighbor” as an erasure of difference and called us all to a love that will not stand for the persecution of “the other.” My siblings in Christ, how can we followers of his not pray that this divine will be done? How can we not demand that those who have the power to end to this horror bring such a will to reality?
The Archbishop of Jerusalem has offered the following prayer to the world, asking that we offer it to God. It is my fervent hope that we in Virginia will pray these words, and others like them, with the power and energy that knows the limitless love of Jesus.
Let us pray:
"O God of all justice and peace we cry out to you in the midst of the pain and trauma of violence and fear which prevails in the Holy Land. Be with those who need you in these days of suffering; we pray for people of all faiths - Jews, Muslims and Christians - and for all people of the land. While we pray to you, O Lord, for an end to violence and the establishment of peace, we also call for you to bring justice and equity to the peoples. Guide us into your kingdom where all people are treated with dignity and honour as your children, for, to all of us, you are our Heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen."
May God bless us – and the victims of war around the world – with the peace that passes all understanding, and melts hearts to the love of Christ Jesus.
The Right Rev’d E. Mark Stevenson
Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia