We are in Holy Week – the time when Christ-followers focus on the final days of Jesus’ journey to the cross. Around the corner is Good Friday, the day when “they crucified Jesus - there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (Luke 23:33) Our hearts are heavy as we remember the persecution and suffering our Savior experienced.
We are also in a period in history when Christians around the globe are experiencing deep suffering and persecution. The kidnappings of school girls in Chibok, a primarily Christian village in Nigeria . . . the beheadings of Coptic Christians . . . genocide of Christians in Mosul and abductions of Christians in Syria are a few of the examples that have been very public in recent months. In addition, brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are experiencing less public persecution and suffering.
I have joined with some other Bishops in inviting United Methodists in our Conferences to pray on behalf of Christians facing persecution. In fact, many of our clergy in North Alabama led their churches in prayers for persecuted Christians on Palm Sunday. I invite all of us to continue that prayer focus throughout Holy Week. I can think of no better time to pray for persecuted Christians than during the week of the Christian year when we highlight Jesus’ final steps to the cross where he died so that we might live.
We must speak out anytime others experience atrocities of persecution, torture and murder -- whether they are Christians, people of other faiths or persons with no faith. Certainly many of us are feeling a deep calling to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering and in some instances literally dying for their faith.
I urge you to consider joining me in praying the following prayer throughout this week for our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world facing persecution for their faith. The vision of many Christians praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters during Holy Week 2015 and beyond is powerful!
God of us all,
You love us so passionately that you sent Your Son to help us experience the fullness of divine love. And while we love you, we are not often asked to risk our lives because of our faith.
This is not true for many of our sisters and brothers in Christ. Our hearts break as we see more of them suffering and dying simply because they are living as disciples of Jesus.
We pray for their safety and sanctuary. We pray that you will give them grace in suffering. We are humbled by the witness of these martyred for their faith. We pray for their persecutors, and that acts of violence and persecution will cease.
Help us to grow in our commitment to live as Jesus' disciples. Remind us that we are the One Body of Christ: when one member suffers, all suffer. Stir us to pray unceasingly. And empower us to speak boldly.
We pray all of this in the name of our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ.