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If you have been watching the news, you have probably been struck by the images coming out of Kiev in the Ukraine. Tens of thousands of people have marched in the streets demanding change and looking for Ukraine’s president to resign. Protesters have been jailed, people of been hurt, and blood has been shed. As the people of Ukraine demand change, and the police forces and government authorities pushback, violence is escalating and fear of more death, and more bloodshed is very real. It is without a doubt one of the hotbeds of violence in our world right now, and a place that desperately needs prayers for peace.

I am conscious as I write these words, of how very little risk there is for me personally to pray for peace for the people of Ukraine. Praying in comfort and peace, I cannot get the images of priests, holding crosses, wearing stoles, swinging incense, elevating Bibles, and standing between police and protesters, praying for peace in their homeland. As I daily pray for peace in the comfort of my homeland, my mind journeys to Kiev. What must it be like to literally stand up and call for peace with guns pointed, Molotov cocktails being thrown, insults being hurled, tires being burned, people being shot, and church members being jailed? For these priests, saying a prayer for peace is not something that is conceptual or theoretical or even philosophical. Their prayers for peace are enfleshed in action. Their prayers for peace require risk. Their prayers for for peace are costly. The stakes are high.

The words of Matthew 16 come to mind:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Every day new images are circulating around the world of these priests literally taking up their crosses and following Jesus. The images are startling. The images of the cross held high amidst violence is remarkable.

One article that I read quoted one of the priest recalling the words of Jesus; “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” These men of faith are also in many cases supported and surrounded by there congregations. In this world I believe this is a very profound and powerful witness to the power of faith communities to demand a different way. Our Christian brothers and sisters in the Ukraine are showing us that we can make a difference even in the most difficult of situations

One of the great hymns we love to sing at church is “Lift High the Cross.” Among the verses of that hymn are found these words;

Jesus, you wept to see our human strife,
teach us compassion for each human life.
Lift high the cross,
the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore
His sacred Name.

Peace was your plea and peace your loving theme:
let peace be our passport, peace a living dream.
Lift high the cross,
the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore
His sacred Name.

Without a doubt, God is displeased with human strife and violence. Without a doubt God is displeased with hunger and neglect and disproportionate wealth in our world. Without a doubt God is seeking for us to act. Without a doubt God is calling us to be a people prepared to take up our cross and bear witness to love, hope, healing, and peace. In a world which holds up violence as an acceptable means of dealing with oppression, or injustice, the priests of the Ukraine are giving us a very real and profound witness of the love of Jesus and how that love coupled with the power of prayer can make a difference. Let us all take stock of where we are being called to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Let us have the courage to pray in the midst of injustice, violence, or oppression.

We pray for our brave Christian brothers and sisters in the Ukraine who are showing such courage, faith, and conviction at this time. May God inspire those in power to respond in just and loving ways to the brokenness in their country.

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