Holy Week of 2017 began with an explosion heard around the world as two suicide bombings killed 44 people at Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday. The attacks constituted one of the deadliest days of violence against Christians in Egypt in decades.
But some of the violence that marred Holy Week 2017 struck much closer to home for us. Political tension in Venezuela came to a head and five people died as encounters between anti-government protesters and the authorities turned violent.
On Wednesday, a pro-government mob attacked Jorge Urosa Savino, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Caracas as he prepared to celebrate Mass at Santa Teresa Basilica. According to reports, members of the news media also were attacked, and worshippers attending the Mass were robbed of cell phones and other valuables.
Thousands took to the streets on Caracas on Maundy Thursday for a rally that remained peaceful until the end, when young men clashed with hundreds of riot police who lobbed tear gas to break up the crowd.
During our Holy Week services on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, we remembered in prayer both the Coptic Christians and Archbishop Urosa and his flock in Caracas. We have stressed, for the benefit of those confused by such events as Pope Francis participating last year in a Reformation Day Service with officials of the Lutheran World Federation in Lund, Sweden, that as confessional Lutherans we are not in full doctrinal agreement with either the Roman Catholic Church or the Lutheran World Federation. However, we recognize freedom of conscience and belief as a basic human right, because faith properly belongs to God's kingdom of grace, not to His kingdom of power. Furthermore, any attack on the name and symbols of Christ is a threat and an offense to us as well.
The events of Holy Week 2017 reminded us that as the shouts of “Hosannah to the Son of David” on Palm Sunday turned to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” on Good Friday, the fame and favor of the unbelieving world is fleeting. We understand that good government, which preserves the safety of the streets and national borders, is a blessing from God, part of the “daily bread” for which we pray in the Lord's Prayer. But we also understand that the only true peace in this world is that which we have in anticipation of our own resurrections on the day when the Lord returns in glory.
Therefore we prayed a prayer based on this collect suggested by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Worship Ministry:
Almighty God, heavenly Father, Your beloved Son assured His own that they would suffer in this world and yet called them to rejoice in His promise of a life no death could ever take from them. Strengthen all Your children living under persecution and threat of violence; fill them with Your unshakable peace and use their witness to bring salvation even to their persecutors and slanderers and, according to Your gracious will, bring an end to the bloodshed and violence; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.