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Praying for peace

The events of the past week have, understandably, shocked and disturbed many of us. The locations and characters are unsettlingly familiar; they are known to us through the canon of Scripture and, as such, draw each of us into events in ways that conflict in other places may not.

The barbarian nature of terrorist attacks against Israel should be condemned; equally, the response has the danger of not being proportionate (not that I would ever suggest an eye for an eye in such situations). Within the Gaza Strip, there is a concentration of people unlike that in other places around the world; one report I listened to suggested over 2 million people in a space not quite 25 miles deep, and as I write this, they have no water or electricity supply. The humanitarian costs and implications are enormous. The words of Pope Francis insightfully remind us that "terrorism and war do not lead to any solution, but only to death and suffering of so many innocent people." Clearly, the decisions made, and actions taken in the coming days have the potential to either start a path to peace and justice or lead to vengeance and ruin; this moment feels like a tipping point.

So, how should we respond as Christians in our services this weekend and, indeed, into the coming days and weeks?

To begin, we must acknowledge that those living in Gaza, as well as those living in Israel, are our sisters and brothers. “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity,” says Psalm 113. If the incarnation is to have any meaning, it must imply that every man, woman, and child on this planet is my sister and brother. When they are in pain, we should be moved as well.

Second, we should stop looking for a common enemy. We must acknowledge the need to reform our hearts before we can even consider reforming what is wrong in the hearts of others. The message of the cross was never intended to change others without first radically changing ourselves. My concern is that we have developed strong arm muscles by hurling stones while allowing our heart muscles to atrophy due to a lack of use in loving the 'other.'

Finally, we must pray. Not a polite two-line prayer added to our intercessions after the kids have left for their morning groups, nor as a post-script to the prayers for Ethel, who was a little off-colour last week as she celebrated her 83rd birthday, and Colin as he recovers from his hip replacement. What is needed is prayer that disrupts and interrupts our existing programmes, prayer that wears out the knees of our jeans, and prayer that expresses some of the pain and suffering seen in Gaza, Israel, and the wider Middle East. Let's be creative in going about this, bringing our best thinking and offering the space (and silence) for us to cry for peace.

Let me finish by sharing a prayer written by Rose Marie Berger, the senior editor of Sojourners magazine, which some may find helpful to integrate into services.

God of Comfort, send your Spirit to encompass all those whose lives are torn apart by violence and death in Israel and Palestine. You are the Advocate of the oppressed and the One whose eye is on the sparrow. Let arms reach out in healing, rather than aggression. Let hearts mourn rather than militarise.

God of Justice, give strength to those whose long work for a just peace might seem fruitless now. Strengthen their resolve. Do not let them feel alone. Show us how to support their work and bolster their courage. Guide religious leaders to model unity and reconciliation across lines of division. Guide political leaders to listen with their hearts as they seek peace and pursue it. Help all people choose the rigorous path of just peace and disavow violence.

God of Love, we lift up Palestine and Israel - its people, its land, its creatures. War is a monster that consumes everything in its path. Peace is a gift shared at meals of memory with Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Let us burn incense, not children. Let us break bread, not bodies. Let us plant olive groves, not cemeteries. We beg for love and compassion to prevail on all your holy mountains.

God of Hope, we lift up the cities of the region: Gaza City and Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Ashkelon, Deir El Balah and Sderot, so long divided, yet so filled with life and creativity. Come again to breathe peace on your peoples that all may recognise you.

God of Mercy, even now work on the hearts of combatants to choose life over death, reconciliation over retaliation, restoration over destruction. Help us resist antisemitism in all its forms, especially in our own churches. All people, Israelis, and Palestinians, deserve to live in peace and unafraid, with a right to determine their future together.

God of the Nations, let not one more child or elder be sacrificed on altars of political expediency. Keep safe all people from unjust leaders who would exploit vulnerability for their own distorted ends. Give wise discernment to those making decisions to pursue peace. Provide them insight into fostering well-being, freedom, and thriving for all. Teach all of us to resolve injustices with righteousness, not rockets. Guard our hearts against retaliation, and give us hearts for love alone.

Strengthen our faith in you, O God of All Flesh, even when we don't have clear answers, so that we may still offer ourselves non-violently for the cause of peace.


Simon Mattholie CEO, Rural Ministries


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