This week is Holy Week in the Orthodox Church, including the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the Orthodox Church of South Sudan. On May 1, 2016, Ethiopians and people of the Gambella region of South Sudan will celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Yet, the news from this region is heartbreaking. Last Friday more that 200 people were killed. Children and women were taken as hostages, and are held under the most horrible conditions, in the jungles of South Sudan and Ethiopia.
In the Orthodox liturgy of the churches of this region, during the first three days of the Passion Week, the people are supposed to be reading all three Gospels, not just the Passion account of the last week of Jesus the Messiah’s life. What a time to remember the words of Isaiah the Prophet regarding Jesus! “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6 NIV). This was the message which the angel gave to the lowly shepherds who were grazing their sheep, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11 NIV) These words were spoken to them right in the midst of so much fighting between the Roman soldiers and the militant Zealot freedom fighters.
The liturgical reading which begins this week reminds the Orthodox people of South Sudan and Ethiopia that this same Jesus, who was born, surrounded by so much killing, including the killing of baby boys, and the rape and abduction of women and children, came into Jerusalem, riding a donkey.
The Gospel reading simply says,
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna from the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Mat 21:4-11 NIV)
When Jesus entered into Jerusalem the people were not happily singing “Hosanna,” as is sung in so many churches in the west. The Hebrew word is a cry for help.
“Save us, Oh Lord! We are perishing!”
This is indeed the cry of the common people of South Sudan and Gambella: “Save us O LORD, we are perishing!”
My prayer today is the Jesus would enter into Gambella, riding a donkey, among the sheepherders of South Sudan and Ethiopia.
My prayer today is that Jesus would hear the cries of the women and children, “Save us, Oh Lord!”
My prayer today is that fighting and killing would stop, and the killers would allow the “Prince of Peace” to reign over the hurting people of South Sudan and Ethiopia.