As We Approach the Cross: Reflections for this Holy Weekend

Over the last week, Week of Compassion has responded to tornado and flood damage in North Carolina and Virginia, and has been keeping an eye on storms across the Midwest. We are currently monitoring raging wildfires in Texas; through the Regional and Area offices of the Southwest, we are in communication with our congregations. Currently, we have no reports of damage to churches or homes of church members, only acres of severely damaged land. We continue to keep all of those recovering from severe storm damage and those in areas where the fires continue to burn in our prayers, and—as always—stand ready to respond should other needs emerge.

Maundy Thursday Reflection 2011

The Rev. John Richardson serves as Regional Minister for the Christian Church in North Carolina. John is also the former Chairperson of the Week of Compassion Advisory Committee. We thank John for his Holy Week reflection, especially poignant after last weekend’s destructive tornadoes in the North Carolina region. 

I was sharing in a time of fellowship, prior to worship, with our new congregation, Open Hearts Gathering Christian Church, in Gastonia, North Carolina, when I first began to learn how bad the destruction was last Saturday from the multiple tornados that raced across eastern North Carolina. One of the members of Open Hearts Gathering showed me a story on his iPad which reported a death in Raleigh where a tornado touched down. As we all know now, there was much more death and destruction from Sanford to Bertie County and beyond.

As I drove home from Gastonia on Sunday, having heard on television and via the internet more about the devastating winds, I thought to myself, “It will not be long before I receive a phone call from Pastor Lula Brown.” I did not know what Lula would do, but I knew she would do something in response to the April 16 disaster. And so, when I spoke with Brandon Gilvin, Associate Director of Week of Compassion, on Monday morning, I requested a $500 emergency solidarity grant for the yet-to-be-determined disaster response ministry that Pastor Brown would be undertaking. 

Lula Brown, pastor of New Fellowship Chrisitan Church (Disciples of Christ) in Williamston, North Carolina, has been an angel to so many following previous disasters in North Carolina, and on the Gulf Coast--where she sent a tractor-trailer load of brand new mattress-box spring sets, complete with new sheets, pillows and bedspreads-- to families who lost all they had in Hurricane Katrina.

Just as I expected, my phone rang on Tuesday morning. I picked it up and the voice said, “John, this is Lula Brown. I didn’t sleep much last night. I was praying about what to do to help the families in Bertie County. I know they will all need beds to sleep on when their houses are rebuilt. So I’m going to get a tractor-trailer, park it on our church parking lot, and put a big sign on the side that says, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I am going to starting raising money for 50 new box spring-mattress sets, bed frames, sheets, pillows and bedspreads. It will take awhile, but I believe it can be done by the time they are able to move back in their houses.”

I said, “Lula, I knew you would call. Week of Compassion has already been in touch with the Regional Office and has sent an initial $500 emergency solidarity grant for your disaster relief project.”

Lula said, “Oh, thank you. Another person has given me $200, so we have a good start. I’m going to call my resource for the mattress and box springs today. We’ve got to fill up that trailer.”

I do not know of a better message I could have received in Holy Week than the message I received from Lula on Tuesday. I do not know of a better message for Maundy Thursday than the servant-ministry of Pastor Lula Brown as she leads us in fulfilling Jesus’ command to “Love one another.” Thank you, Pastor Brown. 

When we are at our best, reaching out to others in need, without asking, “Who are you? Why do you have this need? Where do you come from?” that is when we are most Christ-like. We know there is a need, and with compassion, we respond.

I believe sharing in such ministry—helping individuals we do not even know—is how we begin to understand that when we gather around the Lord’s Table, everyone is welcome—without any pre-qualifications. All are welcome because everyone is a child of God. Everyone is created in the image of God. Everyone is loved by God.

May our tables, at home and especially in the sanctuaries where we worship, have all the family of God gathered-round for wine and bread—for Good News, which I believe is summed up in one word: Love!

Good Friday Reflection 2011

Good Friday is the moment when grace meets grief, when we confront the violence and destruction of the world head-on, and when we meet God in the wake of human suffering.

For many of us all over the world, the violence and destruction of Good Friday is not merely something to meditate on. For the refugee fleeing civil war, for the village trapped in the cycle of poverty, and for the city surveying tornado damage, grief and uncertainty are as real as it gets. 

It is the midst of such uncertainty that the psalmist’s cry--“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”--seems so apt. No wonder the Gospels record Jesus crying out this same prayer. 

The ministry of Week of Compassion is built on the Church’s commitment to respond to need in the midst of dramatic damage and sweeping uncertainty, to share signs of grace, healing, and hope when all seems lost. On this Good Friday, we invite you to pray a prayer of hope and solidarity with all those who face destructive forces of weather, human conflict, and poverty.

In Canadian singer songwriter James Keelaghan’s “Cold Missouri Waters,” he tells the true story of a wildfire and the death of several first responders. He tells this story as one in which grief, grace, and hope intersect. As we spend this day thinking not only about the violence of a first century execution, but conflict and uprising in Libya, ongoing relief efforts in Japan, tornado clean-up in North Carolina, and raging wildfires in Texas, we, too, pray that our grief may not only be tinged with hope, but that it may be overcome with God’s healing grace.

This Week's Responses

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance

U.S./Mexico (2), emergency needs
Virginia, tornado damage
North Carolina (2), tornado damage
Japan, earthquake/tsunami
Philippines, fire damage
Sri Lanka, flood relief
Indonesia, assistance to displaced persons
Colombia, flood relief
Iraq, Iraqi refugee crisis in Lebanon

Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation

Haiti, housing project

For a full listing of responses made to date in 2011, click here.