Lord, guide us to unity and harmony, for we are all in this together . . .
As we gathered yesterday for “Virtual Worship”, the second petition in our Prayers of Intercession began, “For all of us when we fear those who worship you in different ways; guide us to unity and harmony so that we may come to respect and cherish our commonalities.” We then prayed for our three “Standing Together” partner congregations in Grand Rapids, Temple Emanuel, Masjid at-Tawheed and Westminster Presbyterian Church. Our prayer for our three Standing Together partner congregations is a weekly discipline at Trinity to remind us of the vitality of our interfaith community and the constant opportunity to grow in cooperation and understanding with other children of God.
Last week, during our Easter Sunday live streaming, I shared a greeting I had received on Holy Saturday from Dr. Sharif Sahibzada, imam at the Islamic Center of Grand Rapids. On the evening before our Easter celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord, Dr. Sahibzada had shared the following words with several of his colleagues among the Christian clergy in Grand Rapids:
Reverends and followers of Prophet Jesus Christ, peace be upon him,
The entire Globe is encircled with pandemic COVID-19. All of humankind is under pressure materialistically and religiously. No one is able to do weekly worship of God on the holy and blessed day as usual. May the Merciful God have Mercy upon humankind, His own creation.
Imam, board of First Islamic Center of West Michigan (established 1986) and entire congregation express their wish below:
May you and your congregation be blessed with Almighty God’s love and peace this Easter. We thank God for His blessings and wish you an Easter full of joy and peace.
May Almighty God through all His chosen Messengers and prophets shower His blessings upon believers and also on all of humankind.
I have known Dr. Sahibzada since my affiliation with the Kaufman Interfaith Institute early in my call to serve at Trinity in Grand Rapids. A persistent advocate for understanding between the world’s great faith traditions, he was present with the procession of clergy when Lutherans and Roman Catholics came together on Reformation Sunday in 2017 at the Cathedral of St. Andrew, marking the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation. In queue together for the procession which would begin the festival liturgy, I invited Dr. Sahibzada to consider joining an interfaith clergy pilgrimage to Israel that was in development. My friend Sharif was delighted for the invitation and joined the Grand Rapids delegation to travel through the Holy Land the following January, an interfaith tour of pastors, rabbis and imams to the holy sites of all three faiths. The photograph here of Dr. Sahibzada was taken in the ruins of King Herod’s palace in Caesarea on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Yesterday we prayed, “For all of us when we fear those who worship you in different ways; guide us to unity and harmony so that we may come to respect and cherish our commonalities.” We know, however, that mistrust and even disdain between the world’s great faith traditions is at least as common as respect and understanding. Father Richard Rohr wrote, “It is amazing now religion has turned the biblical idea of faith into a need and even a right to certain knowing, complete predictability, and perfect assurance about whom God likes and whom God does not like.”
Not all Christians find a level of comfort in interfaith dialogue with the goals of respecting and cherishing the commonalities we share, even as we embrace our differences. I am hopeful, however, that one of the outcomes of this time of pandemic, with all of the societal separation and distancing that is allowing humanity to respond to the threat of a dangerous virus, will be that our phrases, “We are all in this together,” and, “We will get through this together,” do not simply pass away as empty words when we find our ‘new normal’ in the months and year ahead. Dare we believe that there is more that binds us among all of humankind that there is that divides us? Is it possible that our God wishes us to be more prolific in building bridges of understanding between communities than building walls of demarcation, embracing our togetherness as a high aspiration of part of what it means to be created in the image of God?
On Thursday evening this week the month of Ramadan begins for Muslims, a time of spiritual reflection, prayer and giving to the poor. Ramadan is practiced through fasting from sunrise to sunset, refraining from food and drink until the iftar celebration meal breaks the fast at sunset. Often the iftar meal brings Muslim neighbors together for that celebration. This year the breaking of the daily fast will occur in solitary family gatherings as faithful shelter in place.
Later this evening, I will be sending my greetings, on behalf of their sisters and brothers at Trinity Lutheran Church, to Dr. Sahibzada and several other imams with whom I have acquaintance. I will greet them as they prepare to observe Ramadan, their holy month, and I will share our prayer for blessings, joy and peace for our Muslim sisters and brothers during this central time in their spiritual observance. The month of Ramadan overlaps with our season of Easter, a season of new life and springtime renewal. I would invite you, my friends in Christ at Trinity, to share my Easter discipline in 2020 to hold our sisters and brothers in the Muslim community in prayer, with a desire to truly embrace the statement, “We are all in this together . . .”
Doug Kindschi, Director of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, recently wrote in his weekly column, “As our various religious traditions enter this period of ‘Holy Days,’ we can choose to ignore those who are different, or even find ways to argue about the differences. But we also have the choice of seeking ways to relate with one another, learn from one another, and affirm the basic messages of hope and peace.” I will be among those who choose to relate with and learn from those who are different in their faith orientation, because the message of hope and peace that binds us is desperately needed in our world today.
Easter blessings friends.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Bob Linstrom