This year our Lenten meditation will focus on the Divine Liturgy. Do we know what goes on or what it means when we come to church on Sundays? Since COVID, we may be attending virtually, or maybe we’ve gotten out of the habit. Since Russia has brutally attacked Ukraine, some, for the first time, feel a need to attend Divine Liturgy, perhaps without knowing why.
Over the next few weeks we’ll look more closely at this service, because Great Lent is our preparation for Easter, and every Divine Liturgy is a celebration of Easter: our new life in Christ’s resurrection. That’s why we don’t fast on Sundays and why we do not kneel during the Divine Liturgy. We come together in hope and gratitude. From the Greek, the word Liturgy means public work. Indeed we come together to be together; to pray collectively for all humanity; to meet Christ among us (“Wherever 2 or more gather in my name, there am I”).
We have been baptized into our family of the Ukrainian Catholic Faith and so, like all families, we share food: nourishment, that sustains us and gives us strength. The Divine Liturgy centres on the Eucharist, which recalls the Last Supper where Christ, recognizing that His path of Love was leading to His betrayal and death, did not back away, but embraced His followers. Kneeling before them, He washed their feet.
Christ suffered and died, showing us that a full human life is lived for each other. At the Divine Liturgy we all come to Christ’s table as equals—servants to each other and all human beings. We know that living as Christ, we don’t escape suffering, but have strength and peace through Love. The good news of Easter is the faith that death is not the end, and that all the Love we have given continues in the humanity we have shared.
At every Divine Liturgy, as at family gatherings, we hear the stories that ground us and inspire us to be our best selves. This Sunday in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, he writes of the horrific persecution of people of faith. We hear this while our fellow Ukrainians are undergoing equally horrific circumstances today. Paul compares these innocent victims to Moses, who chose to be with his enslaved people rather than accepting the luxuries of an Egyptian prince. Moses did not see the “promised land” but he led his people out of slavery onto the path of freedom.
Today Ukraine is persecuted because it represents human dignity and the desire to live freely. The parallels are clear. Paul tells us that, like the Hebrews, we (and indeed the free world) are the beneficiaries of Ukraine’s suffering. Their innocence reveals the evil that destroys their life and home. They make the way clear for others, for us, to live in Love; to stand with them in Christ for goodness, dignity, freedom. As we take part in the Liturgy, we continue to pray for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine, and for the wisdom to help in any way we can.
“Therefore . . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1, 2)