Ukrainian Lutheran Church
By the time you read this, the situation that is still simmering between Ukraine and Russia may have been resolved. If you think back to February and March, you might remember our sister in Christ, Olesia Zhukovska. She had been performing acts of mercy as she gave medical care to those who were injured in the protests in Kyiv, Ukraine. While doing this, she was shot in the neck by a sniper and nearly died from her wound. Thankfully, she received excellent medical care and is well on her road to recovery.
There was even better news than this, though. V’yacheslav Horpynchuk, Bishop of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, said in an update he sent out: “On Sunday both Olesia and her mother received the Sacrament of the Holy Communion at the hospital.”
What a remarkable thing! She who shed her blood in service toward others was herself strengthened and made whole by the shed blood of the crucified and risen Christ. Her Lord had first been merciful to her. She, in turn, was merciful to others. Then Jesus comes to her again and fills her with His mercy.
The prayer of thanks after the Communion liturgy directs us to pray:
“We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through these salutary gifts, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through them in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever” (ELH, p. 83, emphasis added).
Here we ask God that, by His gifts, He move and strengthen us to keep the two tables of His Law: Love God … love neighbor. It is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by Jesus’ real presence among us especially with His holy body and blood that we are joined to Him and to one another and we then act as He does. We become merciful. Even in the face of this world’s evil and contrary to our own evil desires, we are made merciful.
In that holy Supper, in the Gospel and Baptism, those are where we are given hope even though a young woman helping others (wearing a bright red cross on her smock!) nearly was killed by a sniper’s intentionally placed bullet. Seeing her picture, anyone might be inclined to despair, but we do not, just as by God’s grace alone she did not.
This is why it is important that the work of Jesus Christ’s Church continues unabated. Though there may not be riots in our streets, there is still so much death around us. Satan takes aim and, it seems, more often than not finds his mark … and he shoots to kill. The sins of selfishness and unbelief invade our lives, and it seems that many are left wounded along the way, left wounded to die.
When we look at things from a numbers perspective, we see that the workers at this time are few. Our Evangelical Lutheran Synod along with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod are experiencing a shortage of pastors. As I write, there are currently ten pastoral vacancies in the ELS. Ten places where there is no permanent shepherd doing the work God has called His Church to do. Ten places where the injured in Jesus’ flock and those of this world may not be getting the care they need. Ten places where those dying may not be given hope to counter despair. Our Lord said, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).
Thanks be to God that Olesia has a faithful shepherd. A shepherd, who even had she died, had faithfully prepared her for that day whenever it may come. A shepherd who—in the way the Church has worshipped for millennia—acted as a steward of the mysteries of God and distributed His grace to her … just as has been done for you.
Reverend James Braun
Trinity Lutheran Church