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Heinrich Bedford-Strohm

Evangelical Lutheran Bishop, Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD)

Isaiah 58,6-12

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: "Here I am!” If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; then the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up; "Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you, "Restorer of ruined homesteads.”

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
"Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations” – what a comfort to hear these words of the prophet Isaiah today in a wounded world. In a world wounded by the pandemic. In a world yearning for healing. 
Our souls are confused. All the physical signs of connectedness – hands reaching out to each other, speaking closely face to face, unmasked!, embracing each other, giving each other hugs – all these physical signs, which so far have been expressions of love, have now become the enemy of love, have become a danger to the other, have become a potential source of suffering. How can our souls understand this reversion of the basic forms of spontaneous human interaction?
"Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations” – we need this strengthening promise desperately in the exhaustion we feel. Do not fear! - says God. I will not leave you alone. I will be always with you. And you will experience healing. "Your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly”.
How can we as churches be heralds and agents of God's healing? How can we be signs of peace and brother and sisterhood? How can we be Tutti Fratelli?
Through the trinity of Praying, doing justice and becoming one!
Through praying: As people of different confessional and religious backgrounds we speak with God. We bring before God our sorrow, our failures, our unanswered questions, our hope. And we listen to God. We listen to God to gain clarity, direction and orientation to move on. 
Through doing justice. There is no prayer, there is no fasting, says the prophet Isaiah, without doing justice. And Jesus says: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 
What if it really is Christ who is waiting for help, for a dignified life in flooded tents in the refugee camps of the Greek Islands? What if it really is Christ who is in danger of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea because Europe doesn't rescue and even blocks civil rescue boats from helping? What if it really is Christ whom we meet in the child in Mozambique who does not have enough food to live on?
To ask these questions, to be touched by the needs of others is not a catalyst for a bad conscience. It is the opposite. It is the door opener to a fulfilled life. It is the path to peace and fraternity. It is the source of healing. Because "then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.”
The community of St. Egidio is the best example. A community of committed people who do not radiate renunciation and scarcity but joy and fullness of life. Because they sense deep inside that it is a much better life to live with others rather than against them. Because they know in their souls that in this human brother and sisterhood Christ himself is present.
Praying and doing justice – these are the first two in the trinity of becoming salt of the earth and light of the world. And the third one is becoming one as a church.
"Has Christ been divided?” - asks Pauls in 1 Cor 1 in the face of various divisions in the church. And we all know the answer. Christ is one! How could we be satisfied with our internal divisions? Passion for the unity of the church is not a sentiment of some special interest group in the church. It is part of the very DNA of each church. And I add very personally: To experience this unity at the Table of the Lord in my own life time is my very own personal dream.
Peace and Justice will embrace. And no pandemic will stop it. Yes: our light shall rise in the darkness and our gloom be like the noonday… and we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 
We will heal.