Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.—Philippians 4:4
I can’t help thinking about the suffering people in Ukraine. I’m sure I’m not alone. The images of bombing, of people fleeing the war and violence, of families separating, with one parent with children seeking refuge beyond Ukraine’s border as the other remains behind to fight; of a fire at a large nuclear plant, the largest nuclear plant in Europe, presenting the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe. Vladmir Putin’s determination to do anything to accomplish his ends, threatening escalation, even to the point of nuclear war, is evil. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has cast a pall over the entire world and threatens the future, at least the earthly future, of all of us.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which passes understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4 – 7).
The passage above was part of today’s appointed reading for the Daily Office. It’s one of my favorite passages. But it’s also challenging. Rejoice in the Lord always. Always!? How can I, how can any of us, be expected to rejoice in the face of the pain and brutality that confronts us in the images from Ukraine? Or even in the images of poverty and brutality that confront us every day. Rejoice in the Lord always? Ridiculous. Isn’t it?
Well, truthfully, it isn’t at least if we have faith like Paul’s. Paul was writing from prison and his fate was in the hands of the Roman Empire, or so it seemed. Paul knew, however, that his ultimate destiny was with God and God’s love.
In a commentary on this passage, Preacher and Teacher Fred Craddock observes, “The joy and forbearance…which constitute part of the church’s witness to the world (vv.4–5a) are genuinely grounded in the church’s faith….Because the day of Christ is near and because the peace of God stands guard, the church can rejoice.” Craddock later adds, Because God’s peace is on duty, they do not have to be anxiously scanning the horizon for new threats. Alert, yes; anxious, no.
Craddock does qualify this, writing,
“Have no anxiety about anything: (Matthew 6:25-34) here applies to nervous, doubt-filled concern for their own well-being and is not to be taken as a blanket endorsement of total indifference to the condition of others. In other words, there is no scriptural warrant for not caring…Obviously there is appropriate as well as inappropriate anxiety. (p. 128).
We are called to appropriate anxiety and care for the suffering people of Ukraine. We are also called to put our trust in God even as we seek ways to help in this situation. Some have asked, how can we respond?
Through its International Disaster Response program, Episcopal Relief and Development is already working with its international partners to provide, food, clothing, shelter and other relief aid to refugees from Ukraine. If you would like to make a donation, go here.
I also want invite you to watch a powerful reflection on the situation in Ukraine offered by The Right Reverend Mark Eddington who is Bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. He has a unique European view. To watch his video, go here.
Continue to pray for the people of Ukraine and for peace with justice there and everywhere.
God bless you and keep you.
Faithfully in Christ,
The Right Rev. William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey
 Craddock, Fred B. Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching – Philippians (Louisville: Westminster – John Knox Press, 1985 (Paperback 2012), 128.