Lent Calls Us to Prayer, Fasting, Sacrifice, and Justice

Angelique Walker-Smith

By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith

“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16 NRSV

Around 479 B.C., Esther, a teenage Hebrew girl—who later became the Queen of the Persia—called her Hebrew community to prayer and fasting. Following this, she called on her government to do no harm to her community, knowing that this action could lead to her own demise. Esther’s call reminds us of our ongoing duty to pray and fast for justice.

In 1960, South Africans called on their government to abolish pass laws requiring black South Africans over the age of 16 to carry a pass book at all times. Sixty-nine of them were killed, and more than 180 were wounded by the police in the Black township of Sharpeville, including some 50 women and children. Many were people of faith. It was one of the first and most violent demonstrations against apartheid in South Africa.

In 2020, the New York Times reported that 15 to 26 million people called on various levels of government and local police departments to stop the historic violent deaths of Black lives at the hands of police. They also reported that Black Lives Matter was the largest movement in U S. history. Since then, this decentralized movement—with primary leadership of women of African descent—has become global and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. Many members of the movement are people of faith.

In the Church year, we are invited this month to a season of prayer and fasting—and of sacrifice. March is also Women’s History Month—and March 21 is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, inspired by the events in Sharpeville, South Africa, in 1960. Both are occasions that remind us of past and present sacrifices.

Bread for the World recognizes the inequities experienced by women and by people affected by racism as hunger issues and matters for prayer and fasting. But Bread is also committed to action to address this. Bread’s legislative agenda of advocating for global nutrition and preparing for the reauthorization of the Farm Bill and the Global Food Security Act includes a lens of gender and racial equity. Go here to learn more about how you can be involved.

We close with this a devotional Lenten prayer excerpt from “In Times Like These … A Pan African Christian Devotional for Public Policy Engagement,” written by Father Daniel Wafik Habib of the Coptic Orthodox Church:

O Lord … There are divisive and distracting worldly windows … let us bring our hearts, broken and humbled … let us bring our minds wholly redirected by your Holy Spirit to the throne of Christ. Bring us to that table where all may find a place. For all the races of humanity can be found in your garden, where each of us is one of your beloved flowers. Amen.

Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church engagement at Bread for the World.

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