“Love that works no ill”

Rev. Radhika Sukumar-White reflects on how a joyful celebration of the resurrection quickly turned to a day of grieving for the hundreds killed in the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka. She helped organised two vigil services in Sydney, which drew large numbers of people from all backgrounds.

On Easter Sunday morning, my congregation in Leichhardt celebrated the resurrection of Jesus with a service of joy, music, laughter, prayer, and hot cross buns. We were free, safe, and happy. A few hours later, congregations in Colombo and Batticaloa prepared for a similar service of worship – only they were targeted in a calculated and organised attack. Many died.

Independent Sri Lanka has really only ever known war and violence. Most Sri Lankans alive today remember where they were during the 1977 riots, or the 1983 riots, or the end of the civil war, or the tsunami. The lives of Sri Lankans have been punctuated far too regularly by violence and loss.

I am a Sri Lankan Tamil Australian woman. My parents migrated to Australia in the late 1970s, just as the civil war was erupting. I found this Easter Sunday to be a discombobulating experience – to be confronted by my Sri Lankan-ness, my privilege and safety as an Australian, and my faith in the Crucified and Risen One. So as the events unfolded on Easter Sunday, I felt moved, and compelled to action.

A Sri Lankan congregant asked if Leichhardt could hold a prayer service, but I felt that a space to grieve and pray was needed for more people. So, I called Rev. Dr John Jegasothy, and we began preparing two prayer services, one in the west on Tuesday night, and another in the east on Wednesday night.

We couldn’t have predicted how large these events became. Sri Lankans of all ethnicities, faiths, denominations, castes and ages met alongside Australians of other backgrounds. Members of the press covered the events, and reporters were surprised at how diverse the attendees were. We sang in different languages, heard from the Scriptures (Psalm 55 and Romans 12:9-21) lit candles, and prayed. We heard from different entities, all expressing their grief, their solidarity, and their hope for a peaceful and harmonious future.

At the Wednesday event, the final hymn was the Hymn for Ceylon, written by Rev. WS Senior, a 19th Century missionary. The third verse was particularly poignant: “Give peace within her borders ‘twixt man and man goodwill, the love all unsuspicious, the love that works no ill. In loyal, lowly service, let each from other learn, the guardian and the guarded, ‘til Christ Himself return.”

Prayer led by Radhika at the service.

Let us come before the God of us all in prayer.

God of all creation and all people, we give thanks for Your many blessings upon us, and for the privileges and freedoms we enjoy. But tonight we remember our sisters and brothers in Sri Lanka, who on Easter Sunday morning, went to worship singing “alleluia”, only to be met with bomb blasts and carnage in a calculated attack on churches and hotels. Together, we lament with our siblings who right now cry out in pain and grief. Hear our cries of praise and horror, hope and lament, thanksgiving and disbelief.

God, we condemn the senseless violence, the attacks on people gathered in peace to worship You. It is difficult for us to understand the capacity of humanity to wreak havoc, pain and fear on one another, and what the purpose of these attacks were. We are fearful of our world growing increasingly hateful, violent and discriminatory. But we pray that all people may remember that the things that unite us are far more important than the things that divide us, and that violence only breeds more violence. We pray for peace.

God of comfort, we pray for the souls of the 359 victims, for the hundreds of injured men, women and children, and for families and friends still searching for answers. We pray for doctors, nurses, administrative staff, morgue staff, the police, the military, the government, those assisting in the cleanup, and the wider Sri Lankan community who are helping in prayerful and practical ways. We pray for religious leaders in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora, as they cry with their people in their suffering, lead funerals and burials, and work through their own losses. We give thanks for the gift of community, particularly in times of trauma and grief. We pray too for the staff of the hotels that were bombed, that they too may band together in grief and hope.

Loving God, we pray for the nation of Sri Lanka, whose story has been punctuated far too regularly with war, violence and loss. We pray for all the people who make up Sri Lanka – Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgha, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, rich, poor, male, female, old, young – a melting pot of humanity. We long for the day when all people may live together in peace and harmony. God, it is too easy to call for vengeance, more bloodshed, more fearmongering, more rhetoric against the other. But we know that You call us to a more courageous, a more loving, a more generous response. May we find it in ourselves to forgive, to offer compassion in the face of violence, to be graceful instead of hateful, to love our enemy, and seek justice, not vengeance. We cannot do this on our own – we need Your strength to do this, Lord, and so we ask You to help us be a people of love.

We give thanks for the outpouring of love and goodwill that has come as a result of Sunday’s tragedy, and for those who have gathered tonight in faith, solidarity and grief. May we go from this place and see those who look or sound different to us as Your children as much as we are Your children. May we break down the barriers that place one faith or denomination or ethnicity or caste or gender over another, by listening, befriending, breaking bread together.

May Your Kingdom come, may Your will be done. Amen.

Rev. Radhika Sukumar-White is Minister at Leichhardt Uniting Church and a Panel Member for the Transforming Worship Circle.