What Lies Ahead

As I write this reflection, the war in Ukraine has been going on for more than two months. Thousands of civilians, including children, have been injured or killed. As of April 21, almost 5.4 million refugees have fled Ukraine, and an estimated 7.7 million people have been displaced within the country itself.

Some of these people –– people just like you and me –– have had to bury loved ones in their backyard gardens. Some of them have had to leave their homes with little to no warning, and with little more than the clothes on their backs. And too many of those homes –– and the cities in which they were located –– are now rubble.

There is a madman in Russia who has unleashed the biggest war in Europe since World War II, with the justification that modern, Western-leaning Ukraine was a constant threat and Russia could not feel “safe, develop, and exist.” Putin has spoken of Russia’s invasion as a “noble” cause. On February 24, he told the Russian people his goal was to “demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine,” and to protect people subjected to what he called eight years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine’s government. He said he ordered the attacks “to protect people, including Russian citizens,” who have been subjected to what he called “genocide” in Ukraine. He has claimed that his goal is to strip Ukraine’s military power, not to take over the country. But he has severed most media ties with the west so his own people can’t see what their military has done and is doing. And many in his Russian army have acted with a brutality that has not specifically been ordered, but which is indicated by the rape and murder of those they’re accusing of being Nazis.

And it is beyond incomprehensible –– at least to me –– that a man who considers himself a Christian is responsible for atrocities so egregious that Jesus must be weeping. While his father was a typical Soviet atheist of his era, his mother was Russian Orthodox; and by all accounts, she had her son secretly baptized and secretly instructed in the faith –– at least to some degree. But it is not incomprehensible that his offensives have been so horrific that Putin and others are being accused of war crimes; while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has rejected these allegations, saying that images coming from outside Kyiv were staged in order to make Russia look bad.

It’s true that there are more than a dozen other, less publicized and less severe wars going on around the world. But this one catches our attention and grieves our hearts more I think, because eastern Europeans are “more like us” than some other peoples are; though I may be feeling some kind of genetic resonance with what’s going on since I’m 100% Eastern European (that’s 100% Ashkenazi Jew, according to Ancestry DNA).

This senseless aggression began just before our Lenten journeys did. But just as Lent was ending, there was enough COVID behind us and enough Easter light ahead of us, that we were able to restore the Chalice –– the Common Cup which connects and unites us. And as my Easter letter indicated, “while it may seem at times that we live stuck in the dark of Good Friday, we are still and always are an Easter people!” This war may mislead us into thinking that we really are stuck in the dark of Good Friday; but a wise man, a sage, once said that when evil realizes its end is imminent, it flails around all the more wildly trying to get a foothold. What we’re seeing is the imminent death of evil; but because God’s time is not our time, we don’t know how imminent it is. But of it, we are assured.

World-wide events like this have a slow-motion domino effect; which means that different kinds of consequences take varying amounts of time to wash ashore. And so none of us really know exactly what lies ahead. What will wash ashore. But what we know, and the immovable foothold which secures us, is that there is nothing that God cannot redeem. God in Christ has already done it. We are now witnesses to its unfolding. But pray for Ukraine, pray for America, pray for each other; and pray for our enemies.

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family. He relishes his role as the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Officer for two dioceses and affirms all faith traditions (he has this idea that diversity was never intended to be divisive). He serves on several diocesan and synod committees, including the ELCA N/W Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; and in July 2020, he finished a two-year practicum to become a Spiritual Director.