Posted by: Titus Presler | March 23, 2013

First-ever Holy Week retreat focuses Christians at Edwardes in Peshawar

“I feel reenergized for my Christian life,” said one participant at the end of today’s Holy Week retreat at Edwardes College in Peshawar.  “I have problems that have been worrying me, but considering the suffering of Jesus has put it into perspective,” said another.  “My spiritual commitment had been going down, but through this retreat I’ve recommitted to truly living a Christian life,” said a third.

Attending the all-day gathering on the Saturday before Palm Sunday were about 45 people, including about 30 students, divided evenly between men and women, with the remainder being faculty, staff and alumni.  For most, this was their first experience of a retreat.

“Before coming I thought 9 to 4 would seem like a long time, and I expected I might become bored,” said one attendee, “but everything was so helpful that the time was wonderful.”IMG_0382  Another person said he had been to church seminars before but never to a retreat, and he found the designated “Silence Alone” times for individual prayer and meditation especially helpful.

Themed “The Journey of Holy Week,” the retreat for the small Christian community of Edwardes, where over 90% of students and faculty are Muslim, was the first to be held that anyone could remember.  It took place in the College Chapel and on the grounds of the Bungalow on a cloudy day with intermittent rain.

Worship included a morning chanting of the Great Litany, Noonday Prayer and then Evening Prayer to close the retreat.  Luke’s passion narrative, read with attendees taking the various parts, was the biblical setting for the day with three discussion-studies focusing on the salvific, political and discipleship dimensions of the passion story.

Responding to the question, “How does Jesus ‘save’ humanity from sin and death?” attendees suggested a number of “re” concepts: reconnecting humanity with God after the rift created by Adam and Eve, restoring relationship with God, rebirth in Christ, re-creation in the image of God, and reconciliation.

After seeing how three interlocking and competitive political establishments – the temple administration in Jerusalem, the client kingship of Herod, and the imperial governorship of Pilate – all had roles in the events leading to Jesus’ condemnation, the group reflected on the comparable situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.  The torching of 170 Christian homes in Lahore on March 9 was a focal point, and the group discussed as well the Peshawar community’s helpful March 11 protest.

A number of discipleship implications from Luke’s passion story were highlighted: servant leadership (“the leader like one who serves”); pared-down missionary discipleship (“without a purse, bag or sandals”); decisive response to circumstances (“the one who has a purse must take it”); commitment to prayer, even and especially in crisis, as in Gethsamane; healing outreach even in adversity (“he touched the slave’s ear and healed him”); and commitment to reconciliation (“Father, forgive them”).  One participant noted that in the second crucified thief Jesus actually made a disciple from the cross.  It was noted that “Jesus’ acquaintances, including the women” were at risk in following the dreadful events, even from a distance, and that risk is correspondingly integral to faithful discipleship.IMG_0384

Walking the Stations of the Cross was a novel experience for the many non-Roman participants, for this devotion is not customary in the Church of Pakistan, despite the fact that Anglicans were the largest of the four constituent groups that formed CoP in 1970.  Poster-size plastic-laminate depictions, all of them quite graphic and dramatic, were borrowed from St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Peshawar and hung from various trees – palm, mango, pine – around the large Bungalow Garden.

The interspersed “Silence Alone” times filled out the day, providing each attendee with opportunity to grow in prayer as he/she reflected on themes arising out of the worship times and biblical studies.IMG_0383

The event was significant in several ways for the Christian community at Edwardes.  The novelty of a retreat introduced participants to a major resource for spiritual growth.  Through worship and prayer it reconnected refreshed and renewed our relationship with God.  The biblical discussions engaged major theological concepts and explored their complex inter-relations.  The retreat built community more intensively than is possible through our daily liturgies, important as they are.

Finally, of course, the retreat prepared us for Holy Week.  Thanks be to God.

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