In lieu of the shutdown of churches across Asia under COVID-19 containment measures, in a unique, first-of-its-kind online worship service organised by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) in observance of the Asia Sunday, thousands of people prayed in unison on Sunday 24 May afternoon (Bangkok Time); ‘God, Heal Us as We are Vulnerable’.
A specially prepared liturgy was used for the worship service, which was led by 22 ecclesiastical and ecumenical leaders from 20 Asian countries, with over 21,000 participants and viewers on the CCA’s social media pages in addition to registered participants on Zoom.
“In faith we come before you, asking for mercy and forgiveness for our sins against you and your creation. In this time of anxiety and distress, we lift up to you the COVID situation throughout the world. At this time of our fragility, fear, and death, we cry out to you. Heal our sick, console those who are bereaved, protect those who care for us. We lift up our prayer to you, Lord, and trust in your infinite mercy. God, heal us as we are vulnerable”, they prayed together while being located at different time zones in different parts of the world.
Asia Sunday is observed every year on the Sunday before Pentecost, and it coincides with the anniversary of CCA’s founding in 1957. CCA urged its member churches and councils this year to observe the Asia Sunday on 24 May.
In his introductory remarks, welcoming the participants to the historic online worship service, Dr Mathews George Chunakara said that as churches were physically constrained and unable to hold the Asia Sunday prayers, the CCA had taken the initiative to facilitate the same through its online platform.
“The world faces an unprecedented crisis in the face of the novel COVID-19. Our world needs prayers, cure, and healing. The crucial condition which we are currently collectively undergoing is a reminder for us to reflect on the fragility of human life and the vulnerability of the entire cosmos.”
The homily during the online service was delivered by Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey, Bishop of the Church of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and a member of the CCA Executive Committee.
Bishop Canagasabey noted in his sermon that, “it is significant that we are observing Asia Sunday on Ascension Sunday. Jesus has passed through the gates of death and was already sharing the Glory of the Father and for some days He was manifesting Himself to His disciples and gave them His last instructions. Jesus has fulfilled His mission among humankind, and the time of the Spirit has now come. Jesus after ascending unto Heaven would ask the Father and He will send the Holy Spirit to the disciples so that they may carry on proclaiming the ‘Good News’ to the world. Jesus is no longer visible among us and this is to our advantage, for we must assume our responsibilities to establish the Reign of God.”
Bishop Canagasabey continued, “with His Presence in our life He has made us to become people of Ascension Power to ascend above anything and everything that could pull us down and virtually destroy us. While we do this the community of Jesus will discover, at first with surprise and then with joy, that the Spirit of God – the Spirit of Jesus is acting in their midst. In the book of Acts 1:6 the Apostles asked the Lord – “Is it now that you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?”
“God’s purpose is much wider. The Gospel is to change individuals, cultures and the whole of human history. Only our Heavenly Father knows the times and goals of this change, about which people today are more and more concerned. People of God, if Christ has not ascended to heaven after rising from the dead, Christianity would have been just mere history”.
Speaking of the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Christians, Bishop Canagasabey explained, “COVID-19 has forced us to re-examine everything about our lives: our faith, our spirituality, our attitudes, our mindsets, our relationship with our Creator God, our relationship with one another, and our relationship with God’s creation. It has forced us to see the need to realign ourselves with God, and God’s will and purpose for this world.”
“This worldwide pandemic has exposed the nakedness and poverty of humankind and our spiritual sickness. It has shown us that as we sought to govern ourselves more and more, and began to depend less and less on God while simultaneously exploiting the very world God entrusted to us, we have now been harshly confronted with certain realities that have brought us back to the basics, back to our knees in repentance and faith. We have been reminded of the urgency and importance of our total dependence on God through this crisis,” Bishop Canagasabey thus reminded the participants.
“Out of each crisis, disaster, and pandemic, emerges something beautiful, fragrant, and everlasting,” said Bishop Canagasabey as he offered final words of hope and encouragement.
The facilitators representing the member churches and councils of the CCA at the Asia Sunday 2020 online worship service were: His Beatitude Dr Joseph Mar Thoma (Metropolitan of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church in India and former President of CCA); Archbishop Sebouh Sarkissian (Prelate of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Iran and member of the CCA Executive Committee); Rev. Dr Sang Jung Park (The Holistic Church in Korea and former General Secretary of the CCA); Rev. Dr Henriette Hutabarat Lebang (Communion of Churches in Indonesia and former General Secretary of the CCA); Dr Prawate Khidarn (Church of Christ in Thailand and former General Secretary of the CCA); Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey (Anglican Church in Sri Lanka and CCA Executive Committee member); Bishop Philip Huggins (Anglican Church of Australia); Bishop Humphrey Peters (Moderator of the Church of Pakistan); Bishop-designate Dr Renta Nishihara (Anglican Church in Japan); Rev. Asir Ebenezer (General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in India); Rev. David Das (National Council of Churches in Bangladesh); Rev. Kyrie Kim (Anglican Church in Korea); Chairperson of CCA Programme Committee); Rev. Ramil Aguila (Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Philippines); Pastor Cindy Hwang (Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and CCA Executive Committee member); Dr Tong Wing Sze (Hong Kong Christian Council and CCA Executive Committee member); Tara Tautari (General Secretary-elect of the Methodist Church in New Zealand); Kaythi Min Din (Myanmar Christian Council); Levi Vasconcelos Pinto (Protestant Church in Timor Leste); Ithrana Lawrence (Council of Churches in Malaysia and member of CCA Executive Committee); and Dymeas Sovy (Kampuchea Christian Council in Cambodia).
The full text of the Asia Sunday 2020 liturgy and prayers prepared by the CCA can be accessed here:
Watch the proceedings of the Asia Sunday 2020 online service on our social media: