Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

ELCA World Hunger

Holy Week: Feasting, Fasting and Living in Tension

Blessings as we enter holy week! Many of you have journeyed with ELCA World Hunger through Lent as we have reflected on the Psalms and what meaning that vast collection of hymns, poems, laments and prayers might have for hunger ministry today. As the season comes to a close, thank you for being part of the 40 Days of Giving!

Lent is a common time for congregations to focus on hunger and social ministry. Indeed, almsgiving is one of the traditional “three pillars” of Lent (the other two being prayer and fasting) and is still found as one of the disciplines of Lent observed by Lutherans today. While many of us think of fasting as the core practice of Lent, the history of the church reminds us that fasting and giving are two sides of the same coin. The witness of Isaiah goes even further, describing authentic fasting as intimately tied to love and justice for the neighbor:

Is this not the fast I choose, to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? (Is. 58:6)

Scripture and tradition make a good case for focusing on hunger ministry during Lent. But this upcoming weekend may be an even more important time to reinvigorate our efforts. As pointed as Isaiah’s message about fasting may be, for Lutherans, it is the feast – and not just the fast – that calls to us.

Sharing the Feast

Say what you will about Martin Luther (no, seriously, say whatever you want – he deserves heaps of both praise and blame), but he certainly knew how to craft a pithy phrase or two. One of his most famous couplets comes from his 1520 “Treatise on Christian Liberty”:

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.

A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

As paradoxical as it might seem, what Luther is getting at is that we don’t experience God as humanity’s captor, binding us to rules and obligations, but as our liberator. That’s not to say that there aren’t obligations and demands – the Law is still the Law and still God-given. But within the Gospel, God reveals Godself to be the one who frees us from bondage to sin, death and to the notion that we can save ourselves, hence “perfectly free.”

This is a dramatic shift in Christian ethics. Why do we do “good works”? Certainly, for Lutherans, we know that those works won’t save us. No amount of fasting or almsgiving will merit a reward (or even make us good people.) And it’s not merely because the Law, with its rules for righteous living, is so compelling (we can’t fully follow it anyway.) Instead, what motivates Lutheran ethics is the experience of being loved and set free from the burden of trying – and failing – to overcome our own sin. The foundation of loving a neighbor, of striving for justice and of working to end hunger is nothing more or less than gratitude.

To play a bit with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s popular phrase “cheap grace,” this isn’t “cheap thanks.” It’s not the kind of gratitude for all the great things we have or, worse, the gratefulness that “at least we aren’t like them.” It’s deeper than that. What moves us to choose for ourselves being “subject to all” is the realization that our entire lives, our eternal salvation, is an undeserved gift. We don’t have to worry about our own salvation, or feeling as if we aren’t enough, or fearing that the world around us will corrupt our souls or separate us from God. Instead, we can freely and boldly love and serve one another. Social ministry is not a legalistic requirement but a response to an invitation to be part of what God is doing in the world: “Come and see!”

Easter, then, isn’t the celebratory end to the sacrifice of fasting and almsgiving in Lent but the very foundation of a new life lived in gift and promise, the free gift to be bold in our love of one another and the assured promise that in so doing, we are bearing witness to God’s building of a just world where all are fed. The feast of Easter nourishes us for the work ahead.

Surveying the Cross

We can’t get there too quickly, though. All too often, our Holy Week moves from Good Friday to Easter Sunday without giving us time to hang in the liminal space of Holy Saturday. Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says that the church needs to avoid this temptation of moving too quickly from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. We have to be in that Holy Saturday moment with the disciples, von Balthasar writes, even just for a bit. For those disciples, that first day after Friday, Jesus is dead. The one they’d given up their lives to follow is now laying in a tomb. A quote often attributed to Luther describes the moment: “God’s very self lay dead in a grave.” For the disciples, there is no Easter Sunday. The messiah is dead, and hope seems lost.

Living after the resurrection, it’s difficult to fully understand that kind of grief, but we must because in that grief is honesty. For all the joy and hope and feasting of Easter, we live in a world where the number of people facing hunger is growing, not declining, where income inequality continues to rise, and where justice and opportunity seem further and further away, especially for communities whose strides toward progress are often stymied by violence, marginalization and oppression.

It’s a grief not only for our world, though, but also for our own shortcomings. As the church, the death of Christ reminds us of our own complicity in human suffering. Sure, the church has done some wonderful things, but the cross confronts us with the ways we have fallen short, the ways we have contributed to rather than alleviated injustice, the communities harmed by the church’s good intentions, and the people pushed aside, sometimes violently, as we have pursued what we call “mission.”

Living and Serving in Holy Week Tension

Living in Holy Saturday means living into that grief and honesty about ourselves and our world. Where Easter inspires joy in God’s promise, Holy Saturday fills us with a sacred longing for that same promise. In Easter, we celebrate it. In Holy Saturday, we yearn for it.

That movement between celebration and yearning, between joy and grief is the tension that grounds our work together as ELCA World Hunger and as a church accompanying neighbors in need. We are caught between the cross and the empty tomb, embodying the grief and longing of a long Holy Saturday before we see the promise fulfilled. And we should be. We celebrate as God works through communities near and far to create new opportunities for abundant life through neighbors joining together with determination and hope. And we lament for a world where the crosses of injustice, violence, marginalization, inequity, racism, heterosexism, sexism, ableism, ethnocentrism, exploitation and more continue to dot the landscape.

This is where the ministry of the church in a hungry world begins. Not in the self-sacrifice of Lent but in in grief and joy, in lament and hope, in yearning and thanksgiving, in the tension between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. It’s a costly faith that we find there, with no easy answers – but with the assurance that even then, God is still at work.

What might that mean for our day-to-day responses to hunger? What might it look like for hunger ministry to be grounded in both hope and lament? As we emerge into the season of Easter, I pray that that those questions can stay with us, that we can carry a bit of both Easter Sunday and Holy Saturday with us into the rest of the year.

Our journey through Lent doesn’t end at the cross or even the empty tomb but continues in the long walk with one another toward the future that is both promised and deeply, deeply needed.


Ryan P. Cumming, Ph.D., is the interim director for education and networks for the Building Resilient Communities team.

Advent 2020- Week Three Study Guide


This advent reflection is part of ELCA World Hunger’s 2020 Advent Study. You can download the full study here. You can also download the corresponding advent calendar here

Advent Week Three



Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
I Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28


Volunteering has always been the lifeblood of Cacilda Rodrigues Barcelos. Born in São Borja, Brazil, she moved at age 13 with her family to the metropolitan region of Porto Alegre. Alone, her mother raised 11 daughters and sons, until her 50th birthday, when she died. Cacilda was 22 at the time, and the community helped to support her. “People taught me how to do what I do, because I was welcomed by them,” she says.

Now 63, Cacilda has dedicated years to giving back through volunteering. Early on, she worked with young boys in the community to make and sell food at fairs to help pay for uniforms and tournaments for their soccer team. Today, as a member of the management board of the Fair Trade and Solidarity Network (a project of the diakonia foundation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil), she helps train other women in entrepreneurship and helps plan workshops and fairs where they sell their goods. She also volunteers in the Peace Service and teaches women to prevent and overcome violence.

As much as Cacilda has changed her community, the biggest change has been in her personal life. “I learned to put myself in other people’s shoes and respect each other. I was very angry, as a way to defend myself, and it was in these meetings and meetings [with other women from the Fair Trade and Solidarity Network] that I grew and improved,” she says. “That’s why I say I’m the one who gains the most.”

As common — and often justified — as anger is, it is one of those emotions that we struggle to deal with in the church, at times. We might find it difficult to place raw, tumultuous emotions within the life of the people of God. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that this season we will sing songs about the “holy infant so tender and mild” (“Silent Night”) or “that mother mild” (“Once in Royal David’s City”) while we still await the writing of an ode to Jesus’ overturning of tables in the temple. Volatile emotions, particularly in the seasons of Advent and Christmas, feel so out of place. We aren’t quite sure what to do with them.

That has made 2020 particularly hard to navigate. This year, we have lived with the grief of the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have mourned isolation from one another and the loss of that most basic human need of touch, even as we understood the risk that accompanied handshakes and hugs. We grieved together as loved ones and neighbors died alone in hospitals or nursing homes. And when we couldn’t gather together for funerals, we lost a key ritual for processing our grief as a community.

We grieved the loss of livelihoods and the closure of family businesses that had been part of our communities for generations. We feared the long-term consequences for our communities as jobs were lost and more and more people around the world went hungry.

And we were angered together by the deadly injustice of racism and the persistent inequalities that exacerbated the pandemic in many communities. Demonstrations filled streets in cities large and small as a collective voice of rage was raised against a racist justice system that continues to disproportionately permit and even sanction extrajudicial killings of people of color.

Certainly, our hope rests in that just peace (shalom) that “surpasses all human understanding,” which will “wipe away every tear from our eyes” and bring such equity and harmony that the lion will lie down with the lamb and the child will play with the viper and not be harmed. But there are times when it is difficult to see this promise through the lens of overwhelming grief and righteous anger. And there are times when grief and anger are what we need to move us toward justice, which is the form of the love of neighbor takes in society. For many of us, 2020 was one of those times.

The promise of Advent is not merely the promise of a future when all shall be made well, when all grief and anger shall cease and when the weight of heavy emotions shall be lifted from our shoulders. The promise of Advent — or, perhaps, the comfort of Advent — is that, amid our grief and anger, God is present, walking with us, consoling us, inspiring us and prodding us to walk together toward the future
where justice and peace will kiss (Psalm 85:10).

The future day promised by Isaiah in this week’s reading is a promise not to those who are comfortable but to those who are afflicted. In “the year of the Lord’s favor,” God will “provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:2-3). It is a promise that those whose burdens have left them with a “faint spirit” will be given the strength of “oaks” and that God will “cause righteousness and praise to spring up” like the first plants of spring (61:11). It is a promise that God, who “loves justice,” (61:8) will establish the same — and an invitation for us to be part of this.

Perhaps that is the reassurance of the Scripture readings for this week. The grief and anger that have marked so much of this year — and that mark so much of every year for many of us living in vulnerability to disease, injustice, hunger and violence — is where God meets us. We need not gather the strength to move on nor ignore the depth of our pain in order to find God. God finds us in these depths.

Cacilda, working tirelessly with neighbors in Brazil, was able to let go of her anger and felt herself changed by the experience. But God did not wait for that moment to work transformation and renewal through her. Indeed, it may be through this very tumult that God moves us toward greater actions of justice. Christ did not wait for a comfortable bed but was born in the sharp, chafing, ill-fitting manger, amid the noise of the animals and the loneliness of the stable. We need not wait to be comfortable, for our grief to resolve or our anger to subside, in order to draw close to God.

God has been there all along.


  1. What caused you to mourn or angered you this year?
  2. How does God meet you amid your grief and anger?
  3. How can the transformation of our grief or anger help spur us to
    deeper acts in service of one another or in service of God?
  4. What would a just peace (shalom) look like in your community?
    In the United States?


Comforting and empowering God, you meet us amid our pain and ease the load of our burdens. Be near us in our grief and anger, comfort us as we mourn and move our will toward acts of justice for one another. Grant the world just peace this season, that we may find rest and hope in you. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.


Advent Study Series: Beginning at the End



Advent is a season of hope and expectation. It is a season in which we “prepare the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:3). Advent candles, wreaths and calendars are joined with as-yet unfinished nativity scenes to mark our preparations for the birth of Jesus Christ. This year, ELCA World Hunger’s Advent Study celebrates this season with reflections focused on the preparation of the people of God for the work of the new year – the work of feeding, clothing, accompanying and advocating with our neighbors for a just world in which all are fed.

The four sessions of this Advent Study and the accompanying Advent calendar are based on the Scripture readings for each week of Advent. Each week includes a meditation on the theme, reflection questions, a prayer and hymn suggestions.

May you, your family and your community be blessed this season to see the important role the people of God are called to play in God’s transformation of the world – as individuals, as families and as the church together.



We begin at the end, and we will end at the beginning. What an odd way to go through Advent! We enter this season of expectation of Jesus’ birth and the advent of his ministry, only to start by hearing the words of Jesus describing the end of days. In a few weeks, we will celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ incarnate life among us.

We begin at the end, and we will end at the beginning.

The heavy thumb of Roman rule, high taxes and widespread vulnerability to poverty were all part of everyday life in first century Palestine. The people among whom Jesus would be born were eager for the Messiah who would deliver them. And there was no shortage of “false messiahs” (Mark 13:22) claiming to offer salvation. Some promised military victory over the Romans. Others claimed gifts of magical power and prophesied re-taking the temple.

And yet, here, in the Gospel of Mark, the true Messiah comes offering a very different story. The people of God will not ride triumphantly into Jerusalem – they will “flee to the mountains” (13:14). They will not re-take Jerusalem and its temple – “all will be thrown down” (13:2b).

But “after that suffering” (13:24)…

In the end…

Of all the Gospels, Mark is perhaps the most honest about suffering. Facing persecution at the hands of Rome, early Christians needed a message that was honest about suffering. More than that, they needed to know that God was honest about their suffering. In Mark, Jesus does not hold back in naming that suffering. The Messiah is born into suffering. The people will face suffering. He himself will suffer.

This wasn’t a newsflash to first century Jews any more than it is to the millions of people today for whom suffering is a mournful part of life – those who know the pangs of food insecurity, those who long for clean water, those who grieve the loss of their homes or their jobs. The idea that suffering is a part of life is sadly nothing new to so many of us. But Jesus makes clear two things that transform how we understand suffering. First, God knows our suffering. And, second – God rejects it.

The “great buildings” (13:2) in Jerusalem, which occasioned the beginning of Jesus’ long speech in Mark 13, were not merely beautiful examples of architecture. They were symbols of the powers and principalities that maintained systems of oppression and marginalization and would eventually carry Jesus to the cross. They seem imperishable, unshakable, overwhelming.

But the world is about to turn. And those walls are coming down.

Advent is a season of hope and expectation, but with Jesus’ exhortation in Mark 13:33 (“Beware, keep alert”), we move from “Advent as anticipation” to “Advent as active alert.” As we await the birth of the Messiah, let Advent be a season not of patience but impatience, not of passivity but activity, seeking out those places where God is already at work undoing systems of suffering and living in the daring confidence founded on faith in the promised end of suffering, sin and death.

Reflection questions

  1. How has God been present with you in your suffering?
  2. Where do you see suffering in the world today? How are people of faith actively working to end it?
  3. As people of faith who believe God rejects suffering, how are we called to respond to suffering in the world?
  4. What is the difference between patient anticipation and being on “active alert” during Advent?


Loving God, in your incarnation, you took on to yourself our humanity and our suffering. Be present with us today as we face the pain of hunger, thirst, war, disease and neglect. Keep fresh in our hearts your promise of an end to suffering and an eternity of well-being with you. Send us out among our neighbors, that we may share with them your promise and share with you in the transformation of our world. In the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Hymn suggestions

Canticle of the Turning ELW 723

The People Walk (Un pueblo que camina) ELW 706

Each Winter as the Year Grows Older ELW 252

To download this entire study, or to see some of our other congregational resources, please visit

The Music of the Future

In Wichita and many other communities across Kansas, more than a month of high temperatures and no rain has harmed crops and triggered water conservation efforts. The swimming pool in my Holiday Inn is closed. There’s no drain plug in the bath – a hint to take short showers only, perhaps?

Whether global climate change is behind this is controversial. Yes, says a scientist from the National Center for Atmospheric Research: “When climate change and natural variability happen in the same direction, that’s when records get broken.” Others disagree. On blogs about the weather and human behavior, a lot of name-calling is going around.

In the clamor, I’ve been encountering darker, more pessimistic views about what lies ahead of us. “I am not about despair, but I am leaving hope up to someone else,” one young man told me. A friend who consults with businesses on sustainability no longer believes that her work will have any impact on the near future. She says she is working for people in the far distant future—the small group of humans who will survive whatever comes next.  And responding to a climate question in a lecture on gardening, writer Jamaica Kincaid shrugged her shoulders and said: we are ephemeral. The world lasts. People don’t.

For an optimist who lives by the saying, “hope is the ability to hear the music of the future. Faith is dancing to its tune,” this was hard to take.  But my friends who hear a dirge have a point. Maybe our actions have little immediate impact. Maybe no one cares. Maybe temperatures will rise, rainfall decrease, ocean currents change direction, disasters overwhelm us, and our era on earth draw to a close. We don’t know. Instead of being optimistic or pessimistic, we can let go of the outcome, and strive to make choices now and live in ways today that care for the earth and its future residents.

Weeds are growing in the Little Arkansas River bed. Wells are dry.  The Kansans at this weekend’s Glocal Mission Gathering can only pray for rain. Act on their new-found solidarity with people contending with drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. Remember that God is good, and turn off the tap water.

Thank you for your hopeful music, Kansas. May it rain soon.

Anne Basye, Sustaining Simplicity

Haiti through Andrew’s Eyes

The news from the earthquake in Haiti permeates our media and our hearts.  When we turn on the television there are images of death and destruction, and for some loss and despair.  At times like this hope can seem hard to grasp.  Andrew Brown is a former classmate of mine at California Lutheran University; his numerous trips to Haiti have greatly impacted his life and deepened his faith.  I was able to ask him a few questions about his experiences.  I hope that his answers help to paint for you a living picture of the country and it’s people.  Please read on as Andrew helps us to see into the heart of Haiti.

How many times have you been to Haiti and what did you do while you were there?

Andrew: I have been to Haiti on four different occasions.  My first three trips I took to Haiti were work trips focused on building an orphanage, hospital, and school for children living just outside downtown Port-Au-Prince.  My last trip, however, was to visit friends and film their stories for a documentary.  All of my trips to Haiti have been extremely humbling experiences and root my life again in Christ’s work.

What is your favorite memory from your time there?

Andrew: Where to begin.  I think my favorite memories are the times I get to share with my Haitian friends.  Leonard is a Haitian man who works as a “Taxi driver” in Haiti.  He is usually our driver when we are in Haiti working or visiting.  Leonard is the kindest man I have ever met.  The times I have been able to share with Leonard fill my life with purpose to be a better person.  You often hear him shouting the Lord’s praise in song on our car rides or simply shouting, “No problem!!!”  Each time I have been to Haiti he has kindly opened his home to my friends and I.  It is somewhat dangerous for a Haitian to open his house to white people as it puts a target on them as being rich, or privileged.  Leonard does not care.  We are his friends.  And he opens his home for us because God called us to do so.  The faith Leonard demonstrates is often incomprehensible.

My other memory, although a little more difficult to understand are the times I have spent in hospitals and orphanages.  Holding children who are very ill or massaging lotion onto the dying.  I never realized how my hands, how my presence, could soothe a crying child, or calm a dying man.  I get to be Jesus for a moment and feel the presence of him through my hands.  Those little moments are always in my heart and resonate with me whenever pain and sadness exist.

How has your experience in Haiti impacted your life?

Andrew: The relationships I have built with Haitian friends over the years continues to impact my life everyday.  Many of the men and women I have met have very little by world standards.  But yet I find myself being called to become a better person because of the faith they have in God.  It has caused me to remember their faces and in time of trial praise God for all of the blessings in my life.  The people of Haiti have instilled a sense of urgency to serve.  Since the moment I arrived in Haiti, I have not forgotten their faces or their smiles.  I feel called to give my time, my talent, and my gifts to the Lord who has created me.  The people of Haiti have taught me what it means to love unconditionally, and to have faith in a God who’s plan isn’t always prevalent.

What is one thing we should all know about the people of Haiti?

Andrew: The people of Haiti are some of the most incredible people I have ever met.  They have literally been plagued by corruption, famine, poverty, and injustice for 200 years, and yet continue to love each other and their country so much.  The people of Haiti are good.  They will give you the shirt off their back, even if it is their last.  Haitians are the hardest working people I have ever encountered.  They will prosper and they will succeed.

Have you personally heard any updates from people you know in Haiti? Would you be willing to share?

Andrew: I have a very close friend who has been working in Haiti since Thanksgiving of 2009.  I received word this morning through Facebook that she has been working around the clock at a make shift outdoor clinic.

From her Facebook: “I know very little other than I am ok. We are working through the night at an outdoor clinic. 3 hours of sleep since the incident. I have to be honest it is kind of terrifying to be here. It is a total battelfield. My heart races all the time. Thanks so much for your prayers.”

Other than Joanna, I have heard various reports of other friends in Haiti being safe, but the news is very scarce.  It could be many days before I am able to really understand the gravity of loss to the great people of Haiti.  Their words are piercing.  But God is good and in control.

How does your faith affect your response to the recent earthquake in Haiti?

Andrew: I think in any time of catastrophe, our faith is challenged.  We ask ourselves, “why do bad things happen?”  I don’t know that I have that answer, but I do know that God is good.  Faith is something you cannot see, and the basis of faith is to trust in the Lord in times like these.  That is what faith is built for, times of darkness and hurting.  So although it can become easy to question God and His plan, your faith grows exponentially in times of trails.  God allows us to suffer because it unlocks our ability to love unconditionally.  When we struggle we are able to love without question.  We come together, separate our differences, and remember the common good of humanity.

Is there is anything else that you would like to offer?

Andrew: “‘I may have lost a loved one, but also I may have lost my country.’ You feel so sad, terribly sad. Everyone does. But Haiti’s the kind of place where people develop an incredibly strong will. The motto of Haiti is ‘L’union fait la force’: ‘in unity there is strength.'”  -Haitian-born American novelist Edwidge Danticat

If you are comfortable, would you please write a short prayer that readers could pray for the people of Haiti?

Andrew’s Prayer: Father, the people of Haiti are hurting.  They are crying out in pain asking for your healing.  May your hand come down on them and provide them the strength they will need to rebuild their country.  May you comfort those who have lost everything.  Father, may you sing praise through the streets of rubble that Your will be done and you are present in every corner of their country.  Father, give strength to the rescue teams.  Father, bring compassion to the world and give us the desire to share our resources necessary for healing and rebuilding.  Just be present Lord.  In any way.  Haiti needs you.  The world needs you.  May we remember the unconditional Love you give us in these days of hurt.  Be with us now and forever. Amen.

Andrew currently resides in California; he is still a member at the church where he grew up, Calvary Lutheran Church, Golden Valley, MN

You can help make a difference today. Please consider making a donation to help the ELCA’s efforts in Haiti. We are currently working with the Lutheran World Federation. Our partners in Haiti have survived the quake and are already working on the ground. Please make all donations directly at You can also read more information and download bulletin inserts for Sunday here. Thank you for your gifts and your prayers.