Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
A “Festival of Prayer” will take place in Winnipeg January 23 – 30, 2011 to mark the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The theme for the week is “One in the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer” (cf. Acts 2:42). The Christians of the Holy Land invite us to recall the origins of the first church in Jerusalem. The 2011 theme is a call for inspiration and renewal, a return to the essentials of the faith, and to remember the marks of the early Christian community when the church was still one.
Read further for a list of dates and locations,
or follow with us with the material below.
Sunday, January 23 @ 7:30 pm
City-Wide Ecumenical Worship Service (with Church Leaders)
St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, 250 Jefferson Avenue (West Kildonan), Telephone 339-4512
Monday, January 24 @ 7:30 pm
Southlands Community Church (The Salvation Army), 85 Keslar Road (Kirkbridge Park), Telephone 946-9160
Tuesday, January 25 @ 7:30 pm
The Parish Church of St. Luke (Anglican), 130 Nassau Street N. (Osborne Village), Telephone 452-3609
Wednesday, January 26 @ 7:30 pm
Churches in North East Winnipeg (service hosted by area churches)
Bronx Park Community Centre, 720 Henderson Highway
For further info: contact St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Telephone 661-2432, email@example.com
Thursday, January 27 @ 7:30 pm
Fort Garry Mennonite Brethren Church, 1771 Pembina Highway (Fort Garry), Telephone 269-5940
Friday, January 28 @ 7:30 pm
Ecumenical Youth Ministry Leaders (Contemporary Worship)
St. Mary’s Academy, 550 Wellington Crescent
For further info: contact Erin Kinsella, Telephone 452-2227 ext 273, firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, January 29 @ 6:00 pm
Vespers in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tradition
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Debre Genet St. Mary’s Church, 353 Mountain Avenue (North End), Telephone 219-4949, email@example.com
Sunday, January 30 @ 7:30 pm
Westwood Presbyterian Church, 197 Browning Boulevard (Westwood), Telephone 837-5706
The search for unity: throughout the year
The traditional period in the northern hemisphere for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is 18-25 January. Those dates were proposed in 1908 by Paul Wattson to cover the days between the feasts of St Peter and St Paul, and therefore have a symbolic significance. In the southern hemisphere where January is a vacation time churches often find other days to celebrate the week of prayer, for example around Pentecost (suggested by the Faith and Order movement in 1926), which is also a symbolic date for the unity of the church.
pray together for that full unity which is Christ’s will
Mindful of this flexibility concerning the date, we encourage you to understand the material presented here as an invitation to find opportunities throughout the whole year to express the degree of communion which the churches have already reached, and to pray together for that full unity which is Christ’s will.
Those who wish to pray privately may find the material helpful for focusing their prayer intentions. They can be mindful that they are in communion with others praying all around the world for the greater visible unity of Christ’s church.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (NRSV)
Introduction to the theme for the year 2011:
The church in Jerusalem,
yesterday, today, tomorrow
Two thousand years ago, the first disciples of Christ gathered in Jerusalem experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and were joined together in unity as the body of Christ. In that event, Christians of every time and place see their origin as a community of the faithful, called together to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Although that earliest Jerusalem church experienced difficulties, both externally and internally, its members persevered in faithfulness and fellowship, in breaking bread and prayers.
It is not difficult to see how the situation of the first Christians in the Holy City mirrors that of the church in Jerusalem today. The current community experiences many of the joys and sorrows of the early church; its injustice and inequality, and its divisions, but also its faithful perseverance, and recognition of a wider unity among Christians. The churches in Jerusalem today offer us a vision of what it means to strive for unity, even amid great problems. They show us that the call to unity can be more than mere words, and indeed that it can point us toward a future where we anticipate and help build the heavenly Jerusalem.
We are ready enough to pray for unity, but that can become a substitute for action to bring it about.
Realism is required to make reality of such a vision. The responsibility for our divisions lies with us; they are the results of our own actions. We need to change our prayer, asking God to change us so that we may actively work for unity. We are ready enough to pray for unity, but that can become a substitute for action to bring it about. Is it possible that we ourselves are blocking the Holy Spirit because we are the obstacles to unity; that our own hubris prevents unity?
The call for unity this year comes to churches all over the world from Jerusalem, the mother church. Mindful of its own divisions and its own need to do more for the unity of the Body of Christ, the churches in Jerusalem calls all Christians to rediscover the values that bound together the early Christian community in Jerusalem, when they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. This is the challenge before us.
The Christians of Jerusalem call upon their brothers and sisters to make this week of prayer an occasion for a renewed commitment to work for a genuine ecumenism, grounded in the experience of the early Church.
Four elements of unity
The 2011 prayers for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by Christians in Jerusalem, who chose as a theme Acts 2:42, ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.’ This theme is a call back to the origins of the first church in Jerusalem; it is a call for inspiration and renewal, a return to the essentials of the faith; it is a call to remember the time when the church was still one. Within this theme four elements are presented which were marks of the early Christian community, and which are essential to the life of the Christian Community wherever it exists.
Firstly, the Word was passed on by the apostles. Secondly, fellowship (koinonia) was an important mark of the early believers whenever they met together. A third mark of the early Church was the celebration of the Eucharist (the ‘breaking of the bread’), remembering the New Covenant which Jesus has enacted in his suffering, death and resurrection. The fourth aspect is the offering of constant prayer. These four elements are the pillars of the life of the church, and of its unity.
The Christian Community in the Holy Land wishes to give prominence to these basic essentials as it raises its prayers to God for the unity and vitality of the church throughout the world. The Christians of Jerusalem invite their sisters and brothers around the world to join them in prayer as they struggle for justice, peace and prosperity for all people of the land.
The themes of the eight days
There is a journey of faith that can be discerned in the themes of the eight days. From its first beginnings in the upper room, the early Christian community experiences the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, enabling it to grow in faith and unity, in prayer and in action, so that it truly becomes a community of the Resurrection, united with Christ in his victory over all that divides us from each other and from him. The church in Jerusalem then itself becomes a beacon of hope, a foretaste of the heavenly Jerusalem, called to reconcile not just our churches but all peoples. This journey is guided by the Holy Spirit, who brings the early Christians to the knowledge of the truth about Jesus Christ, and who fills the early Church with signs and wonders, to the amazement of many. As they continue their journey, the Christians of Jerusalem gather with devotion to listen to the Word of God set forth in the apostles’ teaching, and come together in fellowship to celebrate their faith in sacrament and prayer. Filled with the power and hope of the Resurrection, the community celebrates its certain victory over sin and death, so that it has the courage and vision to be itself a tool of reconciliation, inspiring and challenging all people to overcome the divisions and injustice that oppress them.
…the early Christian community experiences the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, enabling it to grow in faith and unity, in prayer and in action, so that it truly becomes a community of the Resurrection, united with Christ in his victory over all that divides us from each other and from him. The church in Jerusalem then itself becomes a beacon of hope, a foretaste of the heavenly Jerusalem, called to reconcile not just our churches but all peoples.
Day 1 sets forth the background to the mother church of Jerusalem, making clear its continuity with the church throughout the world today. It reminds us of the courage of the early church as it boldly witnessed to the truth, just as we today need to work for justice in Jerusalem, and in the rest of the world.
Day 2 recalls that the first community united at Pentecost contained within itself many diverse origins, just as the church in Jerusalem today represents a rich diversity of Christian traditions. Our challenge today is to achieve greater visible unity in ways that embrace our differences and traditions.
Day 3 looks at the first essential element of unity; the Word of God delivered through the teaching of the apostles. The church in Jerusalem reminds us that, whatever our divisions, these teachings urge us to devote ourselves in love to each other, and in faithfulness to the one body which is the church.
Day 4 emphasises Sharing as the second expression of unity. Just as the early Christians held all things in common, the Church in Jerusalem calls upon all brothers and sisters in the church to share goods and burdens with glad and generous hearts, so that nobody stays in need.
Day 5 expresses the third element of unity; the Breaking of the Bread, which joins us in hope. Our unity goes beyond Holy Communion; it must include a right attitude towards ethical living, the human person and the whole community. The Jerusalem church urges Christians to unite in “the breaking of bread” today, because a divided church cannot speak out with authority on issues of Justice and Peace.
Day 6 presents the fourth mark of unity; with the church in Jerusalem, we draw strength from spending time in prayer. Specifically, the Lord’s Prayer calls all of us in Jerusalem and throughout the world, the weak and the mighty, to work together for justice, peace and unity that God’s Kingdom may come.
Day 7 takes us beyond the four elements of unity, as the Jerusalem church joyfully proclaims the Resurrection even while it bears the pain of the Cross. The Resurrection of Jesus is for Christians in Jerusalem today hope and strength that enables them to remain constant in their witness, working for freedom and peace in the City of Peace.
Day 8 concludes the journey with a call from the Jerusalem churches to the wider service of reconciliation. Even if Christians achieve unity among themselves, their work is not done, for they need to reconcile themselves with others. In the Jerusalem context this means Palestinian and Israeli; in other communities, Christians are challenged to seek justice and reconciliation in their own context.
The theme of each day has therefore been chosen not only to recall for us of the history of the early church, but also to bring to mind the experiences of Christians in Jerusalem today, and to invite us all to reflect upon how we may bring that experience into the lives of our local Christian communities. During this journey of eight days, the Christians of Jerusalem invite us to proclaim and bear witness that Unity – in its fullest sense of faithfulness to the Apostles’ teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers – will enable us together to overcome evil, not just in Jerusalem, but throughout the world.
A.: May the blessing of the God of peace and justice be with us;
May the blessing of the Son
Who weeps the tears of the world’s suffering be with us;
And may the blessing of the Spirit
who inspires us to reconciliation and hope be with us
from now into eternity.
Biblical reflections and prayers for the ‘eight days’
Day 1 – The Church in Jerusalem
Joel 2:21-22, 28-29 I will pour out my spirit on all flesh
Psalm 46 God is in the midst of the city
Acts 2:1-12 When the day of Pentecost had come
John 14:15-21 This is the spirit of truth
The journey of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, at the beginning of the Church’s own journey. The theme of this week is “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” The “they” is the earliest Church of Jerusalem born on the day of the Pentecost when the Advocate, the Spirit of truth descended upon the first believers, as promised by God through the prophet the Joel, and by the Lord Jesus on the night before his suffering and death. All who live in continuity with the day of Pentecost live in continuity with the earliest Church of Jerusalem with it leader St James. This church is the mother church of us all. It provides the image or icon of the Christian unity for which we pray this week. According to an ancient eastern tradition, the succession of the church comes through continuity with the first Christian community of Jerusalem. The Church of Jerusalem in apostolic times is linked with the heavenly Church of Jerusalem, which in turn becomes the icon of all Christian churches. The sign of continuity with the Church of Jerusalem for all the churches is maintaining the “marks” of the first Christian community through our devotion to the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”
The present Church of Jerusalem lives in continuity with the apostolic Church of Jerusalem particularly in its costly witness to the truth. Its witness to the gospel and its struggles against inequality and injustice reminds us that prayer for Christian unity is inseparable from prayer for peace and justice.
Almighty and Merciful God, with great power you gathered together the first Christians in the city of Jerusalem, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, defying the earthly power of the Roman empire. Grant that, like this first church in Jerusalem, we may come together to be bold in preaching and living the good news of reconciliation and peace, wherever there is inequality and injustice. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who liberates us from the bondage of sin and death. Amen.
Day 2 – Many Members in One Body
Isaiah 55:1-4 Come to the waters
Psalm 85:8-13 Surely salvation is at hand
1 Corinthians 12:12-27 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body
John 15:1-13 I am the true vine
prayer for Christian unity cannot be for uniformity, because unity from the beginning has been characterized by rich diversity
The Church of Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles is the model of the unity we seek today. As such, it reminds us that prayer for Christian unity cannot be for uniformity, because unity from the beginning has been characterized by rich diversity. The Church of Jerusalem is the model or icon of unity in diversity.
The narrative of Pentecost in the Book of Acts’ tells us that there were represented in Jerusalem on that day all the languages and cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world and beyond, people who heard the gospel in their diverse languages, and who through the preaching of Peter were united to each other in repentance, in the waters of baptism, and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Or, as St Paul would later write, “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” It is not a uniform community of the likeminded, culturally and linguistically united people who were one in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, but a richly diverse community, whose differences could easily erupt into controversy. Such was the case between the Hellenists and the Hebrew Christians over the neglect of the Greek widows, as St Luke relates in Acts 6.1. And yet the Jerusalem church was at unity within itself, and one with the Risen Lord who says “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”
Rich diversity characterizes the churches in Jerusalem to this day, as it does around the world. It can easily erupt into controversy in Jerusalem, accentuated by the current hostile political climate.
But like the earliest Jerusalem church, Christians in Jerusalem today remind us that we are many members of one body, a unity in diversity. Ancient traditions teach us that diversity and unity exist in the heavenly Jerusalem. They remind us that difference and diversity are not the same as division and disunity, and that the Christian unity for which we pray always preserves authentic diversity.
God, from whom all life flows in its rich diversity, you call your Church as the Body of Christ to be united in love. May we learn more deeply our unity in diversity, and strive to work together to preach, and build up the Kingdom of your abundant love to all, while accompanying each other in each place, and in all places. May we always be mindful of Christ as the source of our life together. We pray in the unity of the Spirit. Amen.
Day 3 – Devotion to the Apostles’ Teaching Unites Us
Isaiah 51:4-8 Listen to me, my people
Psalm 119:105-112 Your word is a lamp to my feet
Romans 1:15-17 Eagerness to proclaim the gospel
John 17:6-19 I have made your name known
The Church of Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles was united in its devotion to the apostles’ teaching, despite the great diversity of language and culture amongst its members. The apostles’ teaching is their witness to the life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Their teaching is what St Paul simply calls “the gospel.” The apostles’ teaching, as exemplified by St Peter’s preaching in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. In his use of the prophet Joel, he connects the Church with the biblical story of the people of God, drawing us into the narrative that begins in creation itself.
Despite divisions the Word of God gathers and unites us.
Despite divisions the Word of God gathers and unites us. The apostles’ teaching, the good news in all its fullness, was at the centre of unity in diversity of the first Church of Jerusalem. Christians in Jerusalem remind us today that it is not simply the “apostles’ teaching” that the united earliest church, but devotion to that teaching. Such devotion is reflected in St Paul identifying the gospel as “the power of God for salvation.”
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s teaching is inseparable from God’s “justice for a light to the peoples.” Or, as the psalmist prays, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.”
God of Light, we give you thanks for the revelation of your truth in Jesus Christ, your Living Word, which we have received through the apostles’ teaching, first heard at Jerusalem. May your Holy Spirit continue to sanctify us in the truth of your Son, so that united in Him we may grow in devotion to the Word, and together serve your Kingdom in humility and love. In Christ’s name
we pray. Amen.
Day 4 – Sharing, an Expression of Our Unity
Isaiah 58:6-10 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
Psalm 37:1-11 Trust in the Lord and do good
Acts 4:32-37 Everything they owned was held in common
Matthew 6:25-34 Strive first for the kingdom of God
The sign of continuity with the apostolic Church of Jerusalem is “devotion to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” The Church of Jerusalem today, however, recalls to us the practical consequences of such devotion – sharing. The Acts of the Apostles states simply that “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute to all, as any had need” (Acts 2.44-45). Today’s reading from the Book of Acts links such radical sharing with the powerful apostolic “testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” The later Imperial Roman persecutors of the Church would note with certain accuracy: “see how they love one another.”
Such a sharing of resources characterizes the life of Christian people in Jerusalem today. It is a sign of their continuity with the first Christians; it is a sign and a challenge to all the churches. It links proclamation of the Gospel, the celebration of the Eucharist and the fellowship (or communion) of the Christian community with radical equality and justice for all. In so far as such sharing is a testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and a sign of continuity with the apostolic Church of Jerusalem, it is equally a sign of our unity with one another. There are many ways of sharing. There is the radical sharing of the apostolic church where nobody was left in need. There is the sharing of one another’s burdens, struggles, pain and suffering. There is the sharing in one another’s joys and achievements, blessings and healing. There is also the sharing of gifts and insights from one church tradition to another even in our separation from another, an “ecumenical exchange of gifts.” Such generous sharing is a practical consequence of our devotion to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship; it is a consequence of our prayer for Christian unity.
God of Justice, your giving is without bounds. We thank you that you have given what we need, so that all may be fed, clothed and housed. Guard us from the selfish sin of hoarding, and inspire us to be instruments of love, sharing all that you give us, as a witness to your generosity and justice. As followers of Christ, lead us to act together in places of want: where families are driven from their homes, where the vulnerable suffer at the hands of the powerful, where poverty and unemployment destroy lives. We pray in the name of Jesus, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Day 5 – Breaking the Bread in Hope
Exodus 16: 13b-21a It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat
Psalm:116: 12-14.16-18 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
1 Corinthians 11:17-18.23-26 Do this in remembrance of me
John 6:53-58 This is the bread that came down from heaven…
From the first Church at Jerusalem until now, the ‘breaking of bread’ has been a central act for Christians. For the Christians of Jerusalem today, the sharing of bread traditionally speaks of friendship, forgiveness and commitment to the other. We are challenged in this breaking of bread to seek a unity that can speak prophetically to a world of divisions. This is the world by which we have all, in different ways, been shaped. In the breaking of bread Christians are formed anew for the prophetic message of hope for all humankind. Today we, too, break bread ‘with glad and generous hearts’; but we also experience, at each celebration of the Eucharist, a painful reminder of our disunity. On this fifth day of the Week of Prayer, the Christians of Jerusalem gather in the Upper Room, the place of the Last Supper. Here, whilst they do not celebrate the Eucharist, they break bread in hope.
We learn this hope in the ways God reaches out to us in the wilderness of our own discontent. Exodus relates how God responds to the grumbling of the people he has liberated, by providing them with what they need – no more, and no less. The manna in the desert is a gift of God, not to be hoarded, nor even fully understood. It is, as our Psalm celebrates, a moment which calls simply for thanksgiving – for God ‘has loosened our bonds’.
What St. Paul recognises is that to break the bread means not only to celebrate the Eucharist, but to be a Eucharistic people – to become Christ’s Body in the world. This short reading stands, in its context (1 Cor 10 – 11) as a reminder of how the Christian community is to live: in communion in Christ, determining right behaviour in a difficult worldly context, guided by the reality of our life in Him. We live “in remembrance of him.”
As a people of the breaking of bread, we are a people of eternal life – life in its fullness – as the reading from St. John teaches us. Our celebration of Eucharist challenges us to reflect on how such an abundant gift of life is expressed day to day as we live in hope as well as in difficulties. In spite of the daily challenges for the Christians in Jerusalem, they witness to how it is possible to rejoice in hope.
God of Hope, we praise you for your gift to us of the Lord’s Supper, where, in the Spirit, we continue to meet your Son Jesus Christ, the living bread from heaven. Forgive our unworthiness of this great gift – our living in factions, our collusion with inequalities, our complacency in separation. Lord, we pray that you will hasten the day when your whole church together shares the breaking of the bread, and that, as we wait for that day, we may learn more deeply to be a people formed by the Eucharist for service to the world. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Day 6 – Empowered to Action in Prayer
Jonah 2:1-9 Deliverance belongs to the Lord!
Psalm 67:1-7 Let the peoples praise you, O God!
1Timothy 2:1-8 …prayers should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions…
Matthew 6:5-15 Your kingdom come, your will be done…
it is prayer that empowers Christians for mission together
Following devotion to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship and the breaking of the bread, the fourth mark of the earliest Church of Jerusalem is the life of prayer. It is experienced today as the necessary source of the power and strength needed by Christians in Jerusalem – as everywhere. The witness of Christians in Jerusalem today calls us to a deeper recognition of the ways we face situations of injustice and inequality in our own contexts. In all this, it is prayer that empowers Christians for mission together.
For Jonah the intensity of his prayer is met with dramatic deliverance from the belly of the fish. His prayer is heartfelt, as it arises from his own sense of repentance at having tried to avoid God’s will: he has abandoned the Lord’s call to prophesy, and ended up in a hopeless place. And here God meets his prayer with deliverance for his mission. The Psalm calls us to pray that God’s face will shine upon us – not only for our own benefit, but for the spread of His rule ‘among all the nations’.
The apostolic Church reminds us that prayer is a part of the strength and power of mission and prophecy for the world. Paul’s letter to Timothy here instructs us to pray especially for those with power in the world so that we may live together in peace and dignity. We pray for the unity of our societies, and lands, and for the unity of all humanity in God. Our prayer for our unity in Christ reaches out to the whole world.
This dynamic life of prayer is rooted in the Lord’s teaching to his disciples. In our reading from Matthew’s Gospel we hear of prayer as a ‘secret’ power, born not from display or performance, but from humble coming before the Lord. Jesus’ teaching is summed up in the Lord’s Prayer. Praying this together forms us as a united people who seek the Father’s will, and the building up of His Kingdom here on earth, and calls us to a life of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Lord God our Father, we rejoice that in all times, places and cultures, there are people who reach out to you in prayer. Above all we thank you for the example and teaching of your Son, Jesus Christ, who has taught us to long in prayer for the coming of your Kingdom. Teach us to pray better as Christians together, so that we may always be aware of your guidance and encouragement through all our joys and distress, through the power your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Day 7 – Living in Resurrection Faith
Isaiah 60: 1-3 . 18-22 You shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates, Praise
Psalm: 118:1. 5-17 I shall not die, but I shall live
Roman 6: 3-11 …we have been buried with Christ by baptism into death…so we too might walk in newness of life
Matthew 28:1-10 Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid…
The light and hope of the Resurrection changes everything.
The first Christians’ devotion to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of the bread and the prayers was made possible, above all, by the living power of the Risen Jesus. This power is living still, and today’s Jerusalem Christians witness to this. Whatever the difficulties of the present situation in which they find themselves – however much it feels like Gethsemane and Golgotha – they know in faith that all is made new by the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The light and hope of the Resurrection changes everything. As Isaiah prophesies, it is the transformation of darkness into light; it is an enlightening for all peoples. The power of the Resurrection shines out from Jerusalem, the place of the Lord’s Passion, and draws all nations to its brightness. This is a new life, in which violence is put aside, and security found in salvation and praise.
In the Psalm we are given words to celebrate the central Christian experience of passing from death to life. This is the abiding sign of God’s steadfast love. This passing from the terrors of death into new life is the defining reality of all Christians. For, as St. Paul teaches, we have, in baptism, entered into the tomb with Christ, and been raised with Him. We have died with Christ, and live to share his risen life. And so we can see the world differently – with compassion, patience, love and hope; for, in Christ the present struggles can never be the whole story. Even as divided Christians, we know that the baptism that unites us is a bearing of the Cross in the light of the Resurrection.
For the Christian Gospel this resurrection life is not some mere concept or helpful idea; it is rooted in a vivid event in time and space. It is this event we hear recounted in the Gospel reading with great humanity and drama. From Jerusalem the Risen Lord sends greetings to His disciples across the ages, calling us to follow Him without fear. He goes ahead of us.
God, Protector of the widow, the orphan and the stranger – in a world where many know despair, you raised your Son Jesus to give hope for humanity and renewal to the earth. Continue to strengthen and unify your Church in its struggles against the forces of death in the world, where violence against creation and humanity obscures the hope of the new life you offer. This we pray in the name of the Risen Lord, in the power of His Spirit. Amen.
Day 8 – Called for the Service of Reconciliation
Genesis 33:1-4 Esau ran to meet Jacob, and embraced him…and they wept
Psalm: 96:1-13 Say among the nations, ‘The Lord is King!’
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 God…reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation
Matthew 5:21-26 Leave your gift before the altar, and go: first be reconciled to your brother or sister…
Our prayers of this week have taken us on a journey together. Guided by the scriptures, we have been called to return to our Christian origins – that apostolic Church at Jerusalem. Here we have seen devotion – to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. At the end of our reflections on the ideal of Christian community presented to us in Acts 2:42, we return to our own contexts – the realities of divisions, discontents, disappointments and injustices. At this point the Church of Jerusalem poses us the question: to what, then, as we conclude this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are we called, here and now?
we are called, above all, to the service of reconciliation
Christians in Jerusalem today suggest an answer to us: we are called, above all, to the service of reconciliation. Such a call concerns reconciliation on many levels, and across a complexity of divisions. We pray for Christian unity so that the Church might be a sign and instrument for the healing of political and structural divisions and injustices; for the just and peaceful living together of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim peoples; for the growing in understanding between people of all faiths and none. In our personal and family lives, too, the call to reconciliation must find a response.
Jacob and Esau, in the Genesis text, are brothers, yet estranged. Their reconciliation comes even when enduring conflict might have been expected. Violence and the habits of anger are put aside as the brothers meet and weep together.
The recognition of our unity as Christians – and indeed as human beings – before God leads us into the Psalm’s great song of praise for the Lord who rules the world with loving justice. In Christ, God seeks to reconcile to Himself all peoples. In describing this, St. Paul, in our second reading, celebrates a life of reconciliation as “ a new creation”. The call to reconcile is the call to allow God’s power in us to make all things new.
Once again, we know that this ‘good news’ calls us to change the way we live. As Jesus challenges us, in the account given by St. Matthew, we cannot go on making offerings at the altar, in the knowledge that we are responsible for divisions or injustices. The call to prayer for Christian unity is a call to reconciliation. The call to reconciliation is a call to actions – even actions which interrupt our church activities.
God of Peace, we thank you that you sent your Son Jesus, so that we might be reconciled to yourself in Him. Give us the grace to be effective servants of reconciliation within our churches. In this way help us to serve the reconciliation of all peoples, particularly in your Holy Land – the place where you demolish the wall of separation between peoples, and unite everyone in the Body of Jesus, sacrificed on Mount Calvary. Fill us with love for one another; may our unity serve the reconciliation that you desire for all creation. We pray in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
Lord make me a channel of your Peace
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.
Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there’s sadness, ever joy.
Make me a channel of your peace
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
In giving to all men that we receive
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.
(Prayer attributed to St. Francis)