Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Week of Prayer for Christian & Interfaith Unity

Though I realize that the emphasis of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is largely Christian in nature, personally I find it more and more difficult to think in such limited terms. For me the desire for unity and wholeness among believers needs to be all-inclusive and to embrace all people of religious faith. It's hard enough working for common tolerance and understanding among the Christian churches, some of whom appear to be "Christian" in name only, to judge by some of the social and political stances they're taking these days! The ecumenical picture and vision, I believe, is much larger.

The Graymoor Friars in New York have spearheaded the annual celebration and the ecumenical movement for a long time. Graymoor has continued to issue the annual materials for celebrating the Week of Prayer. Its introduction of the 2012 theme says this: "The material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2012 was prepared by a working group composed of representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and Old Catholic and Protestant Churches active in Poland. 

Following extensive discussions in which the representatives of various ecumenical circles in Poland took part, it was decided to focus on a theme that is concerned with the transformative power of faith in Christ, particularly in relation to our praying for the visible unity of the Church, the Body of Christ. This was based on St. Paul's words to the Corinthian Church which speaks of the temporary nature of our present lives (with all its apparent "victory" and "defeat") in comparison to what we receive through the victory of Christ through the Paschal mystery."

The first reading in Morning Prayer (Ezechiel 3:4-11) for this day's commemoration of the Confession of St. Peter certainly gives ancient testimony to the difficulty of fostering unity among followers of the one God and of his Son, Jesus the Christ: "He said to me: Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them. For you are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel— not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. See, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. Like the hardest stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not fear them or be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. He said to me: Mortal, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart and hear with your ears; then go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them. Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’; whether they hear or refuse to hear." (Emphasis mine)

The Christian Church finds it no less difficult today to allow "[God's] very words to them" to be spoken, much less acted upon and lived. We followers of Jesus too often exhibit "a hard forehead and a stubborn heart", displaying ourselves to the world as "a rebellious house", rather than as determined bearers of the compassion, justice and peace of a loving God.

Perhaps we can take to heart, on this first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian & Interfaith Unity, the reflection suggested in the Graymoor material:

Day One: Changed by the Servant Christ
The Son of Man came to serve (cf. Mark 10:45)

On this day we encounter Jesus, on the road to victory through service. We see him as the "one who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life, a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Consequently, the Church of Jesus Christ is a serving community. The use of our diverse gifts in common service to humanity makes visible our unity in Christ.

What opportunities for service are most threatened by pride and arrogance?
What should be done to ensure that all Christian ministries are better experienced as service?
In our community, what can Christians of different traditions do better together than in isolation to reveal the Servant Christ?

Lord God, we thank you for sending your Son Jesus Christ to gather all peoples 
into the one communion of love and life through your Holy Spirit.
We thank you for reminding us in our day to extend every effort
to maintain the unity of the followers of Christ for which he so fervently prayed.
We ask today that this unity, this gift of the Holy Spirit, be so renewed
among our churches that they will overcome obstacles that hinder
a fuller expression of this gift and prevent a stronger witness to your love in Christ,
through the Spirit with whom You live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

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