Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2009
Theme: That they may become one in your hand.
(Ezekiel 37:15-19, 22-24a)

The eight days: January 18-25, 2009
Biblical readings, commentary, and prayer for each day
(originating from the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity* and the World Council of Churches' Faith and Order Commission)
Technical note: Do NOT print with Google Chrome, as bottom of page may be truncated. Best if printed with Firefox.

Flowing from the central text taken from Ezekiel, our reflection during the “eight days” of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity brings us to a deeper awareness of how the unity of the church is also for the sake of the renewal of human community. With this awareness comes a grave responsibility: that all those who confess Christ as Lord should seek to fulfil his prayer “that they may all be one so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17: 21).

This is why the eight days begin with a reflection on the unity of Christians. Contemplating our doctrinal divisions, and our scandalous history of separation - and sometimes even hatred - among Christians, we pray that the God who breathes the Spirit of life into dry bones, and who moulds in his hands our unity amidst diversity, will breathe life and reconciliation upon our dryness and division today.

On this Day 1 and each of the eight days, we are invited to pray for situations in our world where reconciliation is needed, especially attentive to the role that the unity of Christians will play in bringing about this reconciliation.

On Day 2 the churches will pray for an overcoming and end to war and violence. We pray that as disciples of the Prince of Peace, Christians in the midst of conflicts can bring about a reconciliation rooted in hope.

Day 3 will offer a meditation on the great disparity between the rich and the poor. Our relationship to money, our attitude toward the poor, is a gauge of our discipleship in the following of Jesus, who came among us to set us free and to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to slaves and justice for all.

The intention of Day 4 prays that Christians will realize that only together will they be able to protect the gifts that God gives us in creation, the air that we breathe, the earth that bears fruit and the creation that glorifies its maker.

On Day 5 we pray for the cessation of prejudice and discrimination that mark our societies today. As we recognize that our dignity comes from God, our unity as Christians witnesses to the unity of the one who creates each of us as a unique being of God’s love. The kingdom that we are called to build up is one of justice and love that respects difference because in Christ we are all one.

On Day 6 we remember in prayer all those who suffer and those who serve them. The psalms help us to see that language of crying out to God in pain or in anger can be an expression of a deep and faithful relationship with God. The merciful response of Christians to the plight of those who suffer is a sign of the kingdom. Together Christian churches can make a difference in helping to obtain for the sick the support they need, both material and spiritual.

Day 7 finds Christians confronted with pluralism praying for their unity in God. Without that unity it will be difficult to build a kingdom of peace with all men and women of good will.

Our prayer intentions come full circle on Day 8 when we pray that the spirit of the Beatitudes will overcome the spirit of this world. Christians carry the hope that all things are being made new in a new order established by Christ. This enables Christians to be bearers of hope and artisans of reconciliation in the midst of wars, poverty, discrimination, and other contexts where human beings suffer and creation is groaning.

Biblical reflections and prayers for the eight days

Day 1

Christian communities face to face with old and new divisions
“that they may become one in your hand” (Ezek 37)

Ezek 37: 15-19, 22-24a One in your hand
Ps 103: 8-13, or 18 The Lord is merciful and gracious, ...abounding in steadfast love
1 Cor 3: 3-7, 21-23 Jealousy and quarrelling among you... you belong to Christ
Jn 17: 17-21 That they may all be one... so that the world may believe

Commentary

Christians are called to be instruments of God’s steadfast and reconciling love in a world marked by various kinds of separation and alienation. Baptised in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and professing faith in the crucified and risen Christ, we are a people who belong to Christ, a people sent forth to be Christ’s body in and for the world. Christ prayed for this for his disciples: may they be one, so that the world may believe.

Divisions between Christians on fundamental matters of faith and Christian discipleship seriously wound our ability to witness before the world. In Korea, as in many other nations, the Christian gospel was brought by conflicting voices, speaking a discordant proclamation of the Good News. There is a temptation to see current divisions, with their accompanying background of conflicts, as a natural legacy of our Christian history, rather than as an internal contradiction of the message that God has reconciled the world in Christ.

Ezekiel’s vision of two sticks, inscribed with the names of the divided kingdoms of ancient Israel, becoming one in God’s hand, is a powerful image of the power of God to bring about reconciliation, to do for a people entrenched in division what they cannot do for themselves. It is a highly evocative metaphor for divided Christians, prefiguring the source of reconciliation found at the heart of the Christian proclamation itself. On the two pieces of wood which form the cross of Christ, the Lord of history takes upon himself the wounds and divisions of humanity. In the totality of Jesus’ gift of himself on the cross, he holds together human sin and God’s redemptive steadfast love. To be a Christian is to be baptised into this death, through which the Lord, in his boundless mercy, etches the names of wounded humanity onto the wood of the cross, holding us to himself and restoring our relationship with God and with each other.

Christian unity is a communion grounded in our belonging to Christ, to God. In being converted ever more to Christ, we find ourselves being reconciled by the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer for Christian unity is an acknowledgement of our trust in God, an opening of ourselves fully to that Spirit. Linked to our other efforts for unity among Christians - dialogue, common witness and mission - prayer for unity is a privileged instrument through which the Holy Spirit is making that reconciliation in Christ visibly manifest in the world Christ came to save.

Prayer

God of compassion, you have loved and forgiven us in Christ, and sought to reconcile the entire human race in that redeeming love. Look with favour upon us, who work and pray for the unity of divided Christian communities. Grant us the experience of being brothers and sisters in your love. May we be one, one in your hand. Amen.


Day 2

Christians face to face with war and violence
“that they may become one in your hand”

Is 2: 1-4 They shall no longer learn war
Ps 74: 18-23 Do not forget the life of your poor for ever
I Pet 2: 21-25 His wounds have healed you
Mt 5: 38-48 Pray for those who persecute you

Commentary

War and violence are still major obstacles to that unity willed by God for humanity. In the last analysis, war and violence are the result of unhealed division which exists inside ourselves, and of the human arrogance which prevents us from recovering the real foundation of our existence.

Korean Christians long to put an end to more than 50 years of separation between North Korea and South Korea and to see peace established elsewhere in the world. The instability which prevails in the Korean peninsula represents not only the pain of the one remaining nation in the world which is still divided; it also symbolises the mechanisms of division, hostility and vengeance which plague humanity.

What can bring an end to this cycle of war and violence? Jesus shows us the power which can stop the vicious circle of violence and injustice in even the most brutal of situations. To his disciples, who react to violence and rage according to the ways of the world, paradoxically he teaches the renunciation of violence (Mt 26: 51-52).

Jesus reveals the truth about human violence. Faithful to the Father, he dies on the cross to save us from sin and death. The cross reveals the paradox and the conflict inherent in human nature. Jesus’ violent death marks the beginning of a new creation which nails human sin, violence and war to this very cross.

Jesus Christ teaches a non-violence based on more than humanism. He teaches the reestablishment of God’s creation, and hope and faith in the final coming of a new heaven and a new earth. This hope, founded on Jesus’ ultimate victory over death on the cross, encourages us to persevere in the search for Christian unity and in the struggle against all forms of war and violence.

Prayer

Lord, who gave yourself on the cross for the unity of all humankind, we offer up to you our human nature marred by egoism, arrogance, vanity and anger. Lord, do not abandon the oppressed who suffer from all sorts of violence, anger and hatred, victims of erroneous beliefs and conflicting ideologies. Lord, reach out to us with compassion and take care of your people, so that we may enjoy the peace and joy integral to the order of your creation. Lord, may all Christians work together to bring about your justice, rather than ours. Give us the courage to help others to bear their cross, rather than putting our own on their shoulders. Lord, teach us the wisdom to treat our enemies with love instead of hatred. Amen.


Day 3
Christians face to face
with economic injustice and poverty
“that they may become one in your hand”

Lev 25: 8-14 The jubilee which liberates
Ps 146 The Lord executes justice for the oppressed
1 Tim 6: 9-10 The love of money is the root of all evil
Lk 4: 16-21 Jesus and the jubilee as liberation
Commentary

We pray for the kingdom of God to arrive. We long for a world where people, in particular the poorest, do not die before their appointed time. However, the economic system of the world today aggravates the situation of the poor and accentuates social inequity.

Today the world community is confronted with the growing precariousness of labour and its consequences. The idolatry of the market (profit), like the love of money according to the author of the Epistle to Timothy, thus appears as ‘the root of all evil’. What can and must the churches do in this context? Let us look at the biblical theme of jubilee which Jesus evoked to define his ministry.

According to the Leviticus text, during the jubilee, liberation was to be proclaimed; economic immigrants could return to their homes and their family; if somebody had lost all his goods he could also live with the populace as a foreign resident. Money was not to be lent for interest nor food sold for profit.

The jubilee implied a community ethic, the freeing of slaves and their return home, the restoration of financial rights and the cancellation of debts. For the victims of unjust social structures, this meant the restitution of law and of their means of existence.

The priorities of today’s world, in which ‘more money’ is seen as the highest value and goal of life, can only lead to death. As churches, we are called to counter this by living together in the spirit of jubilee and following Christ, spreading this good news. As Christians experience the healing of their divisions they become more sensitive to other divisions which wound humanity and creation.

Prayer

God of justice, there are places in this world overflowing with food, But others where there is not enough and where the hungry and the sick are many. God of peace, There are those in this world who profit from violence and war and others who because of war and violence are forced to leave their homes and become refugees. God of compassion, Help us to understand that we cannot live by money alone but that we can live by the word of God, Help us to understand that we cannot attain life and true prosperity except by loving God and obeying his will and his teaching. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.


Day 4

Christians face to face
with ecological crisis
“that they may become one in your hand”

Gen 1: 31-2: 3 God saw everything he had made and it was very good
Ps 148: 1-5 He commanded and they were created
Rom 8: 18-23 The destruction of creation
Mt 13: 31-32 The smallest of all the seeds
Commentary

God created our world with wisdom and love and when he had finished his great work of creation, God saw that it was good.

Today however the world is confronted with a serious ecological crisis. The earth is suffering from global warming as a result of our excessive consumption of energy. The extent of forested area on our planet has diminished by 50% over the last 40 years while the deserts are spreading ever faster. Three quarters of ocean life has already disappeared. Every day more than 100 living species die out and this loss of biodiversity is a serious menace for humanity itself. With the apostle Paul we can affirm: creation has been delivered into the power of destruction, it groans as in the pains of childbirth.

We cannot deny that human beings bear a heavy responsibility for environmental destruction. Their unbridled greed casts the shadow of death on the whole of creation.

Together Christians must do their utmost to save creation. Before the immensity of this task, they must unite their efforts. It is only together that they can protect the work of the creator. It is impossible not to notice the central place which natural elements occupy in the parables and teaching of Jesus. Christ shows great respect even for the smallest of all the seeds. With the biblical vision of creation as affirmation, Christians can contribute with one voice to the present reflection on the future of our planet.

Prayer

God our Creator, the world was created by your Word and you saw that it was good. But today we are spreading death and destroying our environment. Grant that we may repent of our greed; help us to care for all that you have made. Together, we desire to protect your creation. Amen.


Day 5

Christians face to face
with discrimination and social prejudice
“that they may become one in your hand”

Is 58: 6-12 Do not hide yourself from your own kin
Ps 133 How good it is when kindred live in unity
Gal 3: 26-29 You are all one in Christ Jesus
 Lk 18: 9-14 To some who trusted in their own righteousness

Commentary

In the beginning, human beings created in the image of God were but one in his hand. Sin, however, entered the hearts of men and women and since then we have built up all kinds of prejudice. Here it may be according to race or ethnic identity, elsewhere sexual identity or the simple fact of being man or woman is cause for discrimination. In yet other places it is being disabled or adhering to a particular religion which is a reason for exclusion. All these discriminatory factors are dehumanising and a source of conflict and great suffering.

In his earthly ministry, Jesus showed himself to be particularly sensitive regarding the common humanity of all men and women. He continually denounced discrimination of all sorts and the pride which some of his contemporaries derived from it . The just are not always those whom you would imagine. Contempt has no place in the hearts of believers.

Psalm 133 compares the joy of a life shared with sisters and brothers to the goodness of a precious oil or the dew of Mount Hermon. We are given to taste this joy with our sisters and brothers, each time we let go of our confessional prejudices within our ecumenical gatherings.

The restoration of the unity of all humankind is the common mission of all Christians. Together they must struggle against all discrimination. It is also their common hope because all are one in Christ and there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman.

Prayer

Lord help us to recognize the discrimination and exclusion which damage societies. Direct our gaze and help us to recognize our own prejudices. Teach us to banish all contempt and to taste the joy of living together in unity. Amen.


Day 6

Christians face to face
with disease and suffering
“that they may become one in your hand”

II Kings 20: 1-6 Remember me, O Lord!
Ps 22: 1-11 Why have you forsaken me?
Jas 5: 13-15 The prayer of faith will save the sick
Mk 10: 46-52 Jesus asked: What do you want me to do for you?

Commentary

How often Jesus encounters the sick and is willing to heal them! Common to all our still separated churches is the awareness of our Lord’s compassion for the sick. Christians have always followed his example, by healing the sick, building hospitals, dispensaries, organizing medical missions and caring not only for the souls but also the bodies of God’s children.

This is not such an obvious response; the healthy tend to take health for granted and forget those who cannot take part in the regular life of the community because they are sick or handicapped. And the sick? They may feel cut off from God, his presence, blessing and healing power.

The deep rooted faith of Hezekiah supports him through sickness. In a time of sorrow, he finds words to remind God of his grace. Yes, those who are suffering might even use words from the Bible to cry out or struggle with God: Why have you forsaken me? When an honest relationship with God is well established, grounded in language of faithfulness and thankfulness in good times, it creates space also for a language to express sorrow, pain or anger in prayer when necessary.

The sick are not objects and not only at the receiving end of care; rather, they are subjects of faith, as the disciples must learn in the story of the gospel of Mark. The disciples want to continue directly along their way with Jesus; the sick man on the edge of the crowd is ignored. When he cries out, it is a diversion from their goal. We are used to caring for the sick, but we are not so used to their crying loudly and disturbing us. Their cries today may be for affordable medicine in poor countries, which touches the question of patents and profits. The disciples who wanted to prevent the blind man getting near Jesus have to become the messengers of the Lord’s rather different and caring response: Come, he is calling you.

It is only when the disciples bring the sick man to Jesus that they come to understand what Jesus wants: to take time to meet and talk with the sick man, asking what he wants and needs. A healing community can grow when the sick experience the presence of God through a mutual relationship with their sisters and brothers in Christ.

Prayer

God, listen to people when they cry to you in sickness and pain. May the healthy thank you for their wellbeing, And may they serve the sick with loving hearts and open hands. God, let all of us live in your grace and providence, becoming a truly healing community and praising you together. Amen.


Day 7

Christians face to face
with a plurality of religions
“that they may become one in your hand”

IIs 25: 6-9 This is the Lord for whom we have waited.
Ps 117 :1-2 Praise the Lord, all you nations.
Rom 2:12-16 The doers of the law will be justified
Mk 7:24-30 For saying this, you may go home happy.

Commentary

Nearly every day we hear of violence in different parts of the world between followers of different faiths. We learn that Korea however is a place where different faiths – Buddhist, Christian, Confucian – mostly coexist in peace.

In a great hymn of praise, the prophet Isaiah speaks of all tears being wiped away and a rich feast for all people and nations! One day, asserts the prophet, all the peoples of the earth will praise God and rejoice in the salvation he offers. The Lord for whom we have waited is the host at the eternal feast in Isaiah’s song of praise.

When Jesus meets a non-Jewish woman who pleads for healing for her daughter he initially refuses to help her, in surprising terms. The woman persists, in similar terms: “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”. Jesus affirms her insight into his mission to Jews and non-Jews alike, and sends her on her way with the promise of healing for her daughter.

The churches are committed to dialogue in the cause of Christian unity. In recent years, dialogue has also developed between people of other faiths, particularly those ‘of the Book’ (Judaism, Islam): encounters which are not only enlightening but also help promote respect and good relations between neighbours, and build peace where there is conflict. If our Christian witness is united by virtue of our faith in Christ, our opposition to prejudice and conflict will be all the more effective. And if we listen carefully to our neighbours of other faiths, can we learn something more of the inclusiveness of God’s love for all people, and of his kingdom?

Dialogue with other Christians should not lead to a loss of a particular Christian identity but to joy as we obey Jesus’ prayer that we become one, as he is one with the Father. Unity will not come today or even tomorrow; but together, with other believers, we walk towards that final, common destiny of love and salvation.

Prayer

Lord our God, we thank you for the wisdom we gain from your scriptures. Grant us the courage to open our hearts and our minds to neighbours of other Christian confessions and of other faiths; the grace to overcome barriers of indifference, prejudice or hate; and a vision of the last days, when Christians might walk together towards that final feast, when tears and dissension will be overcome through love. Amen.


Day 8

Christian proclamation
of hope in a world of separation
“that they may become one in your hand”

Ezek 37: 1-14 I will open your graves
Ps 104: 24-34 You renew the face of the earth
Rev 21: 1-5a I am making all things new
Mt 5: 1-12 Blessed are you...

Commentary

I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. Biblical faith is imbued with a radical hope that the last word in history belongs to God, and that God’s last word is not one of judgment but of new creation. As reflected upon in meditations of previous days, Christians live in the midst of a world which is marked by various kinds of division and alienation. Yet the stance of the church remains one of hope, grounded not in what human beings can do, but in the power and abiding desire of God to transform fracture and fragmentation into unity and wholeness, death-giving hatred into life-giving love. The people of Korea continue to endure the tragic consequences of national division, yet there too, Christian hope abounds.

Christian hope lives on even in the midst of profound suffering because it is born out of the steadfast love of God revealed on the cross of Christ. Hope rises with Jesus from the tomb, as death and the forces of death are overcome; it spreads with the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which renews the face of the earth. The risen Christ is the beginning of a new and authentic life. His resurrection announces the end of the old order and sows the seeds of a new eternal creation, where all will be reconciled in him and God will be all in all.

See, I am making all things new. Christian hope begins with the renewal of creation, such that it fulfils God’s original intention in the act of creating. In Revelation 21, God does not say ‘I am making all new things’ but rather, ‘I am making all things new’. Christian hope does not imply a long passive wait for the end of the world but the desire for this renewal, already begun in the resurrection and at Pentecost. It is not the hope for an apocalyptic culmination of history collapsing our world, but rather, hope for the fundamental and radical change of the world already known to us. God’s new beginning ends the sin, divisions and finitude of the world, transfiguring creation so that it can take part in God’s glory and share in God’s eternity.

When Christians gather to pray for unity, they are motivated and sustained by this hope. The strength of prayer for unity is the strength which comes from God’s renewal of the created world; its wisdom, that of the Holy Spirit which breathes new life on dry bones and brings them to life; its integrity, that of opening ourselves completely to the will of God, to be transformed into instruments of the unity Christ wills for his disciples.

Prayer

Gracious God, you are with us always, amidst suffering and turmoil, and will be to the end of time. Help us to be a people deeply imbued with hope, living out the beatitudes, serving the unity you desire. Amen.

Excerpted from: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/weeks-prayer-doc/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20080630_week-prayer-2009_en.html


To main page of Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2009