Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2009
Theme: That they may become one in your hand.
(Ezekiel 37:15-19, 22-24a)
Introduction to the Worship Service
“that they may become one in your hand” (Ezek 37: 17)
(originating from the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity* and the World Council of Churches' Faith and Order Commission)
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In this text from Ezekiel (37: 15-19, 22-24a), we discover God’s fervent wish for the unity of the divided tribes of Israel. Ezekiel’s inspired prophetic gesture of joining together two pieces of wood represents the reunification of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel: “join them together into one stick, so that they may become one in your hand” (Ezekiel 37: 17).
God is relying on his prophet to bring about this work of renewal in unity. Thus Ezekiel is charged with the mission of announcing to Israel that it is God’s wish to bring together the tribes and “hold them together in his hand”.
Ezekiel must also call the people to repentance in order to prepare the way for this future state of reconciliation and peace which will only come about through Israel’s sincere conversion. It is the task of the prophet to proclaim its urgent necessity in the name of the Lord. Whoever desires unity according to the Covenant must turn away from idols and be cleansed by God. “I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen and will cleanse them. Then they shall be my people and I will be their God.” Hope will be rekindled through renewal of faithfulness to God.
In the time of Ezekiel, Israel longed for national unity. We Christians, sent to all the nations, hope and pray for full communion in Christ. Thus, this worship service based on Ezekiel 37 calls us to interpret - in the light of Christ - the prophet’s call for the unity of the people of God.
Order of service
The celebration begins with the sound of a gong/bell, evocation of our communion in prayer with the Christians of Korea. In the spirit of Ezekiel calling his people to conversion, the penitential rite urges us - as faithful servants of God and Christian unity - to follow the paths of the personal and ecclesial renewal which lead towards full communion.
The service of the word opens by calling us to strengthen our faith in the Father’s desire for unity (Ezek 37: 15-19, 22-24a). The Epistle to the Romans (Rom 8: 18-25) assures us that together with creation itself we are held in the hands of God and that the Holy Spirit intercedes in our favour. The gospel (John 17: 8-11) affirms that the gift of our spiritual unity has been won for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Through the intercessions we share in Jesus’ hope and prayer for our perfect unity, and in his impatience to see us working in the unity of love for the regeneration of the world, through justice and peace.
At the conclusion of the service we proclaim with Romans 8: 38 that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, for God our Father has made all things new in him. God sends us to witness to this new creation. It is an encouragement for all those Christians who through their ecumenical commitment also contribute to this new state of unity in the risen Christ.
Material needed: gong/bell, Bible, about a dozen wooden sticks or poles and some means of tying them together for the symbolic action.
Order of Service
(The gong/bell is sounded three times to indicate the beginning of the service.)
L. May the grace and peace of God our Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit be with you always
A. And also with you
Opening psalm : Ps 146 (or another hymn or psalm may be sung)
Procession of worship leaders together with those participants carrying the Bible and sticks/poles to bind together as a symbol of unity inspired by the Ezekiel text. The pole bearers stand before the cross or in the liturgical space at the head of the church.
(moment of silence)
L: Come near to God, let us come near to God, who is merciful towards us and the source of our hope and longing.
L: This year’s worship has been proposed by Christians in Korea, one people divided into two countries. We will hear the prophet Ezekiel who had a vision of God uniting two separate pieces of wood. We gather as Christians from divided communities, praying for forgiveness for the scandal of our disunity and our inability to be ambassadors of reconciliation in the world. What paths of personal and ecclesial conversion must we take to arrive at full communion in Christ?
During this moment of silence the pole bearers - seated at the front of the church or with the worship leaders - disperse among the congregation as a sign of our divisions and our sin against unity in Christ.
L: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, Lord, hear my voice.
A: Lord, we cry out to you, but so often we cry with many voices.
L: May your ears be attentive to my prayer.
A: We plead for unity but do not pay the price of reconciliation.
L: If you should remember our sins, O Lord, who would survive.
A: Who would survive? We come before you with our failure to respond to the suffering and divisions of the world.
L: But in you, Lord, there is forgiveness, that you may be revered.
A: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
L: I await the Lord with all my soul, and I long for his word.
A: My soul waits for the Lord, more fervently than those who watch for the morning.
L: Ezekiel speaks this word of the Lord: I will deliver them from all their iniquities and will cleanse them. Then they shall be my people and I shall be their God. They shall be one in my hand. God, you are our only hope.
A: Help us to be instruments of your reconciliation.
Celebration of the word of God
First reading: Ezekiel 37: 15-19, 22-24a
Hymn: Let us be One (Korea) or similar
Second reading: Romans 8: 18-25
Gospel: John 17: 8-11
L : With faith we pray to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit
“Lord, hear our prayer” (could be sung by a choir)
R1: Let us pray for our local Christian communities, our churches and ecumenical groups; for those here present, and those who are absent from our assembly today. Lord, forgive us when we are indifferent to each other, and bring your healing to the wounds and divisions that keep us apart.
R2 : Let us pray for a deeper appreciation of our common baptism into the one body of Christ. Lord, sustain each of us and our communities as we continue on the path towards the unity you desire for all your disciples.
A : Lord, hear our prayer
R1: Let us pray for our spiritual leaders and church authorities, that the Spirit may continue to enlighten them and grant them the grace to work in harmony, joy and love.
R2: Let us pray for all civil authorities. Lord, grant that they may work towards justice and peace, and give them the wisdom to attend to the needs of all, especially the most vulnerable.
A: Lord, hear our prayer
R1 : Let us pray for all the nations and communities who live with deep divisions and internal conflicts. Lord, we remember in a special way the people of Korea, north and south, that their search for unity in spite of political divisions and separation may bear fruit, and be a sign of hope for all who seek reconciliation in the midst of divisions.
R2: Let us pray in thanksgiving for those who, inspired by you, Lord, have held an important place in our lives of faith, and for all who have reflected your forgiveness, compassion and love. May their gifts and generosity inspire our own desire to give and to serve with our lives.
A: Lord, hear our prayer
R1: Let us pray for all those who bring the gospel to bear on the great ethical challenges of our times. Lord, may we each learn to play our part in mitigating the global and ecological disasters which bring human suffering and threaten your creation.
R2 Let us pray for all Christian churches and ask for your help, Lord, so that one day they may be able to gather around the table and share the fellowship of holy communion.
A: Lord, hear our prayer
L: Each in his or her own language, let us pray together in the words Jesus gave us:
A: Our Father…
L: As a sign of our commitment to seek reconciliation, let us now offer one another a sign of peace.
(The sign of peace is accompanied by the singing of Come now, O God of Peace (O-So-So) or similar hymn)
(The pole bearers now bind together the wooden poles/sticks, two by two, as a sign of our reconciliation being the initiative and work of God, who holds us united in his hand. During the proclamation of the confession of faith the cross could be presented, symbolically linking it with the bound poles. In churches where there is a baptistry in a central location, the symbolic action could be carried out there, as a reminder of the baptism which already holds us “united in the hand of God”.)
The Nicene Creed
L: Let us join together in professing the Nicene Creed
A: We believe in One God…
Final prayers and dismissal
R: (preferably a young person)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 38)
L: We leave this place of prayer to return to the particular circumstances of our own lives. Let us go forth strong in our faith and our hope, for God our Father has made all things new in Jesus Christ. He sends us to witness to his love and to play a role in the new creation. May God, who knows our joy, our anger and our pain, guide us always, and may we be courageous, stay faithful and live a life worthy of the Christian faith.
A: Lord stay with us.
Hymn: (Possibly one which celebrates God’s reconciliation with his people through the cross. During the singing of this hymn, the pole bearers take up their poles again and give them to members of the congregation representing different Christian communities present, as a sign of their ties of communion.)
L: Christians gathered here today, brothers and sisters in faith, you/we who would wish to be a sign of reconciliation through the power of the cross:
May the Lord bless you/us and keep you/us
May the Lord make his face shine upon you/us and be gracious to you/us May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you/us and give you/us peace. Amen
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