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 Theme of the Week of Prayer for 2009
(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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The biblical theme: Ezekiel 37
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2009 is rooted in the experience of the churches in Korea. In their context of national division the churches have turned for inspiration to the prophet Ezekiel, who also lived in a tragically divided nation and longed for the unity of his people.
Both prophet and priest, Ezekiel was called by God at the young age of 30. Working from 594 through 571 BC, he was greatly influenced by the religious and political reforms which King Josiah had begun in 621 BC. King Josiah had sought to eliminate the destructive legacy of the earlier Assyrian conquest of Judah, through reforms which restored the law and the true worship of the God of Israel. But after Josiahís death in battle, his son King Jehoiakim paid homage to Egypt and worship to a variety of gods flourished. Prophets daring to criticize Jehoiakim were brutally suppressed: Uriah was executed and Jeremiah banished. After the Babylonian invasion and destruction of the temple in 587 BC the leaders and craftsmen of the nation Ė the young Ezekiel among them Ė were captured and taken to Babylon. There Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, criticized the ďprophetsĒ who were offering unrealistic hopes, and because of this had to endure the hostility and contempt of his fellow Israelites in exile.
Yet in such great suffering, Ezekielís love for his people only grew. He criticized leaders who acted against Godís commandments and sought to guide the people back to God, emphasizing Godís faithfulness to Godís covenant and solidarity with Godís people. Above all, in this apparently hopeless situation Ezekiel did not despair but proclaimed a message of hope: Godís original intention for the renewal and the unity of Godís people may yet be realized. Ezekiel was encouraged in his efforts by two visions, the first being the familiar vision of the valley of dry bones which, through the action of Godís Spirit, are restored from death to life (Ezekiel 37: 1-14).
This yearís week of prayer materials are based on Ezekielís second vision which depicts two pieces of wood, symbolizing the two kingdoms into which Israel had been divided. The names of the tribes in each of the divided kingdoms (two of the original twelve in the North, and ten in the South) are written upon the pieces of wood, which are then brought together again into one (Ezekiel 37: 15-23).
According to Ezekiel the division of the people reflected - and resulted from - their sinfulness and alienation from God. They may become again one people by renouncing their sins, undergoing conversion, and returning to God. Yet ultimately it is God who unites Godís people by purifying, renewing and liberating them from their divisions. For Ezekiel this unity is not simply the joining of previously divided groups; it is rather a new creation, the birth of a new people which should be a sign of hope to other peoples and indeed to all of humanity.
The theme of hope is also expressed in another text which is dear to the churches in Korea. Revelation 21: 3-4 points to the purification of Godís people, to embody the true peace, reconciliation, and unity which is to be found where God dwells: ďHe will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no moreÖĒ
It is these biblical themes
which have inspired the Korean churches in offering these Week of Prayer materials for 2009.
- unity as Godís intention for Godís people;
- unity as Godís gift, but requiring conversion and renewal;
- unity as a new creation; and
- the hope that Godís people may yet be one
The theological theme
In the year 2009, Christians around the world will pray for unity: ďthat they may be one in your handĒ (Ezekiel 37: 17). Ezekiel Ė the name meaning ďGod makes him strongĒ Ė was called upon to give his people hope in the desperate religious and political situation following the fall and occupation of Israel, and the exile of many of its people.
The local group from Korea found that the text of Ezekiel offered some compelling parallels to their own situation within a divided country and for a divided Christendom. Ezekielís words give them hope that God will gather Godís people again into one, calling them Godís own, and blessing them to make them a mighty people. A new ultimate hope is born: that God will create a new world. Just as in the text of Ezekiel, where sinfulness is seen in all its ramifications of the people being defiled through their idolatry and transgressions, so too with the sinfulness of the disunity of Christians, which has caused great scandal in todayís world.
In the reading of this text from the Old Testament, Christians may reflect on how we may understand its application to our own situation of division. In particular we see how God is the one who restores unity, reconciles people, and brings a new situation into being. The role of Israel united, forgiven and purified becomes a sign of hope for all the world.
As noted above, this prophecy of the two sticks of wood joined into one is the second prophecy to be found in Ezekiel 37. The first, which is probably more familiar to the churches, is that of the dry bones which come to life again through the action of Godís Spirit. In both prophecies God is seen to be the originator of life, of a new beginning. In the first prophecy Godís Spirit is the spirit of life. In the second, God himself brings about unity, reconciliation and peace within a divided nation. In other words, new life is given through the union of the two divided parts.
Christians may see in this a prefiguration of what Christ will bring about, namely new life which comes through conquering death, in obedience to Godís salvific will. From the two pieces of wood which form his cross, Jesus reconciles us to God; with this, humanity is infused with new hope. In spite of our sinfulness, in spite of our violence and wars, in spite of the disparity between rich and poor, in spite of our abuse of creation, in spite of disease and suffering, in spite of discrimination, and in spite of our disunity and divisions, Jesus Christ -through his outstretched hands on the cross - embraces all of creation and offers us Godís shalom. In his hands we are one, as we are drawn to him who is lifted up on the cross.
From the situation of a country which is divided, but has the will to overcome not only political divisions but also divisions among Christian churches, the Korean churches propose the theme for the week of prayer 2009: ďThat they may become one in your handĒ. They find that new hope is born from their reflection on Godís action to reconcile and bring shalom to Godís people.
* Excerpted from: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/weeks-prayer-doc/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20080630_week-prayer-2009_en.html
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