Listen to a podcast giving the background to Christian Unity Week and download the text of prayer service. The theme for this year is that they may be one in your hand (Ezekiel 37: 17).

This podcast made available from Vatican Radio

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Click on link for resource for Prayer Service for Christian Unity Week

Christians throughout the world will be praying “that they may become one in God’s hand” during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2009.

Traditionally celebrated between 18 and 25 January (in the northern hemisphere) or at Pentecost (in the southern hemisphere), the Week of Prayer enters into congregations and parishes all over the world. Pulpits are exchanged, and special ecumenical worship services are arranged.

The liturgical material for 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.

Introduction to the Theme of the Week of Prayer for 2009

The theological theme

In the year 2009, Christians around the world will pray for unity: that they may be one in your hand (Ezekiel 37: 17). Ezekiel the name meaning God makes him strong 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. Ezekiels words give them hope that God will gather Gods people again into one, calling them Gods 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 todays 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 Gods Spirit. In both prophecies God is seen to be the originator of life, of a new beginning. In the first prophecy Gods 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 Gods 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 Gods 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: That they may become one in your hand. They find that new hope is born from their reflection on Gods action to reconcile and bring shalom to Gods people.

The eight days

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 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.