December 20, 2019

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a chance to build bridges

Fr. Rick GintherChristmas will soon unfold before us. Trees twinkling. Wreaths well hung. Candles set ablaze. All to celebrate the “reason for the season”: the birth of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Mary.

“Jesus” means “one who saves.” The name comes in a number of forms: Jesus, Jeshua, Yeshua, Joshua. All bear the same meaning. All proclaim salvation in Christ.

Honored by Jews today as a great teacher and by Muslims as a great prophet and the son of Mary, Jesus offers a continual plea to Christians: that (you) all may be one.

One of the great scandals in the religious world today—indeed, for many centuries now—is that Christians are not one

Oh, we all celebrate Jesus as Lord and Savior. We all believe him to be fully human and fully divine. But the body we call “the Body of Christ” is divided on so many levels.

Each year, Christians are offered an opportunity to pray intensely and intentionally for unity. Jan. 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

This annual octave often includes a prayer service led and attended by a variety of Christians who gather to pray for the Spirit of God to move us closer through the ecumenical process.

This year, no less than nine religious leaders of many Christian churches and ecclesial communities in Indiana will gather in Indianapolis to pray. Our prayer will take place at 6 p.m. on Jan. 19 in Zion Evangelical United Church of Christ in Indianapolis.

The prayer service itself originated in the Christian community on the island of Malta.

In 2017, the World Council of Churches (Faith and Order) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity asked the Roman Catholic Episcopal Conference of Malta and the Christians there to draft the prayer service for 2020. Those who attend our local service will benefit from their hard work.

The folks of Malta chose a text—Acts 27:18-28:10—as the service’s basis.

This text describes a moment in the life of St. Paul and his shipmates. They encounter danger, discord, near mutiny, and finally shipwreck. Washed ashore on Malta, the survivors are met with the generous hospitality of the inhabitants of Malta.

Acts 28:2 states: “They showed us unusual kindness.”

Taking up this theme, the prayer service briefly retells the story.

Then it applies the “unusual hospitality” to our own time of refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers and others in our communities who are cast adrift.

Invoking the Holy Spirit, prayers of pardon and reconciliation are prayed. Scripture is to be proclaimed and preached by the Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund, senior pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Indianapolis. The word is to culminate in song and the Apostles’ Creed.

Prayers of the people follow. During these petitions, oars are to be carried up to symbolize reconciliation, enlightenment, hope, trust, strength, hospitality, conversion and generosity.

Finally, all are sent forth to proclaim the words of God’s love.

Our local planners have added a focused participatory piece. Links for a paper chain of “acts of kindness” will be fashioned by the congregation and displayed on the pulpit.

Choir and congregational music will stitch together the various movements of the prayer.

An ecumenical choir will form around the Zion Evangelical United Church of Christ choir. If you would like to be a part of this choir, contact me at rginther@archindy.org.

We all have Christian friends. Perhaps this is an occasion for you to pray together! Bring a friend. Be a friend in Christ. Be a promoter of unity!
 

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs. He is pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Indianapolis.)

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