Resources for The Week of prayer for Christian unity and throughout the year 2017

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Reconciliation
The Love of Christ Compels Us

(cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20)

Jointly prepared and published by
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
The Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches

Scripture quotations: The scripture quotations contained herein are from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989, 1995, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, and are used with permission. All rights reserved.

Resources for The Week of prayer for Christian unity and throughout the year 2017

TO THOSE ORGANIZING
THE WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY

The search for unity: throughout the year

The traditional period in the northern hemisphere for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is 18-25 January. Those dates were proposed in 1908 by Paul Wattson to cover the days between the feasts of St Peter and St Paul, and therefore have a symbolic significance. In the southern hemisphere where January is a vacation time churches often find other days to celebrate the week of prayer, for example around Pentecost (suggested by the Faith and Order movement in 1926), which is also a symbolic date for the unity of the Church.

Mindful of the need for flexibility, we invite you to use this material throughout the whole year to express the degree of communion which the churches have already reached, and to pray together for that full unity which is Christ’s will.

Adapting the text

This material is offered with the understanding that, whenever possible, it will be adapted for use in local situations. Account should be taken of local liturgical and devotional practice, and of the whole social and cultural context. Such adaptation should ideally take place ecumenically. In some places ecumenical structures are already set up for adapting the material; in other places, we hope that the need to adapt it will be a stimulus to creating such structures.

Using the Week of Prayer material

  • For churches and Christian communities which observe the week of prayer together through a single common service, an order for an ecumenical worship service is provided.

  • Churches and Christian communities may also incorporate material from the week of prayer into their own services. Prayers from the ecumenical worship service, the “eight days’, and the selection of additional prayers can be used as appropriate in their own setting.

  • Communities which observe the week of prayer in their worship for each day during the week may draw material for these services from the “eight days’.

  • Those wishing to undertake bible studies on the week of prayer theme can use as a basis the biblical texts and reflections given in the eight days. Each day the discussions can lead to a closing period of intercessory prayer.

  • Those who wish to pray privately may find the material helpful for focusing their prayer intentions. They can be mindful that they are in communion with others praying all around the world for the greater visible unity of Christ’s Church.

BIBLICAL TEXT FOR 2017

2 Corinthians 5:14-20

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

The text used above is from the New Revised Standard Version which is the agreed English translation always used for our materials. However, the writers felt that “the love of Christ compels us,” the rendering of verse 14 from the New International Version made a stronger title, and therefore we use this title and phrase in these materials.

INTRODUCTION TO THE THEME
FOR THE YEAR 2017

Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us
(cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20)

Germany: The Land of the Lutheran Reformation

In 1517 Martin Luther raised concerns about what he saw as abuses in the Church of his time by making public his 95 theses. 2017 is the 500th anniversary of this key event in the reformation movements that marked the life of the Western Church over several centuries. This event has been a controversial theme in the history of inter-church relations in Germany, not least over the last few years. The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has been building up to this anniversary since 2008, by focusing each year on one particular aspect of the Reformation, for example: the Reformation and Politics, or the Reformation and Education. The EKD also invited its ecumenical partners at various levels to help commemorate the events of 1517.

After extensive, and sometimes difficult, discussions, the churches in Germany agreed that the way to commemorate ecumenically this Reformation event should be with a Christusfest – a Celebration of Christ. If the emphasis were to be placed on Jesus Christ and his work of reconciliation as the center of Christian faith, then all the ecumenical partners of the EKD (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Mennonite and others) could participate in the anniversary festivities.

Given the fact that the history of the Reformation was marked by painful division, this is a very remarkable achievement. The Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity has worked hard to produce a shared understanding of the commemoration. Its important report, From Conflict to Communion, recognizes that both traditions approach this anniversary in an ecumenical age, with the achievements of fifty years of dialogue behind them, and with new understandings of their own history and theology. Separating that which is polemical from the theological insights of the Reformation, Catholics are now able to hear Luther’s challenge for the Church of today, recognising him as a “witness to the gospel” (From Conflict to Communion 29). And so after centuries of mutual condemnations and vilification, in 2017 Lutheran and Catholic Christians will for the first time commemorate together the beginning of the Reformation.

From this agreement and the wider ecumenical context emerges the strong theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: “Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us” (cf. 2 Cor 5:14-20).

The Council of Churches in Germany (ACK) and the Reformation Anniversary 2017

The Council of Churches in Germany launched several projects to commemorate 1517. One was entitled “Discover Anew the Bible's Treasures”. Here, in a manner reminiscent of the importance Martin Luther placed on the meaning of the Bible, all ACK member churches wrote texts describing their approach to the Bible. These were later published in a brochure. In addition, the ACK conducted a symbolic “pilgrimage” to various member churches in Wittenberg. Each community visited, expressed and celebrated its own unique relationship to the Bible. In April 2015, the ACK also organized a conference entitled: “Irreparably Divided? Blessed Renewal? – 500 Years of Reformation in Various Ecumenical Perspectives”, the proceedings of which have been published.

It was in the context of the anniversary that the Council of Churches in Germany (ACK), invited by the World Council of Churches, took up the work of creating the resources for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A committee comprised of ten members representing different churches met three times in 2014/2015 to develop the necessary texts. A particular emphasis was placed on the preparation of the ecumenical worship service for the Week (see pp. 11 to 24). The resources should serve the general purpose of the Week of Prayer, while at the same time commemorating the Lutheran Reformation.

The Theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2017

When the German national planning committee met in the autumn of 2014, it quickly became clear that the materials for this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity would need to have two accents: on the one hand, there should be a celebration of God’s love and grace, the “justification of humanity through grace alone”, reflecting the main concern of the churches marked by Martin Luther’s Reformation. On the other hand, the materials should also recognize the pain of the subsequent deep divisions which afflicted the Church, openly name the guilt, and offer an opportunity to take steps toward reconciliation.

Ultimately it was Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) which provided the theme for this year, when it used the quote: “The Love of Christ Compels Us” (Paragraph 9). With this scripture verse (2 Cor 5:14), taken in the context of the entire fifth chapter of the second letter to the Corinthians, the German committee formulated the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2017.

The Biblical Text: 2 Cor 5:14-20

This biblical text emphasizes that reconciliation is a gift from God, intended for the entire creation. “God was reconciling the world (kosmos) to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (v. 19). As a result of God's action, the person who has been reconciled in Christ is called in turn to proclaim this reconciliation in word and deed: “The love of Christ compels us” (v. 14, NIV). “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (v. 20). The text stresses that this reconciliation is not without sacrifice. Jesus gives his life; he died for all. The ambassadors of reconciliation are called, in his name, to give their lives similarly. They no longer live for themselves; they live for him who died for them.

The Eight Days and the Worship Service

The text, 2 Cor 5:14-20, shapes the reflections of the eight days, which develop some of the theological insights of the individual verses, as follows:

Day 1: One has died for all
Day 2: Live no longer for themselves
Day 3: We regard no one from a human point of view
Day 4: Everything old has passed away
Day 5: Everything has become new
Day 6: God reconciled us to himself
Day 7: The ministry of reconciliation
Day 8: Reconciled to God

In the Ecumenical Worship Service, the fact that God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself is a reason to celebrate. But this must also include our confession of sin before we hear the Word proclaimed and draw from the deep wellspring of God's forgiveness. Only then are we able to testify to the world that reconciliation is possible.

Compelled to Witness

The love of Christ compels us to pray, but also to move beyond our prayers for unity among Christians. Congregations and churches need the gift of God's reconciliation as a wellspring of life. But above all, they need it for their common witness to the world: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

The world needs ministers of reconciliation, who will break down barriers, build bridges, make peace, and open doors to new ways of life in the name of the one who reconciled us to God, Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit leads the way on the path to reconciliation in his name.

As this text was being written in 2015, many people and churches in Germany were practising reconciliation by offering hospitality to the numerous refugees arriving from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, as well as countries of the Western Balkans, in search of protection and a new life. The practical help and powerful actions against hatred for the foreigner were a clear witness to reconciliation for the German population. As ministers of reconciliation, the churches actively assisted the refugees in finding new homes, while at the same time trying to improve the living conditions in the countries they had left behind. Concrete acts of help are just as necessary as praying together for reconciliation and peace, if those who are fleeing their terrible situations are to know some hope and consolation.

May the wellspring of God's gracious reconciliation overflow in this year’s Week of Prayer, so that many people may find peace, and so that bridges may be built. May people and churches be compelled by the love of Christ to live reconciled lives and to break down the walls that divide!

THE PREPARATION OF THE MATERIAL
FOR THE WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY 2017

The preparatory work on the theme for this year’s week of prayer material was undertaken by a group of representatives of different Christian communities in Germany. This National Committee was brought together by the working group of Christian Churches in Germany (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen/ACK), led by Dr Elisabeth Dieckmann.

Gratitude is extended in particular to the leaders of ACK, the members of its National Committee, and those who contributed to these resources:

  • Revd Dr. Eberhard Amon (Prelate, German Bishops Conference)

  • Pastor Bernd Densky (Baptist Pastor, Consultant of ACK)

  • Dr Elisabeth Dieckmann (Secretary of ACK, Catholic Church)

  • Revd Leonie Grüning (Pastor, Evangelical Church of Germany/EKD)

  • Revd Anette Gruschwitz (Pastor, Methodist Church)

  • Archpriest Constantin Miron (Orthodox Bishops Conference)

  • Revd Scott Morrison (Pastor, Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church)

  • Mrs Ruth Raab-Zerger (Mennonite Church)

  • Dr Dagmar Stoltmann-Lukas (Consultant of the Bischöfliches Generalvikariat, Bishop’s Vicariate General)

  • Revd Jan-Henry Wanink (Pastor, Reformed Church in Germany)

  • Revd Allison Werner-Hoenen (Pastor, Evangelical Church of Germany/EKD)

  • Mr Marc Witzenbacher (Consultant of the Evangelical Church of Germany/EKD)

The texts proposed in this booklet were finalized during a meeting of the International Committee nominated by Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The members of the Committee met the National Committee in September 2015 in the Luther-Hotel of Wittenberg/Germany. They thank the ACK for generously hosting the meeting and for the very kind hospitality. In particular they wish to thank Pastor Bernd Densky whose assistance greatly facilitated their work. The working group was also accompanied and guided on a visit to Wittenberg and Eisleben by Revd Jürgen Dittrich, a local Lutheran pastor, who is responsible for the ecumenical work in the local church of Saxony-Anhalt. The visit started with visiting Wittenberg, where Martin Luther lived with his family and worked after he had left the monastery in Erfurt. The group also went to the famous castle church, where the German Reformer probably nailed the 95 thesis. It also visited Luther’s birthplace and the church of his baptism in Eisleben. These visits gave deep insights into the meaning and influence of Martin Luther for the Reformation in Germany.

An evening meeting with local representatives of different Christian communities was very helpful to understand the religious landscape in Germany, especially in Eastern Germany.

ECUMENICAL WORSHIP SERVICE

Introduction to the worship

Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us
(cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20)

Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

The churches in Germany decided to commemorate this anniversary as a Christusfest (an ecumenical celebration of Christ). The Reformation was the occasion of a renewed focus on salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We rejoice in God’s salvation centered on the cross of Christ, who overcomes division and draws us together. This worship openly confesses and asks forgiveness for the sins of division which followed the Reformation. The service will celebrate Christ and his act of reconciliation, which moves the hearts of divided Christians to become ambassadors for Christ as ministers of reconciliation.

The Contents of the Worship Service

The theme “Reconciliation – the Love of Christ Compels Us” celebrates the irrevocable reconciliation that we have received through faith in Jesus Christ. Christ's love becomes the driving force that moves us beyond our division toward acts of reconciliation.

Through psalms and songs we gather in Jesus’ name in praise of God’s wondrous deeds. We confess our sins of division and make our plea for forgiveness. The proclamation of the Word highlights the reconciling action of Christ as “One who died for all” (v. 14). The faithful respond to this good news by accepting the call to be ministers of reconciliation .

Symbolic Actions in the Service

The Wall

1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, that began with the Peace Prayer Movement in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in which people placed candles in windows and doorways and prayed for freedom. Horst Sindermann, a member of the GDR Leadership until 1989, noted “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything, just not for candles and prayers.” This is why the division of Christians and the reconciliation we seek are represented by the construction and dismantling of a wall. This can become a symbol of hope for any situation in which a division seems insurmountable. Thus the construction of a symbolic wall at the confession of sin, the visible presence of this wall during the proclamation of the Word, and finally the dismantling of this wall to form a cross as a sign of hope, give us courage to name these terrible divisions and to overcome them with the help of God.

Directions/Material: Building up and tearing down the Wall

Division due to our sin”: after a brief introduction some members of the congregation will construct a wall of separation representing the sins and division that we confess. The wall remains standing during the service until the section headed “Respond in faith – live in reconciliation.” At this point the stones will be removed from the wall and placed in the shape of a cross.

Depending on the size of the worship space, the following materials will be necessary for this symbolic action: 12 boxes of the same size (i.e. shoe boxes, transport boxes) covered in packing paper to make the “stones.” On the front side of each box a key term will be noted (lack of love, hate and contempt, false accusation, discrimination, persecution, broken communion, intolerance, religious wars, division, abuse of power, isolation, and pride). As each sin is named the stone is brought forward to build the wall. Following a moment of silence, the stone bearer makes the plea for forgiveness, to which the congregation responds “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

After the proclamation of God’s word which concludes with the sermon, a prayer for reconciliation follows. As the wall is dismantled and the stones are laid in the form of the cross, a song of reconciliation or a hymn of the glory of the cross is sung.

For worship services in small groups, an alternative liturgical action could be either to expand upon or to replace the wall with personal testimonies. These testimonies in the first part should name situations which have been hurtful to others. In the second part concerning the faith response, stories about reconciliation and acts of healing could be told.

Candles

Following the creed, four intercessory prayers are offered. After each petition, three people light their candles from a central source of light (for example a Paschal candle) and remain standing around the cross until the section headed “Christ’s commission.” After the commission, the twelve pass the light throughout the congregation until each person has a lighted candle. The service concludes with a blessing and sending out.

Order of Service

Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us
(cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20)

L Leader
C Congregation
R Reader

I. Gathered in Jesus' Name

Hymns for Gathering (will be chosen locally)

Procession with Bible/Lectionary

Opening

LIn the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
CAmen
LGrace and peace from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, be with you all. (2 Cor. 5:18)
CAnd also with you.

Introductory Words

LDear brothers and sisters in Christ, this year many Christians and churches will be commemorating the anniversary of the Reformation. Saint Paul reminds us that God has reconciled us through Jesus Christ and that the love of Christ compels us to be ministers of reconciliation. Let us worship and praise God together in the unity of the Holy Spirit!.

Psalm 98 (sung)or a hymn of praise

II. Divided by our Sins (Confession)

Invitation to confession

LIn the course of history, there have been many renewal movements in the Church, which is always in need of deeper conversion to her head, Jesus Christ. Sometimes these movements have led to unintended divisions. This fact contradicts what Jesus asks the Father in John 17:23: “that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Let us confess our sins and pray for forgiveness and healing for the wounds which have resulted from our divisions. As we name these sins we will see how they become a wall which divides us.

Silence

LLet us pray: God and Father in heaven, we come to you in Jesus' name. We experience renewal through your Holy Spirit, and yet we still construct walls that divide us, walls which hinder community and unity. We bring before you now the stones with which we erect our walls and pray for your forgiveness and healing.
CAmen

(As each sin is named the corresponding stone is brought forward to build the wall. Following a moment of silence, the stone bearer [R] makes the plea for forgiveness as the congregation responds “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”)

LOne stone in our wall is “lack of love”.
(The stone with the key term “lack of love” is placed.)
R1

Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for whenever we have failed to love. We humbly pray:

CForgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
LOne stone in our wall is “hate and contempt”.
(The stone with the key term “hate and contempt” is placed.)
R2Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for our hate and contempt for one another. We humbly pray:
C

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

LOne stone in our wall is “false accusation.”
(The stone with the key term “false accusation” is placed.)
R3Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for denouncing and falsely accusing one another. We humbly pray:
CForgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
LOne stone in our wall is “discrimination.”
(The stone with the key term “discrimination” is placed.)
R4Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for all forms of prejudice and discrimination against one another. We humbly pray:
CForgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Sung response: “Lord, forgive us”. (Local committees choose their own sung responses)

L

One stone in our wall is “persecution”.
(The stone with the key term “persecution” is placed.)

R5

Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for persecuting and torturing one another. We humbly pray:

C

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L

One stone in our wall is “broken communion.”
(The stone with the key term “broken communion” is placed.)
R6Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for perpetuating broken communion among our churches. We humbly pray:

C

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L

One stone in our wall is “intolerance”.
(The stone with the key term “intolerance” is placed.)

R7

Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for banishing our brothers and sisters from our common homeland in the past and for acts of religious intolerance today. We humbly pray:

C

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

L

One stone in our wall is “religious wars”.
(The stone with the key term “religious wars” is placed.)

R8

Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for all wars that we have waged against one another in your name. We humbly pray:

C

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Sung response: “Lord, forgive us”.

LOne stone in our wall is “division.”
(The stone with the key term “division” is placed.)
R9Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for living our Christian lives divided from one another and astray from our common calling for the healing of all creation. We humbly pray:
CForgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
LOne stone in our wall is “abuse of power.”
(The stone with the key term “abuse of power” is placed.)
R10Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for our abuse of power. We humbly pray:
CForgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
LOne stone in our wall is “isolation.”
(The stone with the key term “isolation” is placed.)
R11Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for the times when we have isolated ourselves from our Christian sisters and brothers and from the communities in which we live. We humbly pray:
CForgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
LOne stone in our wall is “pride”.
(The stone with the key term “pride” is placed.)
R12

Gracious God, the love of Christ compels us to ask forgiveness for our pride. We humbly pray:

CForgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

Sung response: “Lord, forgive us”.

LLet us pray: Lord, our God, look upon this wall that we have built, which separates us from you and from one another. Forgive us our sins. Heal us. Help us to overcome all walls of division and make us one in you.
C.Amen.

Hymn/Song/Meditative music

III. Be reconciled to God – Hear God's Word

First Reading: Ezekiel 36:25-27

Responsorial Psalm: 18:25-32 (sung)

Response: I love you, O Lord, my strength.

With the loyal you show yourself loyal;
with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
with the pure you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
For you deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.

Response: I love you, O Lord, my strength.

It is you who light my lamp;
the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
This God — his way is perfect;
the promise of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God?—
the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe.

Response: I love you, O Lord, my strength.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:14-20

Alleluia (sung)

Gospel Reading: Luke 15:11-24

Alleluia (sung)

Sermon

IV. Respond in Faith – Live Reconciled

(As the wall is dismantled and the stones are laid in the form of a cross, a song of reconciliation or a hymn of the glory of the cross is sung.)

LLet us pray: Gracious God and Father in Heaven, we have heard your word that you have reconciled us to yourself through your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. By the power of the Holy Spirit transform our hearts of stone. Help us to become ministers of reconciliation and heal our churches’ divisions so that we may better serve as instruments of your peace in the world.
CAmen.

The Peace

LThe peace of the Lord be with you always.
Let us give one another a sign of peace.

Hymn/Song

(Collection/Offering)

Source: vatican.va