Scriptural Theme 2007

Guía Diario de Escritura y Oración


Provided by the International Committee

This year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity brings together two themes, two invitations extended to Christian churches and people: to pray and strive together for Christian unity, and to join together in responding to human suffering. These two responsibilities are deeply intertwined. Both relate to healing the body of Christ, hence the principal text chosen for this year’s week of prayer is a story of healing.

Mark 7: 31-37 relates how Jesus healed a man who was deaf and could not speak properly. Jesus led the man away from the crowd, in order to attend to him in private. He put his fingers into the man’s ears, took spittle and touched the man’s tongue, and “said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘be opened’” - a word sometimes used in Christian baptism. The good news here proclaimed has many dimensions. As in many other gospel accounts, in this story of healing we hear of the Lord’s compassionate response to suffering and need; it is an eloquent testimony to the mercy of God. In restoring the man’s hearing and his ability to speak, Jesus manifests God’s power and desire to bring human beings to wholeness, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy” (35:5-6). The restoration of the man’s hearing allowed him to hear the good news proclaimed by Jesus; the restoration of his speech allowed him to proclaim what he had seen and heard to others. All of these dimensions are reflected in the response of those who witnessed the healing and were “astounded beyond measure”: “he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak” (v.37.

Like the man healed by Jesus, all who have been baptized in Christ have had their ears opened to the gospel. In his first letter, Saint John speaks of the fellowship of those who have received this good news of “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1:1). It was the Lord’s desire (John 17) that those who were his disciples, who had received his message, would be one, united with one another in a unity grounded in his communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As the body of Christ, the church is called to be one, the community which has heard and seen the marvels which God has done, and has been sent forth to proclaim them to the ends of the earth. As Christ’s body, we are called to be united in carrying out his mission. A part of that mission is to attend to those who are suffering and in need. As God heard the cry and knew the sufferings of his people in Egypt (cf. Exodus 3:7-9), as Jesus responded with compassion to those who cried out to him, so too the church is to hear the voice of all who suffer, to respond with compassion, to give voice to the voiceless.

Drawing together two strands of the church’s life and mission, this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is intent on emphasizing that there is an essential connection between efforts to pray for and seek unity among Christians and initiatives to respond to human need and suffering. The same Spirit which makes us brothers and sisters in Christ also empowers us to reach out to every human being in need. The same Spirit which is at work in all efforts to make visible the unity of Christians also gives strength to every movement towards renewing the face of the earth. Every easing of human suffering makes our oneness more visible; every step towards unity strengthens the whole body of Christ.

The Eight Days
The Book of Genesis begins with God’s creative word being spoken. Out of chaos, breaking the silence, God’s word springs forth. It is an active word, a word which brings about that which it speaks; and what it speaks is life. God speaks and the creation comes into being. God speaks and human beings are formed in the image and likeness of God. God speaks in history, and human beings are invited into a covenant with God. John’s gospel also begins with the word of God spoken in time, and proclaims the heart of New Testament faith in announcing that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, speaks God’s very self. Through his ministry, Jesus speaks in many ways, even at times (before Pontius Pilate) through silence. Always, the word which Jesus speaks is a word of mercy, a word which summons his hearers into a deeper life, life in communion with God and with each other. This good news is in turn to be proclaimed through word and deed by all who are baptized in the name of the Triune God. It is only in the power of the Spirit that Christians are able to hear and respond to God’s call.

Days 1 to 3 set forth this trinitarian framework. Day 1 invites reflection on the creative word which God speaks in the beginning, and which God continues to speak; a word which those created in God’s image are invited to echo in speaking an active and creative word amidst the chaos of our present day. The meditation for Day 2 ponders what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, who makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak. Day 3 reflects on the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians, empowering us both to proclaim the good news, and to be instruments of Christ’s healing presence, listening and giving voice to those who have been silenced or have not been able to relate their experience.

The intrinsic relationship between fostering unity and responding to human suffering comes clearly to light in Paul’s reflection on the church as the body of Christ. “By one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians12:13). Christ has made us one. Our divisions hamper and diminish this unity, but they do not destroy it. Because we all belong to Christ, each part of his body has need of the other, and must care for the other. “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (v.26). Day 4 asks what it means to be a community united in Christ, a community in full solidarity with its suffering members.

Days 5 and 6 develop more explicitly the theme set forth by the churches in Umlazi, that of breaking the silence which oppresses. Those who suffer are often left to suffer in silence, their hopes for compassion and justice going unheeded. There are times when Christians and Christian churches have remained silent when they should have spoken out, times when they have not empowered the voiceless to speak. There are times when the divisions of the churches have kept us from hearing the pain of others, or have left our response muffled, conflicted, ineffective and unconsoling (Day 5). This is a sin, not least because the church has been given a voice, has been given a message to proclaim, a mission to carry out; and it is not a divided message, a conflictive mission. Enlivened by the Holy Spirit, it is to be a single coherent utterance, the good news given to us by and in Christ himself. Through Christ, we have the grace to break the silence. In Christ, we are the community called to say ‘be opened’ to the deaf and the dumb. The path to faithfulness and integrity requires that Christians strive and pray for that unity for which Christ prayed, and that even amidst our divisions, we learn to speak with a single voice, to reach out as a single body with compassion, giving flesh to the good news which we proclaim (Day 6).

The saving death and resurrection of Christ stand at the heart of the word which God speaks to humanity. Day 7 ponders the cross of Christ in light of the experience of suffering and death in Umlazi and many other regions. Living in the valley of death, where suffering exceeds all measure, amidst cemeteries where the dead are often buried one atop the other, the people of Umlazi know and understand the desolation of the cross of Christ. In faith, they also know that Christ has not distanced himself from the burden of human suffering, and that the closer we come to his cross, the closer we come to each other. It is a particularly profound proclamation of resurrection which resounds from these same cemeteries, when during the earliest hours of Easter morning, Christians gather amidst the tombs of their loved ones with candles lit to proclaim that Christ has risen from the dead, and that in him, death has lost its power (Day 8). Amidst suffering and death, amidst division and adversity, the paschal mystery sows seeds of hope that all oppressive silence will surely give way, that one day every tongue will be united in confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11).

Our central biblical text for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Mark 7:31-37, notes that Jesus looked up to heaven and sighed before he healed the man. In Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes that the Holy Spirit accompanies our prayers “with sighs too deep for words”. Paul’s phrase is suggestive of the longing which the Spirit is cultivating in our hearts and minds, a longing for full and visible unity among all Christian churches, a longing for an end to human suffering.

In the worship service and in each of the eight days, we have made it a structural principle to incorporate explicit references both to the need to continue to work and pray for unity among all our churches and to the voices of people in Umlazi and in other regions from which a cry extends to the heavens. We hope that this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity helps to break the silence which oppresses, and draws attention to the intrinsic relatedness between prayer and the search for Christian unity and the call for Christian peoples and churches to work together as instruments of God’s compassion and justice in the world.

                                                                   Copyright 2007 © Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute