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Day 1, Pray always (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Isaiah 55:6-9, Seek the Lord while he may be found.
Psalms 34, I sought the Lord, and he answered me.
1 Thessalonians 5:12a, 13b-18, Pray without ceasing.
Luke 18:1-8, To pray always and not to lose heart.
Paul writes “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” His epistle is written to a faithful community that is anxious about death. Paul assures them that the dead will be raised with the living and exhorts them to “pray without ceasing.” What does it mean to pray without ceasing? We find insights to answer this question in today's readings.
In the midst of the Exile, when all seemed hopeless, the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” Even in exile, the Lord is near and urging his people to turn to him in prayer. Psalm 34 affirms the prophetic conviction that the Lord will answer those who call upon him, and adds praise to the call to pray without ceasing.
In Luke's gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples with the parable of the widow seeking justice from a judge who feared neither God nor respected people. The story serves as a reminder of the need for constant prayer — “to pray always and not to lose heart” — and for confidence that prayer is answered: “will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?”
As Christians in search of unity, we reflect on these readings to find Athe will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Our call to pray without ceasing becomes part of his eternal intercession to the Father: “that all may be one, ... that the world may believe ... ” The unity we seek is unity ‘as Christ wills' and the ‘octave' observance of Christian prayer for unity reflects the biblical notion of completion, that some day our prayer will be answered.
Unity is a God-given gift to the church. It is also a call of Christians to live out this gift. Prayer for Christian unity is the source from which flow all human endeavors to manifest full visible unity. Many are the fruits of one hundred years of an octave of prayer for Christian unity. Many are also the barriers which still divide Christians and their churches. If we are not to lose heart, we must be steadfast in prayer so that we may seek the Lord and his will in all we do and all we are.
Lord of unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we pray without ceasing that we may be one, as you are one. Father, hear us as we seek you. Christ, draw us to the unity which is your will for us.
Spirit, may we never lose heart. Amen.
Day 2, Pray always, trusting God alone(1 Thessalonians 5:18).
1 Kings 18:20-40, The Lord indeed is God.
Psalms 23, The Lord is my shepherd.
1 Thessalonians 5:12a, 13b-18, Give thanks in all circumstances.
John 11:17-44, Father, I thank you for having heard me.
Praying is rooted in the trust that God is powerful and faithful. God alone is the one who holds all in his hands. The story of Elijah in First Kings impressively demonstrates the oneness of God. Elijah berates the apostates who worship Baal, who is not answering their prayers. Yet when Elijah prays to the one God of Israel, the response is immediate and miraculous. Realizing this, the people turned their hearts back to God.
Psalm 23 is a profound confession of trust. It depicts a person who believes that God guides him and stays with him also in the darkness of life and in situations of desolation and oppression.
We may find circumstances that may be difficult, even turbulent. We may have moments of despair and resignation. Sometimes we feel that God is hidden. But he is not absent. He will manifest his power to liberate in the midst of human struggle. Thus, we give thanks to him in all circumstances.
The raising of Lazarus from the dead is one of the most dramatic scenes recorded in John's gospel. It is a manifestation of Christ's power to break the bonds of death and an anticipation of the new creation. In the presence of the people Jesus prays aloud, thanking his Father for the mighty deeds he will do. God's saving work is accomplished through Christ so that all will come to believe.
The ecumenical pilgrimage is a way in which we realize the wondrous deeds of God. Christian communities which have been separated from each other come together. They discover their unity in Christ and come to understand that they are each part of one church and need one another.
The vision of unity can be darkened. It is sometimes threatened by frustrations and tensions. The question may arise whether we Christians are truly called to stay together. Our continuous praying sustains us as we look to God and trust that he is still at work in us and will lead us to the light of his victory. His kingdom begins with our reconciliation and growing unity.
God of all creation, hear your children as we pray. Help us keep our faith and trust in you. Teach us to give thanks in all circumstances, relying on your mercy. Give us truth and wisdom, that your church may arise to new life in one fellowship. You alone are our hope. Amen.
Day 3, Pray without ceasing for the conversion of hearts (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Jonah 3:1-10, The repentance of Nineveh.
Psalms 51:8-15, Create a pure heart in me.
1 Thessalonians 5:12a,13b-18, Encourage the faint-hearted.
Mark 11: 15-17, A house of prayer.
In the beginning and at the heart of the ecumenical enterprise can be found a pressing call to repentance and conversion. We sometimes need to know how to call each other to task within our Christian communities, as Paul invites us in the first epistle to the Thessalonians. If one or the other causes division, he should be rebuked; if some are afraid of all that a difficult reconciliation could imply, they should be encouraged.
If divisions between Christians exist, it is also through a lack of will to be committed to ecumenical dialogue and even, simply, to prayer for unity.
The Bible tells us how God sent Jonah to rebuke Nineveh and how the whole city repented. In the same way, Christian communities must listen to the Word of God and repent. In the course of the last century, we have not been lacking in prophets of unity who have made Christians aware of the unfaithfulness manifest in our divisions and reminding them of the urgency of reconciliation.
In the image of the vigorous intervention of Jesus in the temple, the call to Christian reconciliation can seriously call into question our narrow self-understanding. We too have a great need of purification. We need to know how to rid our hearts of all that prevents them from being a true house of prayer, concerned for the unity of all peoples.
Lord you desire truth deep-down within us: in the secret of our hearts, you teach us wisdom. Teach us to encourage each other along the road to unity. Show us the conversion necessary for reconciliation. Give to each of us a new, truly ecumenical heart, we pray you. Amen.
Day 4, Pray always for justice(1 Thessalonians 5:15).
Exodus 3 1-12, God hears the cry of the Israelites.
Psalms 146, The Lord secures justice for the oppressed.
1Thessalonians 5:12a, 13b-18, See that none of you repays evil for evil.
Matthew 5:38-42, Offer no resistance to one who is evil.
Together as God's people, we are called to pray for justice. God hears the cry of the oppressed, the needy, the orphan and the widow. God is a God of justice and answers with his Son, Jesus Christ, who commands us to work together in unity through peace and not through violence. Paul also emphasizes this in the words “see that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.”
Christians pray without ceasing for justice, that all people will be treated with dignity and given a fair share in this world. In the United States of America, the injustice of the slavery of Africans ended only with a bloodletting civil war and a century of state-sponsored racism. Sadly, racism and other forms of bigotry still linger in American life.
Yet it was through the efforts of the churches, particularly the African-American churches and their ecumenical partners, and most especially through the nonviolent resistance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, that civil rights for all were enshrined in American law. His deep-rooted conviction that only Christlike love truly conquers hate and brings about the transformation of society continues to inspire Christians to work for justice. It is fitting that Dr. King's birthday falls either just before or within the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Jesus reminds us that God's justice is embodied in his own willingness to sacrifice his own security, power, prestige and his very life to bring to our world the justice and reconciliation through which all human beings are treated as equal in worth and dignity. It is only as we hear and respond to the cries of the oppressed that we can move forward together on the road to unity. This also applies to the ecumenical movement, where we may be required to “go the extra mile” in our willingness to listen to one another, reject vindictiveness and act in charity.
Lord God, you created humanity, male and female, in the divine image. May we pray without ceasing and with one mind and heart that those who are hungry in our world will be nourished, that those who are oppressed will be freed, that all human persons will be treated with dignity. May we be your instruments in making this yearning a reality. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Day 5, Pray constantly with a patient heart (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Psalms 1, Yield fruit in its season.
1 Thessalonians 5:12a, 13b-18, Be patient with all of them.
Luke 18:9-14, A humble prayer.
We cannot be complacent about the divisions between Christians and we are rightly impatient for the day of our reconciliation to come about. But we must also be conscious that ecumenical effort is not sustained at the same rhythm everywhere. Some go forward in leaps and bounds. Others are more prudent. As Paul exhorts, we must be patient with everybody.
Like the Pharisee in prayer, we can easily come before God with the arrogance of those who do all things well: “I am not like other people.” If we are sometimes tempted to denounce the slowness or rashness of the members of our church or those of our ecumenical dialogue partners, the invitation to be patient sounds an important and timely warning.
Sometimes it is toward God that we show our impatience. Like the people in the desert, we sometimes question him: why do we have to continue this painful journey if it is all to no use? Let us stay confident. God responds to our prayers, in his own way and his own time. He will create new ways, to meet today's needs, of bringing Christians together.
Lord, make us your disciples, attentive to your Word, day and night. On our journey toward unity, give us hope for fruit in due season. When prejudices and suspicion seem to dominate, we pray you, give us the humble patience necessary for reconciliation. Amen.
Day 6, Pray always for grace to work with God (1 Thessalonians 5 16).
2 Samuel 7:18-29, David's prayer of praise and rejoicing.
Psalms 86, Incline your ear, O Lord.
1 Thessalonians 5:12a, 13b-18, Rejoice always.
Luke 10:1-24, The sending of the seventy-two.
In prayer we align our wills to the will of God. We need the Holy Spirit to change the hearts of believers, so that we have the grace to work with God and become part of his mission and his goal of unity. As we pray for this without ceasing we are aware that “more workers are needed for the harvest.” At many ecumenical gatherings it is recognized that if the ecumenical movement is to prosper today and in the next generation, more young people need to be drawn into it. We need more workers to experience the joy of praying to be part of the work of God.
The readings for Day 6 give us insight into what it means to work for the sake of the gospel.
David, amazed that he might be part of the plan to build a magnificent temple for the Lord, asks, “Can God indeed dwell on earth?” and then concludes, ANow therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you.”
The psalmist prays, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I will give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”
In the sending of the seventy-two, Jesus confirms that through his disciples, and those who would come to believe in him through their word, his peace and the news that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” would be proclaimed to the world. At their joyful return, despite rejection, Jesus rejoices at their success in the submission of the evil spirits in his name: the message is never to cease, never to give up.
God's will is for God's people to be one. Like the Christians in Thessalonika, we are urged to “rejoice always” and “pray without ceasing,” trusting that God's purpose of unity will finally be fulfilled.
Lord God, in the perfect unity of your being, keep our hearts so burning with the desire and hope for unity that we will never stop working for the sake of your gospel. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Day 7, Pray for what we needY help the weak (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
1 Samuel 1:9-20, Hannah prays for a son.
Psalms 86, Listen to my cry of supplication.
1 Thessalonians 5:12la, 13b-18, We urge youY to help the weak.
Luke 11:5-13, Ask and it will be given you.
Unable to bear a child and in great distress, Hannah prayed to God for a son and in due time, Samuel (which means I have asked him of the Lord) was born. In Luke's gospel, Jesus himself tells us to Aask and it will be given.” In our need, we turn to God in prayer. The response may not be what we expect but God always responds.
The power of prayer is immense, especially when linked to service. In Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, the theme of service is taken up in the imperative: “help the weak.” We do not find it impossible to respond ecumenically in a practical way to people's weakness or distress; churches of different traditions often work hand in hand. But their witness in some situations is seriously weakened by their division, and when we want to pray together, we are sometimes deeply suspicious of the different prayer forms we encounter in Christian traditions other than our own.
There are signs however of a new consideration of different forms of prayer. Within American churches, the experience of Pentecostal renewal has also led to a greater appreciation of the power of prayer and Pentecostals have begun to feel more comfortable in the ecumenical movement. Discussion with the Orthodox churches in the World Council of Churches has also led to greater appreciation of each other's prayer forms.
Without doubt, confidence in the power of prayer has rich potential to further the cause of Christian unity — once we can understand and overcome our differences. We should give prayerful support to the dialogues which seek to address those differences and which prevent us from coming together at the Lord's table. Praying together that prayer of remembrance and thanksgiving would allow a great stride to be taken along the road to unity.
Help us, Lord, to be truly one in praying for the healing of our world, for the mending of divisions in our churches, and of ourselves. May we never doubt that you hear and answer. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Day 8, Pray always that they all may be one (I Thessalonians 5:13b).
Isaiah 11:6-13, The wolf shall live with the lamb.
Psalms 122, Peace be within your walls.
1 Thessalonians 5:12a, 13b-18, Be at peace among yourselves.
John 17:6-24, That they all may be one.
God's desire for human beings is that we live in peace with one another. Not only an absence of war or conflict; the shalom desired by God is that which arises from a reconciled humanity, a human family which participates in and embodies the peace which God alone can give. Isaiah's image of the wolf living with the lamb, the leopard lying down with the kid, offers a glimpse of the future God desires for us. While we cannot create this shalom on our own, we are called to be instruments of the Lord's peace, artisans of God's reconciling work. Peace, like unity, is a gift and a calling.
Jesus' plea for the unity took the form of a prayer. It is a prayer which rises from the depths of his heart and of his mission, as he prepares his disciples for all that is to come: Father, may they all be one.
As we mark the 100th anniversary of the Octave/Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrating it within the context of the yearnings, prayers and initiatives for the unity of Christians through the centuries, we do well to take stock of where we are on this Spirit-led journey. It is a time to give thanks for the many fruits of prayer for unity. In many places, animosity and misunderstanding have given way to respect and friendship between Christians and Christian communities. Christians who have gathered together to pray for unity have often joined together in acts of common witness to the gospel, and worked side by side in serving those in great need. Dialogue has assisted in building bridges of understanding, and has led to the resolution of some of the doctrinal differences which have separated us.
Yet it is also a time to repent, for in our divisions we continue to stand under the judgement of Jesus' prayer for unity and Paul's imperative that we be at peace among ourselves. In the present day, Christians are publicly divided on many issues. Internally divided and in conflict with each other, we fall short of the lofty calling to be signs and instruments of the unity and peace willed by God.
What then shall we say? There is reason to rejoice, and cause for sorrow. It is a moment to give thanks for those of past generations who have spent themselves generously at the service of reconciliation, and a time to recommit ourselves to be artisans of the unity and peace which Christ desires.
Lord, make us one: one in our words; one in our yearning and pursuit of justice; one in love, serving you by serving the least of our sisters and brothers; one in longing for your face. Lord, make us one in you. Amen.