by The International Preparatory Group
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2009 is rooted in the experience of the churches in Korea. In their context of national division these 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.
Both prophet and priest, Ezekiel was called by God at the young age of 30. Working from 594 through 571 BC, he was greatly influenced by the religious and political reforms which King Josiah had begun in 621 BC. King Josiah had sought to eliminate the destructive legacy of the earlier Assyrian conquest of Judah, through reforms which restored the law and the true worship of the God of Israel. But after Josiah's death in battle, his son King Jehoiakim paid homage to Egypt and worship to a variety of gods flourished. Prophets daring to criticize Jehoiakim were brutally suppressed: Uriah was executed and Jeremiah banished. After the Babylonian invasion and destruction of the temple in 587 BC the leaders and craftsmen of the nation – the young Ezekiel among them – were captured and taken to Babylon. There Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, criticized the “prophets” who were offering unrealistic hopes, and because of this had to endure the hostility and contempt of his fellow Israelites in exile.
Yet in such great suffering, Ezekiel's love for his people only grew. He criticized leaders who acted against God's commandments and sought to guide the people back to God, emphasizing God's faithfulness to God's covenant and solidarity with God's people. Above all, in this apparently hopeless situation Ezekiel did not despair but proclaimed a message of hope: God's original intention for the renewal and the unity of God's people may yet be realized. Ezekiel was encouraged in his efforts by two visions, the first being the familiar vision of the valley of dry bones which, through the action of God's Spirit, are restored from death to life (Ezekiel 37: 1-14).
This year's week of prayer materials are based on Ezekiel's second vision which depicts two pieces of wood, symbolizing the two kingdoms into which Israel had been divided. The names of the tribes in each of the divided kingdoms (two of the original twelve in the North, and ten in the South) are written upon the pieces of wood, which are then brought together again into one (Ezekiel 37: 15-23).
According to Ezekiel the division of the people reflected - and resulted from – their sinfulness and alienation from God. They may become again one people by renouncing their sins, undergoing conversion, and returning to God. Yet ultimately it is God who unites God's people by purifying, renewing and liberating them from their divisions. For Ezekiel this unity is not simply the joining of previously divided groups; it is rather a new creation, the birth of a new people which should be a sign of hope to other peoples and indeed to all of humanity.
The theme of hope is also expressed in another text which is dear to the churches in Korea. Revelation 21:3-4 points to the purification of God's people, to embody the true peace, reconciliation, and unity which is to be found where God dwells: “He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…”
It is these biblical themes – unity as God's intention for God's people; unity as God's gift, but requiring conversion and renewal; unity as a new creation; and the hope that God's people may yet be one – which have inspired the Korean churches in offering these 2009 Week of Prayer materials.