Daily Scripture and Prayer Guide — Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011

Guía Diario de Escritura y Oración


The journey of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers." The "they" is the earliest Church born on the day of the Pentecost. All who live in continuity with the day of Pentecost live in continuity with the earliest Church of Jerusalem with its leader St. James. This church provides the image or icon of the Christian unity for which we pray this week.

According to an ancient eastern tradition, the succession of the church comes through continuity with the first Christian community of Jerusalem. It is linked with the heavenly Church of Jerusalem, which in turn becomes the icon of all Christian churches. The sign of continuity for all the churches is maintaining the "marks" of the first Christian community through our devotion to the "apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers."

The present Church of Jerusalem lives in continuity with the apostolic Church of Jerusalem. Its witness to the gospel and its struggles against inequality and injustice remind us that prayer for Christian unity is inseparable from prayer for peace and justice.

Almighty and Merciful God, with great power you gathered together the first Christians in the city of Jerusalem. Grant that, like this first church in Jerusalem, we may come together to be bold in preaching and living the good news of reconciliation and peace wherever there is inequality and injustice. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who liberates us from the bondage of sin and death. Amen.

Day 2, All who believed were together…

Isaiah 55:1-4, Come to the waters.
Psalm 85:8-13 , Surely salvation is at hand.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27, For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.
John 15:1-13, I am the true vine.

The Church in the Acts of the Apostles is the model of the unity we seek today. It reminds us that prayer for Christian unity cannot be for uniformity, because unity from the beginning has been characterized by rich diversity. It is the model or icon of unity in diversity.

The narrative of Pentecost tells us that there were represented on that day all the languages and cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world and beyond. As St. Paul would later write, "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body... Jews or Greeks, slaves or free... and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." It is not a uniform community of like minded, culturally and linguistically united people who were one in the apostles' teaching and fellowship. The church was at unity within itself, and one with the Risen Lord.

Rich diversity characterizes the churches around the world. Like the earliest church, Christians today remind us that we are many members in one body, a unity in diversity. Ancient traditions teach us that diversity and unity exist in the heavenly Jerusalem. They remind us that difference and diversity are not the same as division and disunity, and that the Christian unity for which we pray always preserves authentic diversity.

God, from whom all life flows in its rich diversity, you call your Church as the Body of Christ to be united in love. May we learn more deeply our unity in diversity and strive to work together to preach, and build up the Kingdom of your abundant love in all places. May we always be mindful of Christ as the source of our life together. We pray in the unity of the Spirit. Amen.

Day 3, Devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching...

Isaiah 51:4-8, Listen to me, my people.
Psalm 119:105-112, Your word is a lamp to my feet.
Romans 1:15-17, Eagerness to proclaim the gospel.
John 17:6-19, I have made your name known.

The apostles' teaching was their witness to the life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. The apostles' teaching is exemplified by St. Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost and his use of the prophet Joel. He connects the Church with the biblical story of the people of God.

The Word of God gathers and unites us despite divisions. The apostles' teaching, the good news in all its fullness, was at the center of unity in diversity. It is not simply the "apostles' teaching" that united the earliest church, but devotion to that teaching. Such devotion is reflected in St. Paul's identifying the gospel as "the power of God for salvation."

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God's teaching is inseparable from God's "justice for a light to the peoples." Or as the psalmist prays, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart."

God of Light, we give you thanks for the revelation of your truth in Jesus Christ which we have received through the apostles' teaching. May your Holy Spirit continue to sanctify us in the truth of your Son, so that united in him we may grow in devotion to the Word, and together serve your Kingdom in humility and love. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.

Day 4, Devoted themselves to... fellowship...

Isaiah 58:6-10, Is it not to share your bread with the hungry?
Psalm 37:1-11, Trust in the Lord and do good.
Acts 4:32-37, Everything they owned was held in common.
Matthew 6:25-34, Strive first for the kingdom of God.

The sign of continuity with the apostolic Church is "devotion to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers." The Church of today, however, points us to the practical consequences of such devotion -- sharing. Today's reading links such radical sharing with the powerful apostolic "testimony to the resurrection of Jesus."

Such a sharing of resources characterizes the life of Christian people. It is a sign of their continuity with the first Christians. It is a sign and a challenge to all the churches. It links proclamation of the Gospel, the celebration of Eucharist and the fellowship (or communion) of the Christian community with radical equality and justice for all. As such sharing is a testimony to the resurrection of Jesus, and a sign of continuity with the apostolic Church of Jerusalem, it is equally a sign of our unity with one another.

There are many ways of sharing. There is the radical sharing of the apostolic church where nobody was left in need. There is the sharing of one another's burdens, struggles, pain, suffering, joys and achievements, blessings and healing. There is also an "ecumenical gift exchange" in the sharing of gifts and insights from one church tradition to another even in our separation from one another. Such generous sharing is a practical consequence of our devotion to the apostles' teaching and fellowship; it is a consequence of our prayer for Christian unity.

God of Justice, your giving is without bounds. We thank you that you have given what we need. Inspire us to be instruments of love, sharing all that you give us, as a witness to your generosity and justice. As followers of Christ, lead us to act together in places of want. We pray in the name of Jesus, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Day 5, Devoted themselves... to the breaking of bread

Exodus 16:13b-21a, It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.
Psalm 116:12-14,16-18, I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice.
1 Corinthians 11:17-18, 23-26, Do this in remembrance of me.
John 6:53-58, This is the bread that came down from heaven.

For Christians the sharing of bread traditionally speaks of friendship, forgiveness and commitment to the other. We are challenged in this breaking of bread to seek a unity that can speak prophetically to a world of divisions. In the breaking of bread Christians are formed anew for the prophetic message of hope for all humankind.

Today we, too, break bread "with glad and generous hearts"; but we also experience, at each celebration of the Eucharist, a painful reminder of our disunity. Exodus relates how God responded to the grumbling of the people he had liberated by providing them with what they needed. The manna in the desert is a gift of God, not to be hoarded, nor even fully understood. It is, as our Psalm celebrates, a moment which calls simply for thanksgiving, for God "has loosened our bonds."

What St. Paul recognizes is that to break the bread means not only to celebrate the Eucharist, but to be a eucharistic people, to become Christ's Body in the world. St. Paul's words (1 Corinthians 10-11) serve as a reminder of how the Christian community is to live. We live "in remembrance of him."

As the reading from St. John teaches us, as a people of the breaking of bread, we are a people of eternal life -- life in its fullness. Our celebration of Eucharist challenges us to reflect on how such an abundant gift of life is expressed day to day as we live in hope as well as in difficulties.

God of Hope, we praise you for your gift to us of the Lord's Supper, where, in the Spirit, we continue to meet your Son, the living bread from heaven. We pray that you will hasten the day when your whole church together shares the breaking of the bread. As we wait for that day may we learn more deeply to be a people formed by the Eucharist for service to the world. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Day 6, Devoted themselves... to the prayers.

Jonah 2:1-9, Deliverance belongs to the Lord!
Psalm 67:1-7, Let the peoples praise you, O God!
1 Timothy 2:1-8, Prayers should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions.
Matthew 6:5-15, Your kingdom come, your will be done.

It is prayer that empowers Christians for our mission together. For Jonah the intensity of his prayer is met with dramatic deliverance from the belly of the fish. His prayer is heartfelt, as it arises from his own sense of repentance at having tried to avoid God's will. He had abandoned the Lord's call to prophesy, and ended up in a hopeless place. And here God meets his prayer with deliverance for his mission. The Psalm calls us to pray that God's face will shine upon us -- not only for our own benefit, but for the spread of His rule "among all the nations."

Prayer is a part of the strength and power of mission and prophecy for the world. Paul instructs us to pray especially for those with power in the world so that we may live together in peace and dignity. Our own prayer for unity in Christ reaches out to the whole world.

In Matthew's Gospel we hear of prayer as a "secret" power, born not from display or performance, but from a humble coming before the Lord. Jesus' teaching is summed up in the Lord's Prayer. Praying this together forms us as a united people who seek the Father's will, and the building up of His Kingdom here on earth, and calls us to a life of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Lord God our Father, we rejoice that in all times, places and cultures, there are people who reach out to you in prayer. Teach us to pray better as Christians together, so that we may always be aware of your guidance and encouragement through all our joys and distress, through the power your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Day 7, The apostles' teaching... wonders and signs... praising God.

Isaiah 60:1-3,18-22, You shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates, Praise.
Psalm 118:1, 5-17, I shall not die, but I shall live.
Romans 6:3-11, We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death... so we too might walk in newness of life.
Matthew 28:1-10, Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid."

The first Christians' devotion to the apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of the bread and the prayers was made possible, above all, by the living power of the Risen Jesus. This power is still living and today's Christians witness to this. The light and hope of the Resurrection changes everything. As Isaiah prophesies, it is the transformation of darkness into light; it is an enlightening for all peoples. The power of the Resurrection shines out from Jerusalem, the place of the Lord's Passion, and draws all nations to its brightness. This is a new life, in which violence is put aside, and security is found in salvation and praise.

In the Psalm we are given words to celebrate the central Christian experience of passing from death to life. This is the abiding sign of God's steadfast love. It is the defining reality of all Christians. As St. Paul teaches, we have in baptism entered into the tomb with Christ, and been raised with him. We have died with Christ, and live to share his risen life. And so we can see the world differently -- with compassion, patience, love and hope. Even as divided Christians, we know that the baptism that unites us is a bearing of the Cross in the light of the Resurrection.
For the Christian this resurrection life is not some mere concept or helpful idea. It is rooted in a vivid event in time and space. From Jerusalem the Risen Lord sends greetings to his disciples across the ages, calling us to follow him without fear. He goes ahead of us.

God, you raised your Son Jesus to give hope for humanity and renewal to the earth. Continue to strengthen and unify your Church in its struggles that obscure the hope of the new life you offer. This we pray in the name of the Risen Lord, in the power of his Spirit. Amen.

Day 8, Called out by the Word we have heard.

Genesis 33:1-4, Esau ran to meet Jacob, and embraced him... and they wept.
Psalm 96:1-13, Say among the nations, "The Lord is King!"
2Corinthians 5:17-21, God... reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
Matthew 5:21-26, Leave your gift before the altar, and go: first be reconciled to your brother or sister.

Our prayers of this week have taken us on a journey together. Here we have seen devotion to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. At the end of our reflections we return to our own contexts -- the realities of division, discontent, disappointment and injustice. Concluding this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the question is posed: to what, then, are we called, here and now?

We pray for Christian unity so that the Church might be a sign and instrument for the healing of divisions and injustices and for the growing in understanding between people of all faiths. In our personal and family lives, too, the call to reconciliation must find a response. Jacob and Esau are brothers, yet estranged. Their violence and the habits of anger are put aside as the brothers meet and weep together.

The recognition of our unity as Christians leads us into the Psalm's great song of praise for the Lord who rules the world with loving justice. In Christ, God seeks to reconcile to Himself all peoples. St. Paul celebrates a life of reconciliation as "a new creation." The call to reconcile is the call to allow God's power in us to make all things new.

This "good news" calls us to change the way we live. As Jesus challenges us in St. Matthew's gospel, the call to prayer for Christian unity is a call to reconciliation. The call to reconciliation is a call to action.

God of Peace, we thank you that you sent your Son Jesus, so that we might be reconciled to yourself in him. Give us the grace to be effective servants of reconciliation within our churches. Fill us with love for one another and may our unity serve the reconciliation that you desire for all creation. We pray in the power of the Spirit. Amen.

                                                                   Copyright © 2010 Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute