AS A PARISH priest I always looked forward to receiving the material for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January. I still do.
The theme for this year’s observance (January 18-25) is, “That they may become one in your hand.” It comes from Ezekiel 37: 15-17. “The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the Israelites associated with it;’ then take another stick and write on it’, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with it’; and join them together into one stick, so that they may become one in your hand.”
In this vision, the people of South Korea have found compelling parallels to their own situation within a divided country and among divided churches in the world. Their reflection on Ezekiel’s vision inspired them to propose the theme, “That they may become one in my hand.”
In a commentary on the theme we read, “Christians may see in this [image] a prefiguration of what Christ will bring about, namely new life which comes through conquering death… From the two pieces of wood which form his cross, Jesus reconciles us to God; with this, humanity is infused with new hope… Through his outstretched hands on the cross [he] embraces all of creation and offers us God’s shalom.”
As Christians, we acknowledge that our brokenness has marred our witness to the glorious gospel of God’s love in Christ. We confess our failures. We engage in dialogue. We embrace one another in Christ.
We are celebrating unity for what it is. To quote from a Lambeth indaba reflection, “Unity is both a gift and vocation from God to the Church for the world. We must learn how to receive that gift. Mindful of the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ prayed that the Church be one, it is, therefore, imperative for all his followers. They should use ‘every ounce of their energy’ in seeking for that unity.”
I encourage you to attend a Christian unity service in your community. Pray for the local council of churches, church leaders in Canada and for global ecumenical coalitions.
May our prayers be grounded in our reflection on the two sticks of wood upon which Christ died; two sticks of which he said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12: 32)
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.