Program for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2003

18-25 January 2003

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Prayer For Christian Unity 2003

We Have this Treasure in Clay Jars
(2 Cor 4:7)

Biblical Text for 2003
We have this treasure in clay jars
(2 Corinthians 4: 4-18)

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.

For it is the God who said, «Let light shine out of darkness», who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture – «I believed, and so I spoke» – we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

(New Revised Standard Version)

To Those Organising the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Adapting the text

This material is offered with the understanding that, whenever possible, it will be adapted for use at the local level. In doing this, account must be taken of local liturgical and devotional practice, and of the whole social and cultural context. Such adaptation should normally take place ecumenically.
In some places ecumenical structures are already set up for adapting the material. In other places, we hope that the need to adapt it will be a stimulus to creating such structures.

Using the Week of Prayer material For churches and Christian communities which observe the week of prayer together through a single common service, an order for an ecumenical worship service is provided.

Churches and Christian communities may also incorporate material from the week of prayer into their own services. Prayers from the ecumenical worship service and the «eight days» can be used as appropriate in their own setting.

Communities which observe the week of prayer in their worship for each day during the week may draw material for these services from the «eight days».
Those wishing to do Bible studies on the week of prayer theme can use as a basis the biblical texts and reflections given in the «eight days». Each day the discussions can lead to a closing period of intercessory prayer.
Those who wish to pray privately may find the material helpful for focusing their prayer intentions. They can be mindful that they are in communion with others praying all around the world for the greater visible unity of Christ’s church.

The search for unity: throughout the year

The traditional date for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is 18-25 January. Those dates were proposed in 1908 by Paul Watson to cover the days between the feast of St Peter and the feast of St Paul, and therefore have a symbolic meaning. In the southern hemisphere where January is a vacation time churches often find other days to celebrate the week of prayer, for example around Pentecost (which was suggested by the Faith and Order movement in 1926), which is also a symbolic date for the unity of the church.

But the search for Christian unity is not limited to one week each year. We encourage you therefore not only to be flexible concerning the date but also to understand the material presented here as an invitation to find opportunities throughout the whole year to express the degree of communion which the churches have already received, and to pray together for that full unity which is Christ’s will.

Introduction to the Theme for the Year 2003

«We have this treasure in clay jars»
(2 Corinthians 4: 7)

Migration, a complex issue, is having a growing impact on the lives of many people, countries and churches around the world. Argentina is one of the countries where there have been many waves of immigration that have affected not only the national context but also the lives of the churches. The initial project for this year’s prayer for unity comes from an ecumenical group in Argentina that chose the biblical text and theme that arises out of a reflection on the fact that Argentina is a nation built by native peoples and immigrants.

Several reasons for immigration might be identified such as famine, wars, and religious persecutions. Two stories from Argentina’s recent past illustrate these situations and show the need for the churches to work together to seek unity in order to respond in common witness.

1. A family fleeing from violence emigrates and finds a home in Argentina.
There they find security but have to face a new culture which they do not understand, a language that is not their own, and a history with which they cannot identify. Sometimes the local population does not appreciate their presence. This family feels happiness and at the same time sadness. They leave behind fear but now they discover discrimination. In some cases they have to accept being economically exploited; this is the price that they have to pay to protect their lives and raise their children. The new country takes them in and rejects them at the same time. They have faith and they wait for the light that will guide them in the darkness.

2. A young woman comes to the big city looking for a job.
She grew up in the northern countryside and leaves it for a better future. She leaves her family, her friends and now she faces a different kind of society. Her skin and her accent reveal that her origins are in the country; probably she also has native blood. For this too she has to pay a high price. She experiences the bright lights of the big city but also the sadness of loneliness. She is a foreigner in her own country. She often feels she is treated as if she has no right to enjoy the good life. She has no one in whom to confide but she still has hope that she will find her place.

Such situations led the local group to reflect on how the word of God gives us strength in difficult circumstances and even reminds us that all of God’s people are pilgrims on the way to the kingdom. The Bible presents us with many examples of peoples who migrate from place to place for many of the same reasons as the populations of today. Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Amos, and Joseph, Mary and Jesus are biblical examples of immigrants.

The experience of immigration reveals a world that is divided. The unity of Christians needs to be the paradigm for the unity of humankind. Christians possess a «treasure in clay jars» (2 Cor 4:7) which is the glory of Jesus Christ the Lord, namely his victory over sin, death, persecution and hatred. his treasure is, as Paul says in 2 Cor 4:5-6, the knowledge of God’s glory that burns brightly in Jesus as he has revealed the depth
s of God’s love and mercy for all creation, especially the poor.

The text of 2 Cor 4:5-18 calls us to recognise that we carry a treasure that does not belong to us but which has been given to us as a gift from God to strengthen us when we are suffering and encourage us when we are sad. We carry this treasure within the fragility of our human existence so that it becomes clear that this gift has its origin in God and is not of our own making. God invites us to witness to him through our human weakness.

The body of Christ is undivided and for this reason we must overcome the divisions among Christians that are a counter-witness to this truth. We recognise that the barriers are great and that our own intellectual and physical force is not enough to heal our sins of division. The unity of the church must be brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, so that each step toward unity is seen as God drawing us nearer to his kingdom.

We need to accept the challenge of the apostle Paul who said that «we believe so we speak» (2 Cor 4:13). Not to speak is to hide the visible reality of Christ at work in us, which is the basis of the church’s action in the world. So with the strength that is given to us, we have to go toward our neighbour to share the light of Christ and to recognise that together we are in debt to God who gave the life of his Son for the salvation of humankind. These themes are illustrated in the worship service and the eight days, which are planned as follows:

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul encourages his Christian brothers and sisters with the message of hope represented in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s message, revealing God’s glory and the light that continues to shine in a world of darkness (2 Cor 4:5-6). This is the hope born in the hearts of men and women who are aware that its source is in God and not in ourselves. It is this treasure that sustains the pilgrims and the migrants in their fragile human condition (Day 1 – 2 Cor 4:7).

Common faith in Christ is our hope and our treasure. In our world, many men, women and children experience the weight of persecution, affliction and abandonment as they are forced to leave their homes and live on the streets, constantly separated from their familiar surroundings. Paul reflects on the experience of persecution, offering the consolation of Christian faith; since Jesus assumed our human condition that it might be lifted up, the strength of God is revealed in our weakness. Hence we are neither crushed nor driven to despair, we are not forsaken or struck down because we have faith (Day 2 – 2 Cor 4:8).

The mystery of redemption is revealed in situations where, through God’s grace, the human spirit makes visible the image of Christ in the fragility of our bodies. In this fragility we see the death of Christ carried in the body but through God’s mercy the image of Christ is also revealed. Too often the sinfulness of discrimination reveals a culture of death, that is nothing more than a desire to eliminate difference, which is the other. The mission of the churches is to find ways to affirm together the image of Christ in the other as a source of riches, a valuable gift. The presence of Christ manifested in our bodies renews us so that we make visible the image of God, a dignity that cannot be erased. It is only when we appreciate this treasure that all bear in their human nature that we can welcome others, recognising their resemblance to God (Day 3 – 2 Cor 4:10).

It seems like a contradiction but as long as there is life in us, we must learn to be given over to death, to die to self that Christ might live in us. In doing so, we open our minds to the very importance of life itself – a life that has been entrusted to Christ that his life might be visible in us. All Christians are called to witness to the fact that sin no longer has power over us. This is where the churches must witness together in the world to the dignity of life, new life in Christ (Day 4 – 2 Cor 4:11).

In the precarious conditions in which both pilgrims and immigrants find themselves, Christian churches united «in the same spirit of faith» offer their voices to foreigners and the dispossessed. It is because we confess this same faith that we are able to find words to speak out.

The theme of Day 5 (2 Cor 4:14) encourages Christians to reflect on the necessity to speak out courageously against the desperate situations of the homeless, the refugee, the immigrant, the street person, migrant populations and indeed, all who are in distress. We believe in the renewing power of God in Jesus Christ and so together we speak out with courage against all that destroys the dignity of the human person.

It is the mission of the church in society to be a sign of God’s grace. The values of this passing world are not necessarily those of the kingdom of the blessed. Jesus has entrusted to each Christian and the churches together, the mission of living out the integrity of the kingdom of God as a new force, renewing human society. The justification that we have been freely given through God’s grace obliges us to live as justified in the world (Day 6 – 2 Cor 4:15).

In spite of many difficulties and persecutions, we must not lose heart. Saint Paul encourages us to remain strong because we not only bear the death of Christ in our body but also his life. The church is called to show forth the victory of Christ over death by being a community of courage. The perseverance of those seeking Christian unity is an important reality for the faint hearted and those tempted to give up the struggle, for it illustrates the strength of God’s grace in spite of many difficulties. Jesus prayed for the unity of all those who bear his name precisely so that the world might come to believe. In spite of obstacles on the path to Christian unity, in the face of adversity the churches must act together with courage and perseverance to offer this divided world a paradigm of unity and to be a sign of the power of the death of Christ over all the forces of sin and darkness (Day 7 – 2 Cor 4:16).

On Day 8, we reflect on how the suffering that we endure prepares us for «glory beyond all measure» (2 Cor 4:17). This is not a utopian vision of how all human struggle will end since Paul calls us to reflect on how, if we are united by faith to the sufferings of Christ, we will be transformed by the grace of his resurrection. We bear both his suffering and resurrection in our body. This is why Paul exhorts us to look beyond what we see with mortal eyes to the eternal truth that is revealed in the glory of Christ. The unity of all those who believe in Christ is made visible when Christians truly take up their task in the world through which they are passing.

Each of the eight days proposes a prayer for the unity of all those who believe in Christ. The value of prayer for unity cannot be stressed enough since it is the place where all Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit, humbly recognise that the unity that God wills for the church is itself a gift. Let us then pray continually that we may be ready to receive this gift and carry it in the clay jar of our human frailty.

Preparation of the Material for
the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2003

The initial draft of this text was produced by an ecumenical group of biblical scholars, theologians, priests, pastors and lay persons in Argentina. Sincere thanks go to this local group for its suggestion of the theme, and its careful work over a ten-month period. Members of the group were related to the Comisión Ecuménica de Iglesias Cristianas de la Argentina (CEICA/The Ecumenical Commission of Christian Churches in Argentina). They were: Fr Rafael Magul (Orthodox), Ms Maria Luisa Cárdenas (Roman Catholic) Fr Fernando Gianetti (Roman Catholic), Rev. Carlos Halperin (Anglican) Rev. Margarita Tourn (Waldensian Church) and Rev. Pablo Andiñach (Methodist).
The text was brought to its present form by an international team ap
pointed by the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church. This team – which included a representative of the Argentinian group) met near Málaga, Spain at the ecumenical centre «Los Rubios» of the Iglesia Evangélica Española (Spanish Reformed Church). The team thanks the director, Mrs Pilar Agraz Aguilar, and the staff of the ecumenical centre for their warm and generous welcome.
The participants in the group were privileged to hear the Rev. Father Carlos de Francisco Vega of the Secretariat for Interconfessional Relations of the Spanish Episcopal Conference speak on the observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Spain, and Mrs Agraz on the origins and development of the Los Rubios ecumenical centre, in particular its work with immigrants. In the course of one Sunday participants attended worship at both the Reformed church in Los Rubios and the Roman Catholic parish «Nuestra Señora de la Victoria» in Rincón de la Victoria, and the team also expresses its thanks to them for their friendly welcome.

Ecumenical Worship Service

This worship service celebrates the flame lit by God our Father in the hearts of believers and of their communities though they come from many different cultures, peoples and nations spread throughout the earth, in a state of perpetual migration and fresh settlement.
Jesus Christ shares the light of faith with us. This faith is «knowledge of the glory of God which shines on the face of Christ». It is the treasure which Paul evokes in 2 Cor 4: 5-18. Every believer and community of believers shares this treasure and bears witness to it in all its richness and from the frailty of the human condition.

From an ecumenical point of view it is most important that we can joyfully celebrate the risen Christ but it is no less important to raise to God our Father through Jesus our only mediator, our prayers for the many men and women, young people and children traumatised by displacement. This will be the theme of the intercessions which, together with our confession of Christ, the light of our lives, is the most important aspect of this worship. Communities of believers have experienced and still experience division, joys yet tribulations, yearnings and hopes that make them painfully aware of the sufferings of people who know the ordeal of emigration. This is why our prayer of intercession for the unity of the churches and our prayer for migrant communities are one and the same.

For this celebration, based upon the original proposal of an ecumenical group in Argentina, it is particularly recommended:

§ To issue invitations beyond the normal circle of Christians who are usually to be found in ecumenical meetings, so as to form a united but diverse assembly of prayer, especially with the immigrant Christian communities which are to be found within our towns and regions. In meeting and preparing worship together we shall celebrate the risen Christ, Light of Light, as our only salvation within the communion of the one faith with all its diversity of expression. Our celebration will pay tribute to this diversity.

§ To use the symbol of light contained in clay jars; or even better, one clay jar. This could be passed from one group to another in full view of the assembly, at the moment of intercession, allowing the symbolism of this precious treasure to be understood in the unity of the one Lord, one faith, one baptism and common hope in Christ – the Christ who is in solidarity with the poor, with migrants, the wounded of this life. At the beginning of worship this jar, containing the light, will already emphasise the unity of Christians gathered to proclaim faith in Christ, light of our lives, and of our hope for the growth of fellowship.

§ The sign of peace sets the seal on this fellowship in the intercessions. The unity that is demonstrated by this act corresponds to the renewed commissioning by Christ at the end of the worship. He expects all his disciples to witness to their unity by committing themselves to face up to the hard realities of migration.

§ To highlight not only the dramatic nature of migrations and their sinful causes, but the fact that, as disciples of Christ on earth, we are also migrants. Avoiding condescension or insincerity, we will welcome each other during this worship as sisters and brothers in the faith. We have so much to share of that which gives us hope during times of trial and our wonderment at that treasure which is God-given faith. Where would our ecumenical pilgrimage be without the exchanges and dialogues provoked by contemporary migrations? We will allow ourselves to be welcomed by Christ, himself a nomad on this earth. Our earthly journey also becomes a pilgrimage with our brothers and sisters towards the house of God. But we have to make sure to be like him and not to exclude anyone from the banquet which the Holy Spirit has set within the heart of the baptised. And that is why we have to hear, and hear all over again, his call to become witnesses of the gospel while becoming itinerant bearers of the good news, as Ruth, for example, anticipated in her own way.

It is to be hoped that within the liturgy of the word the person of Ruth can be honoured. At the beginning of the liturgy, the story of Ruth’s journey to Bethlehem in Judah with Naomi, her mother in law (whose homeland it was) could introduce other stories of present-day migration told either at the opening of the worship or before each intercession. Those present, whether migrants or persons needing to better understand the life of migrants, could discover how – in the life of Ruth as in their own – a new confidence in God came into being and in the all embracing spirit of biblical revelation, the call to imitate God’s special love for the stranger and the poor.

The gospel can be chosen from amongst the texts suggested, but the story of the sending forth in mission (Matt 28: 16-20) is recommended. In highlighting universal mission in the presence of the Lord Christ, within the framework of this ecumenical worship particularly sensitive to migrants, this gospel story offers the opportunity within the sermon to underline the power which the gospel has to overturn cultural, social, psychological and religious barriers. The sermon should emphasise that we are sent together by Christ and should encourage the churches to undertake common activities with «the stranger in our midst». Doctrinal, spiritual and practical ecumenism today is impossible without taking account of the migration of peoples in our own times. Our advance towards unity is stimulated by it.

Is it not also true that in faithfulness to the double demands of mission and ecumenism, we discover our neighbour in the sisters and brothers of different traditions with whom we work to further God’s reign? We are called upon to love different people whether they are migrants or whether the difference comes from an unfamiliar way of confessing the Christian faith, founded upon traditions and practices other than ours. The unity of the church must also be at the service of unity among peoples. From this perspective the liturgy for the ‘sending forth’ underlines the link between missionary and ecumenical commitment.

The ordering of the six parts of the service can be changed:

§ The opening – celebration of the light of Christ

§ The confession of sins and proclamation of God’s forgiveness

§ Reading of the word of God

§ Confession of faith

§ Intercessions: movement towards the front of the church of representatives of different ethnic groups and churches present for the telling of their migration stories, presentation of their symbols, transmission of the clay jar containing the light, their prayers of intercession and those of the other Christian communities present, the story of their beginnings, development, establishment, maybe even their exclus
ion. Alternatively, these stories can be related at the beginning of the worship service as a prelude to the liturgy.

§ Sending forth: procession of the assembly towards the outside, a sign of the call of Christ to witness, preceded by the benediction.

It is recommended that the hymn to Christ – the Phos Hilaron – is sung in the opening part of the service, either after having invoked the Holy Spirit , the illuminator, before the confession of faith (Nicene creed or another text).

The worship service can be enlivened with songs, and symbols of the peoples represented. To take the example of Argentina, the sign of peace could be given in Spanish, the readers or other participants in the service clothed in ponchos, songs accompanied with a guitar, etc.

The service should be prepared by an ecumenical team and its preparation will have given opportunities to meet together and to pray. It would be a pity if the service were but an interlude. Rather, it should be a springboard for a desire to deepen relations between immigrant Christians and those of long-established communities in each region.

Order of Service

L. Worship leader C. Congregation R. Reader

1. Opening
It is recommended that the service take place in the evening.

Invitation to pray
L. Light and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord!
C. Glory be to God.
L. Alleluia, Christ is risen!
C. Truly the Lord is risen.

A clay jar containing a lighted candle is placed on the communion table/altar or in some other visible place in front of the congregation while the text 2 Corinthians 4: 5-6, is read. Some members of the congregation come forward to light other candles at the flame and pass the light around to all.

The hymn accompanies the sharing of the light. Argentinian sanctus or a hymn on the theme of light known to the immigrant community represented in the service or another one known to the congregation.

C. Be our light in the darkness, Lord, and in your great mercy, protect us from all danger throughout our journey on this earth. Revive in us and in our communities the light of faith shining in our hearts: the knowledge of your glory in the face of Christ, he who reigns with you and with the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

Hymn Phos hilaron (this hymn could be sung elsewhere in the service as explained in the introduction).

O joyful Light of the holy glory of the Father immortal: heavenly, holy blessed Jesus Christ.
Since we come to the setting of the sun and have seen the evening light, we praise God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It is proper for you to be praised at all times by fitting melodies.
O Son of God, giver of life. Wherefore the world glorifies you.

2. Proclamation of God’s mercy and confession of sins

L. Let us confess our sins towards God and towards each other.
(Congregation or several readers in succession)
C. Merciful Lord, We confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, deed and through omission.

Pardon our sins of disunity through pride, our sins against our brothers and sisters of other faiths, cultures, peoples, those whom we have oppressed and excluded.

Pardon our apathy and our blindness to the distress of the immigrants among us. Christians of different denominations, we must ask ourselves if we have diligently sought ways of common witness «for Jesus’ sake» to struggle against the suffering and injustices suffered by our immigrant brothers and sisters in our homeland?

Forgive our superficiality and laziness, ignoring or even denying the riches offered by the other, rather than seeking a true sharing of values and faith.

C. We have not loved you with our whole heart We have not loved our neighbour as ourselves We sincerely regret and humbly repent of our sins. For the love of your Son, Jesus Christ Have pity on us and forgive us That we may joyfully follow your will, walk in your ways and lead a life which shows forth your mercy to the glory of your name. Amen.

L. Our almighty God is merciful. He pardons your/our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, he strengthens you/us in all goodness and by the power of his Holy Spirit gives you/us eternal life. Amen.

3. Proclamation of the word of God
Old Testament: Lev 25: 35-43 or Ruth 1: 1-18 (cf introduction to the service)

Ps 43 (read antiphonally)

New Testament: 2 Cor 4: 5-18 (cf introduction to the service)

C. Alleluia!

Gospel reading : Matt 28: 16-20 or Matt 8: 5-13, or 4: 3-15 or Mark 7: 1-9

(As a sign that the good news of Christ is destined to be proclaimed in every tongue and received in every culture, the gospel could be read in the language of one of the guest communities present.)

C. Alleluia!

Sermon (see introduction to worship service)

4. Confession of faith
L. O God, who through Jesus Christ The Lord of all the world and of the church Calls us to be one single body And to express your love, In the confession of the same faith We pray to you in all humility.

R. Grant us light and strength of faith To overcome the shadows of evil Which harm our communion of faith.

Hymn to the Holy Spirit (as desired)

R. Pour out your love in our hearts That we may know you And discern your creative and reconciling presence In the lives of those around us.

Hymn to the Holy Spirit

R. Renew in us the gift of your Holy Spirit So that by that same Spirit we may now proclaim together Jesus Christ as Lord; And that each human heart be touched In such a way that the barriers which divide us fall down; That rumours fade away That hatred cease And the wounds of disunion are healed; So that we may live in justice and in peace, Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hymn to the Holy Spirit

(The Phos Hilaron could be sung here.)

Nicene creed (or another confession of faith)

5. Intercessions
Representatives of immigrant communities come forward and present their intercessions. Each intercession is preceded by a brief recital of their experiences. The lights are lowered while their voices rise to ask for better understanding of their situation, and to express their faith and their hope in God’s deeds.

Before praying for Christian unity, each church can also briefly recount its birth and development, perhaps its exclusion or suppression (e.g. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in France) and the stages of its history on a local or national level.

The great clay jar containing the candle will be passed from one reader to another as a sign of faith and solidarity before being placed on the altar/communion table.

The refrain Ven Espiritu Santo Ven, Ven a illuminar (Come Holy Spirit, come enlighten us) – or another similar refrain – could be sung in the original Spanish after each prayer.

We offer the treasure of our faith in the frailty of our personal witness, our communities and our ecumenical achievements. May the Lord renew in us his gifts of light, strength and communion.
C. Ven Espiritu Santo Ven, Ven a illuminar

Confronted by so much suffering and evil we are submerged by despair, and we are aware of our weakness even to the point of doubting whether it is worth reacting in favour of justice. May the Lord help us to hear the witness of people and communities who, under pressure from all sides, have continued to hope and to act in the midst of distress.

C. Ven Espiritu Santo Ven, Ven a illuminar
Faced with the demands of mission in the world and conscious of the importance of the gospel which is entrusted to us, we can feel quite overwhelmed. May the Lord give us confidence to confess our faith.

C: Ven Espiritu Santo Ven, Ven a illuminar

The ecumenical movement, like migration, is a part of the «globalisation» wi
th which the world is seeking to cope today. Through the coming together of our churches may the Lord inspire this search for oneness.

C. Ven Espiritu Santo Ven, Ven a illuminar

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