The Sword of the Spirit
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 18-25, 2018
Called to Love, Unity,
and Mission Together
“All will know that you are my disciples
if you have love for one another”
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an eight-day observance or “octave” of prayer. It has been this way from the beginnings of this international movement in 1908. Following are a set of eight daily scripture readings, a short commentary on the readings and a prayer. This set of materials was developed by the Sword of the Spirit for use within local communities and households during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity held around the world between January 18-25, 2018.
Included with the common readings and prayers are some additional questions to help individuals and families participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We would encourage families to take some time to engage the readings and prayers for each day and talk about them together, perhaps around the dinner table or in family worship time. Please feel free to adapt or change them as helpful. In particular the ‘questions for reflection’ will benefit from adaptations or expansion to best match the ecumenical reality in each local situation.
We have also included a short Lord’s Day prayer that can be inserted in the section following the Blessing of the Wine which can be used like the other seasonal variations in the Lord’s Day prayers.
Please use these materials in any way you find most helpful in your personal and family worship times during this season of prayer.
Note: The Psalms listed here follow the numbering of the Hebrew tradition.
Thursday January 18
Through love we embrace God’s word of life and truth together
- Exodus 34:6-10 God renews his covenant of love and unity with those who obey his word.
- Psalm 119:40-48 Love, revere, and speak God’s word of truth.
- John 17:17-26 Consecrated in truth, love, and unity.
- 1 Peter 1:22-2:3 Purified by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren.
- Ephesians 2:14-22 Christ has broken down the dividing wall of hostility and reconciled us to God in one body through the cross.
Commentary: What is the true source of unity that binds us together in a community of love, peace, and friendship with God and with one another? It is the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul the Apostle tells us that “Christ is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. and reconciled us both to God in one body through the cross” (Ephesians 2:14,16). Jesus died for our sins – including the sins of strife, enmity, and division – to set us free to live together in peace, love, and friendship with God and with one another.
Christian unity is a gift and grace of God which must be sought and lived out each day with faith, hope, and love. By ourselves we are weak and unable to maintain unity and peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our flesh is weak and we must cling to Christ and his word of truth and life. Satan, our enemy, also conspires to trip us up and sow seeds of discord, division, and strife. Only the love of Christ and the healing power of forgiveness can restore and preserve our love and unity together as his disciples and servants of his word of grace and salvation.
God has called us in the Sword of the Spirit to be a sign of the unity he desires for all Christians today. Let us not flag in zeal for growing in brotherly love, holiness of life, and unity together as a community of disciples on mission. And let us not tire in praying and fasting for the whole people of God for a full restoration of the unity, love, and mission he has entrusted to all who belong to Christ.
Questions for reflection:
- Do I regularly pray with expectant faith and fast on behalf of the whole people of God for the unity Christ desires for all Christians?
- Do I actively support and engage in common prayer, witness and mission with Christians from other traditions and denominations, as well as my own church?
- Do I speak with respect, brotherly love, and ecumenical courtesy towards my brothers and sisters from other Christian traditions?
Prayer on behalf of the whole people of God: Have mercy, Lord our God, on the people called by your name. Rule us by your Word, sanctify us by your Spirit, unite us in your love, and work through us by your power. May the glory of Christ so shine upon us that the nations may come and behold his beauty, and may the knowledge of you fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
On the Path Toward Unity
Dr. Dan Keating
Do you ever wonder what’s going on in the search for Christian unity among the various churches these days? Is there anything happening? Is there good news around the corner? Or has the search for Christian unity stalled?
There is a lot happening, far too much to describe in a short write-up. Yes, there are some very good things going on. No, we are probably not on the verge of being fully united across our churches. But we live and walk in hope, trusting that the Lord Jesus has us all in hand, and confident that the Spirit is constantly at work.
Let me highlight a few of the initiatives between theologians of the churches that display real advances in working together.
- The Joint Declaration on Justification, 2017. Many of us will recall the Joint Declaration between Catholics and Lutherans in 1999. This was a partial but genuine step in agreement on issues that divided the two churches in the 16th century. What most of us don’t know is that the World Methodist Council signed on to this agreement in 2006. And this year, 2017, the World Communion of Reformed Churches also signed on to the joint declaration. This is very noteworthy.
- Representatives of the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Catholic church have been meeting together for many years. The discussions have not been easy. But last year, the two groups produced a common statement summing up their initial findings together. The subject was how the various churches related together in the first millennium, and what this can teach about seeking unity in this third millennium. It’s a very modest step, but every small step is appreciated.
- I have been involved over the past four years in the Evangelical-Catholic National Dialogue in the United States to consider the issue of justification. The dialogue has been very rewarding and in fact a great deal of fun. As a member of the Catholic team I have greatly enjoyed getting to know the members of the Evangelical team. We have enjoyed rich fellowship and a clear sense of common life in Christ.
You might ask: “What do these dialogues and discussions accomplish? Do they ever lead anywhere?” Well, we shall see! But it’s important to realize that these kinds of discussions cannot on their own produce or create full unity. This must happen through the work of the Spirit in his own time and way.
The discussions between theologians can, however, remove (or lighten) obstacles and hindrances to greater unity. They move things out of the way, and open new avenues to walk down together. They also forge real friendships in Christ and reveal to us that we are all disciples, brothers and sisters in Christ. This is an enormously important thing. All this enables the Spirit to work more easily and accomplish his purposes.
The work we are about in the Sword of the Spirit is hugely important, even if it seems like a few small steps and modest gains. Together we put our hope and trust in God, that he will accomplish in his own time and his own way this great work of unity among his people. What a blessing to have even a small share in this great work!
Dr. Dan Keating is an elder in the Servants of the Word and teaches at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA.