ECUMENICAL UNITY WEEK 18 January to 25 January, 2015
ECUMENICAL UNITY WEEK 18 January to 25 January, 2015
BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS AND PRAYERS FOR THE EIGHT DAYS
DAY 1 PROCLAMATION
John 4, 4: It is necessary to go through Samaria.
Jesus and his disciples travelled from Judea to Galilee. Samaria is between these two areas. There was a certain prejudice against Samaria and the Samaritans. The negative reputation of Samaria came from its mix of races and religions. It was not uncommon to use alternative routes to avoid stepping into Samaritan territory.
What does the Gospel of John mean, then, when saying, it is necessary to go through Samaria? More than a geographical issue, it is a choice of Jesus. Going through Samaria means that it is necessary to meet the other, the different, the one who is often seen as a threat. John makes it clear that going through Samaria is a choice Jesus is making; he is reaching beyond his own people. In this he is showing us that isolating ourselves from those who are different and relating only to people like ourselves is a self-inflicted impoverishment. It is the dialogue with those who are different that makes us grow.
What are the steps that my church has made to meet other churches and what have the churches learnt from each other?
God of all peoples, teach us to go through Samaria to meet our brothers and sisters from other churches. Allow us to go there with an open heart so we may learn from every church and culture. We confess that you are the source of unity. Grant us the unity that Christ wills for us.
DAY2 DENUNCIATION I
John 4, 6: Tired of the journey, Jesus sat down facing the well.
Jesus had been in Judea before his encounter with the Samaritan woman. The Pharisees had begun to spread the word that Jesus baptized more disciples than John. Perhaps this rumour has caused some tension and discomfort. Perhaps it is the reason behind Jesus decision to leave.
Arriving at the well, Jesus decides to stop. He was tired from his journey. His fatigue could also be related to the rumours. While he was resting, a Samaritan woman came near the well to fetch water. This meeting took place at Jacob’s well: a symbolic place in the life and spirituality of the people of the Bible.
Are we able to identify a common well upon which we can lean and rest from our disputes and competitions ?
Gracious God, Often our churches are led to choose the logic of competition. Forgive our sin of presumption. We are weary from this need to be first. Allow us to rest at the well. Refresh us with the water of unity drawn from our common prayer. May your Spirit who hovered over the waters of chaos bring unity from our diversity. Amen.
DAY 3 DENUNCIATION II
John 4, 17: I have no husband.
The Samaritan woman answers Jesus, .I have no husband. The topic of conversation is now about the married life of the woman. There is a shift in terms of the content of their dialogue
from water to husband. Go, call your husband and come back. (Jn 4:16), but Jesus knows the woman has had five husbands, and the man she has now is not her husband.
However, Jesus does not insist on a moral interpretation of her answer but wants to lead her beyond. And as a result the woman’s attitude towards Jesus changes. At this point, the obstacles of cultural and religious differences fade into the background in order to give space to something much more important: an encounter in trust. Jesus’ behaviour in this moment allows us to open new windows and raise further questions: questions that challenge the attitudes that denigrate and marginalize women; and questions about the differences which we allow to stand in the way of the unity we seek and for which we pray.
What can our churches do to prevent violence and to overcome violence directed against women and girls?
O you who are beyond all things, how could we call you by any other name? What song could be sung for you? No word can express you. What Spirit can perceive you? No intelligence can comprehend you. You alone are inexpressible; all that is said has come from you. You alone are unknowable; all that is thought has come from you. All creatures proclaim you, those who speak and those who are dumb. Every one desires you; everyone sighs and aspires after you. All that exists prays to you, and every being that can contemplate your universe raises to you a silent hymn. Have pity on us, you who are beyond all things. How could we call you by any other name? Amen.
(Attributed to Gregory of Nazianzus)
DAY 4 RENUNCIATION
John 4, 28: Then the woman left her water jar.
The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman shows that dialogue with the different, the stranger, the unfamiliar, can be life-giving. If the woman had followed the rules of her culture, she would have left when she saw Jesus approaching the well. That day, for some reason, she did not follow the established rules. Both she and Jesus broke with conventional patterns of behaviour. Through this breaking forth they showed us again that it is possible to build new relationships.
That the Samaritan woman leaves behind her water jar signals that she has found a greater gift, a greater good than the water she came for, and a better place to be within her community. She recognizes the greater gift that this Jewish stranger, Jesus, is offering her
In John’s Gospel she is the first person to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. “Breaking forth” is a necessity for those who desire to grow stronger and wiser in their faith.
Meeting Jesus demands that we leave behind our water jars, what are those water jars for us?
Loving God, help us to learn from Jesus and the Samaritan Woman that the encounter with the other opens for us new horizons of grace. Help us to break through our limits and embrace new challenges. Help us to go beyond fear in following the call of your Son. In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen
DAY 5 ANNUNCIATION
John 4, 11: You have no bucket and the well is deep.
Jesus needed help. After a long walk, fatigue strikes. Exhausted in the heat of noon, he feels hungry and thirsty (Jn 4:6). Furthermore, Jesus is a stranger; it is he who is in a foreign territory and the well belongs to the woman’s people. Jesus is thirsty and, as the Samaritan woman points out, he has no bucket to draw water. He needs water, he needs her help: everybody needs help! Many Christians believe that they alone have all the answers and they need no help from anyone else. We lose a lot if we maintain this perspective. None of us can reach the depths of the well of the divine and yet faith demands that we delve deeper into the mystery. We cannot do this in isolation. We need the help of our Christian brothers and sisters. Only then can we reach into the depths of the mystery of God. A common point in our faith, regardless of the church to which we belong, is that God is mystery beyond our comprehension.
The search for Christian unity brings us to the recognition that no community has all the means to reach into the deep waters of the divine. We need water, we need help: everybody needs help! The more we grow in unity, share our buckets and join the pieces of our ropes, the deeper we delve into the well of the divine.
Do you remember situations in which your church has helped another church or has been helped by another church?
God, spring of the Living water, help us to understand that the more we join together the pieces of our ropes, the more deeply our buckets reach into your divine waters! Awaken us to the truth that the gifts of the others are an expression of your unfathomable mystery. And make us sit at the well together to drink from your water which gathers us in unity and peace. We ask this in the name of your son Jesus Christ, who asked the Samaritan woman to give him water for his thirst. Amen.
DAY 6 TESTIMONY
John 4, 14: Jesus said: .The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water welling up to ernal life.
The dialogue that begins with Jesus asking for water becomes a dialogue in which Jesus promises water. Later in this same Gospel Jesus will again ask for a drink. ?I thirst, he says from the cross, and from the cross Jesus becomes the promised fountain of water which flows from his pierced side. We receive this water, this life from Jesus, in baptism, and it becomes a water, a life that wells up within us to be given and shared with others.
The water of baptism springing into life becomes an ecumenical witness of Christian love in action, a foretaste of the eternal life which Jesus promises. Concrete gestures of love and service which can be part of daily lives are what we need in order to grow in fellowship. They give witness to the Gospel and relevance to ecumenical relations.
Which are the situations in public life to which the churches should speak with a single voice in order to be springs of living water?
Triune God, following the example of Jesus, make us witnesses to your love. Grant us to become instruments of justice, peace and solidarity. May your Spirit move us towards concrete actions that lead to unity. May walls be transformed into bridges. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
DAY 7 TESTIMONY
John 4, 7: Give me to drink.
Christians should be confident that encountering and exchanging experiences with the other, even other religious traditions, can change us and help us to reach into the depths of the well. Approaching those who are strangers to us with the desire to drink from their well, opens to us the wonders of God that we proclaim.
In the wilderness God’s people were without water and God sent Moses and Aaron to bring water forth from the rock. In the same way God often meets our needs through others. As we call upon the Lord in our need, like the Samaritan asking Jesus, “Sir, give me this water”. Perhaps the Lord has already answered our prayers by putting into the hands of our neighbours that for which we ask. And so we need to turn also to them, and ask, “Give me to drink.”
How has your understanding and experience of God been enriched by the encounter with other Christians?
God of life, who cares for all creation, and calls us to justice and peace, may our security not come from arms, but from respect. May our force not be of violence, but of love. May our wealth not be in money, but in sharing. May our path not be of ambition, but of justice. May our victory not be from vengeance, but in forgiveness. May our unity not be in the quest of power, but in vulnerable witness to do your will. Open and confident, may we defend the dignity of all creation, sharing, today and forever, the bread of solidarity, justice and peace. This we ask in the name of Jesus, your holy Son, our brother, who, as victim of our violence, even from the heights of the cross, gave forgiveness to us all. Amen.
(Adapted from a prayer from an Ecumenical Conference in Brazil, calling for an end to poverty as the first step on the path to peace through justice)
DAY 8 WITNESS
John 4, 39: Many believed because of the woman’s testimony.
With her heart transformed, the Samaritan woman goes out in mission. She announces to her people that she has found the Messiah. Many believed in Jesus ?because of the woman’s witness? (John 4:39). The force of her witness stems from the transformation of her life caused by her encounter with Jesus. Thanks to her attitude of openness, she recognised in that stranger a spring of water welling up to eternal life (Jn 4:14). Mission is a key element of Christian faith. Every Christian is called to announce the name of the Lord. Pope Francis told missionaries, wherever you may go, it would do you well to think that the Spirit of God always gets there ahead of us. Those who truly announce Jesus approach others in loving dialogue, open to mutual learning, and respecting difference.
Our mission must be a work both of word and witness. We seek to live out what we proclaim. The late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara, once said that many have become atheists because they have become disillusioned by people of faith who do not practice what they preach. The witness of the woman led her community to believe in Jesus because her brothers and sisters saw coherence between her words and her own transformation.
Do you know people in your community whose life story is a witness to unity?
God, spring of living water, Make of us witnesses of unity through both our words and our lives. Help us to understand that we are not the owners of the well. God give us the wisdom to welcome the same grace in one another. Transform our hearts and our lives. So that we might be genuine bearers of the Good News. And lead us always to the encounter with the other as an encounter with you. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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