We are in the midst of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christianity Unity, a cause that is close to my heart. This special week of prayer is sponsored by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity in the Vatican and is truly ecumenical. From January 18-25, Christians throughout the world join together to pray for unity, following Jesus’s own prayer to the Father that “all may be one” (John 17:21). The theme of this year’s week of prayer is “Justice, Only Justice, You Shall Pursue” (from Deut. 16:18-20).
What does it mean for all to be one in Christ? If you had to explain Christian unity to someone from another faith tradition, could you? What does “unity” mean in a world of such diversity?
I don’t have all of the answers to these questions. I do believe that what unites us, as Christians, is so much greater than what divides us. We acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Savior and seek to follow Him and His example.
Every day, we are bombarded by news reports that highlight political, cultural, religious, social, and economic divisions; public discourse provides more examples of these divisions. Sometimes it seems as if only major events or disasters have the power, for a time, to shock us into a unified response, to bring out our compassion and our understanding of what we have in common: the need for water, food, shelter, safety, community, and employment, and our capacity to love, to give and receive, and to create.
We are called to be one in Christ. Individually and collectively, we struggle with the meaning of and methods to achieve unity. We need God’s grace, certainly, but we also need to be open to change within ourselves and within others.
“Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21.5). This is a beautiful affirmation, but it can also be challenging. All things will be made new; not just the things we want transformed, but everything, everyone. Are we ready for all that newness?
And where do we start? “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lam. 3:22-23). Love and mercy are new every day; we have only to receive what God freely gives us. Can we give to others as freely, even if they don’t reciprocate, knowing that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)? Can we do so daily?
Where does unity start? Not in the realm of ideas or politics. Not in externals. It starts in the simple, repeated, intentional act of offering others the space and opportunity to become new, each day, every day. It starts when we resolve to do nothing to inhibit the gift of God’s love and grace, through us, to others. It is not simply forgiveness but complete presence and openness to this moment, this person, and this connection, all of which God wishes to make new.
We may be more accustomed to finding the new in the natural world than in our daily interactions with people. Perhaps, like the Poor Clares, you enjoy watching sunrises. We’ve had some beautiful ones lately. Each one is different; each one can induce a physical response in us: we pause, catch our breath, become transfixed. The splendid, vibrant colors rarely last long; look away for a moment, and you may find that the colors are more muted when you glance back. The opportunities we have to receive and interact with others are like this. Each encounter with another person, even someone we know well, can be a new beginning. Those first moments of encounter are charged with opportunity, but only if we are open to the new, only if we allow ourselves and the other to be new. This requires shedding expectations and past hurts and misunderstandings and allowing the light of God’s love to stream through us.
Our openness and intentions, with God’s grace, make this possible. This past Sunday, we heard the account of Jesus’s first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. There, too, Jesus made something new, and did so in abundance, with the cooperation of the servants who followed Mary’s direction to “do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). He who turned water into wine can transform our relationships too, can bring unity where there is division. We just have to allow ourselves and others to be made new. We have to trust, surrender, and let ourselves and others start new, each and every day.