Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day Three

In the Roman Catholic church, Fridays were traditionally kept in a penitential spirit, in memory of the day that Christ died. In this tradition, I’ll start today’s post with the opening and penitential prayers from the ecumenical worship service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

This is consistent with the theme for today, which is

Changed by the Suffering Servant

Christ suffered for us (cf. 1 Pt 2:21)

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed.
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

God in Christ is the Victor.
Victory requires effort and struggle. As we pray for and strive towards the full visible
unity of the church we – and the traditions to which we belong – will be changed,
transformed and conformed to the likeness of Christ. Christians want to make this
effort together, without triumphalism, in humility, serving God and their neighbour
according to the example of Jesus Christ. In striving for unity, this is the attitude we
desire to ask of God together.

Let us pray:
Almighty God,
Through Jesus you say to us
that whoever wishes to be first must become the least and the servant of all.
We enter into your presence,
knowing that your victory is won through the powerlessness of the cross.
We come to pray that your church may be one.
Teach us to accept humbly that this unity is a gift of your Spirit;
Through this gift, change and transform us
and make us more like your Son Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Almighty God, in spite of the Unity we receive in Christ, we persist in our disunity.
Have mercy on us!
Have mercy on us!

We harden our hearts when we hear the Gospel. Have mercy on us!
Have mercy on us!

We fail to serve You in our brothers and sisters. Have mercy on us!
Have mercy on us!

The disobedience of Adam and Eve brought suffering and death to us, and creation was
wounded and torn apart. Have mercy on us!
Have mercy on us!

(A moment of silence is kept)

May God Almighty have mercy on us, forgive our sins, and lead us to eternal life.
Amen.

– Is 53:3-11 The man of sorrows accustomed to suffering
– Ps 22: 12-24 He did not despise the affliction of the of the afflicted
– 1Pt 2:21-25 Christ suffered for us
– Lk 24:25-27 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things?

The divine paradox is that God can change tragedy and disaster into victory. He transformsall our sufferings and misfortunes, and the enormity of history’s pain, into a resurrection that encompasses the whole world. While appearing to be defeated, He is nevertheless the true Victory whom no one and nothing can overcome.

Isaiah’s moving prophecy about the suffering Servant of the Lord was completely fulfilled in Christ. After suffering enormous agony, the Man of Sorrows shall see His offspring. We are that offspring, born from the Saviour’s suffering. In this way we are made one family in Him.

One can say that Psalm 22 is not only about Jesus, but also for Jesus. The Saviour Himself prayed this psalm on the cross, when He used its desolate opening words: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Yet in the second part of the psalm the lamentation, the imploring full of pain, changes into praise of God for His works.

The apostle Peter is a witness of the sufferings of Christ (1 Pt 5,1), which he presents to us as an example: it is to this suffering for the sake of love we are called. Jesus did not curse God, but submitted to Him who judges righteously. His wounds have healed us, and returned us all to the one Shepherd.

Only in the light of the presence of the Lord and His word does the divine purpose of the Messiah’s sufferings become clear. Just as for the disciples on the way to Emmaus, Jesus is our constant companion on the stony road of life, stirring our hearts and opening our eyes to the mysterious plan of salvation.

Christians experience suffering as a result of humanity’s fragile condition; we recognise this suffering in social injustice and situations of persecution. The power of the cross draws us into unity. Here we encounter Christ’s suffering as the source of compassion for and solidarity with the entire human family. As one contemporary theologian puts it: the closer we come to the cross of Christ, the closer we come to one another. The witness of Christians together in situations of suffering assumes remarkable credibility. In our shared solidarity with all who suffer we learn from the crucified suffering servant the lessons of self-emptying, letting go and self-sacrifice. These are the gifts we need from His Spirit on our way to unity in Him.

Prayer

God of consolation, you have transformed the shame of the cross into a sign of victory. Grant that we may be united around the Cross of your Son to worship Him for the mercy offered through his suffering. May the Holy Spirit open our eyes and our hearts, so that we may help those who suffer to experience your closeness. You who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

Questions for reflection

1. How can our faith help us in our response to long-lasting suffering?

2. What areas of human suffering are unnoticed and belittled today?

3. How can Christians bear witness together to the power of the cross?

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