Gift and Challenge
About a year ago, folks from our Synod joined several Christian friends for a service of Evening Prayer at the Cathedral of St. James to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. A display of unity like this, after centuries of division in the Christian church, is testimony to the resiliency, grace, and healing power of God’s Holy Spirit.
In his homily at the service, Peter Sartain, Archbishop of the Seattle Diocese, observed “Christian unity is both gift and challenge.” The statement rings true. How do Christians work and pray and share ministry together? How do we heal the wounds caused by division? While questions such as these are without easy answers, Christ gives us ways to live into the gift and the challenge.
We do well to notice where Christians are exercising the gift of unity. A wonderful example is the Taizé community in France. Taizé is often described as a “parable of ecumenism.” (Ecumenism is the word we use to describe ways Christians draw closer to one another) Taizé is composed of Protestants and Roman Catholics and enjoys a rich relationship with the Eastern Orthodox. Brother Roger, founder of the community, was passionate about reconciliation and unity among all Christians. These things are central to their rule of life:
If communion is a gift from God, then ecumenism cannot be primarily a human effort to harmonize different traditions. It must situate us within the truth of the redemption of Christ, who prayed: “My wish is that where I am, they too may be with me.” The first ecumenical effort is to seek to live in communion with God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Churches sometimes show different paths to achieving this communion with Christ. However, the more deeply each one belongs to Christ, the more they are enabled to see the others correctly, seeing them as sisters and brothers … this requires a conversion undertaken over and over again in a church continually in need of reformation.
– Brother Alois
I have always been supportive of the suggestion that Reformation Day be recast as Reformation/Reconciliation Day. While Reformation Sunday honors the witness of Martin Luther and those who labored for renewal in the church’s past, the day may also serve as a time to pray for the unity of all Christians, to confess the ways we have failed to live as brothers and sisters, to pray for healing where the church remains divided, and plead with the Spirit to deepen our love of each other and our union with Christ.
Our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America enjoys a full communion relationship with many other Christians. This year, on Reformation/Reconciliation Sunday, we begin the practice of inviting the preacher to be someone from one of these traditions. Rody Rowe, a pastor in the United Methodist church and a member of PRLC, will preach the sermon on Reformation Sunday.
God alone brings the gift of unity to Christ’s body. The continual prayer of the church includes praying for the grace to recognize this unity and to dwell in the gift. Join me on Reformation/Reconciliation Sunday to especially pray, as Jesus did, that his followers be one. Amen. Come, Holy Spirit.