By Tony Chezzi
“They showed us an unusual kindness.” (Acts. 28:2)
On Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, people from different Christian faith traditions in Sudbury gathered at the Church of the Epiphany to celebrate the closing of the 112th annual world-wide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This celebration, which began on Jan. 18, is a time to heal the wounds of division between Christian communities by sharing in dialogue but especially through prayer.
The call to heal division, which started almost immediately after Christianity became the accepted religion of the Roman Empire, is a command of Jesus. He prayed that all may be one. As long as we as Christians hold to what divides us, we are not being true to the call of Jesus to unity.
John Gibaut, the president of Thorneloe College who has had much international experience in the ministry of ecumenism, reminded those gathered at the Church of the Epiphany that Christians showed an unusual kindness to one another and to those not of their communities in the first years of the Christian movement. It was this unusual kindness that attracted people to their communities.
As time went on and as Christianity became more accepted, divisions began to show as people held to varying beliefs. These differences continued down through the centuries of Christian history, often marked by war and violence. The divisions grew deeper, overshadowing Jesus’ call to unity.
There were, however, people who heard the call of Jesus and were inspired by the Holy Spirit to work for healing. Through dialogue and prayer, especially prayer, these people worked for peace, justice, and unity. Although it may seem to some that little progress has been made, there have been remarkable steps taken to build unity.
Gibaut pointed out several milestones, such as the joint declaration on Justification between the Lutheran and Roman Catholic communities on the international level. Locally, he pointed to interfaith marriages and joint efforts for social justice as examples of Christians creating unity. None of this would be possible, however, without Christians coming together for prayer. Never doubt the efficacy of prayer, Gibaut said.
As another celebration ends, the work of Christian unity continues. We are called to show an unusual kindness to all because we are all created in the image of God. Are we ready to do God’s work? Are we ready to heed the call of Jesus for unity? Are we ready to be witnesses to love? The celebration may be over but the ministry goes on: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34).