‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Luke 10:27
The week of prayer for Christian Unity is traditionally celebrated between 18th January and 25th January – the octave of St Peter and St Paul. It is a time when Christians throughout the world are urged to put aside their differences and remember what unites them. On a whim, I looked on the internet and was horrified and amazed to discover that, world-wide, there are estimated to be 45,000 different sects and groupings who call themselves Christians. The differences lie in how we organise ourselves and how we worship our one true God who came to earth in a form like ours, and who was prepared to suffer and die for us. Yet all must claim Our Lord Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Son of God – otherwise we would not be Christian.
Much of the rivalry is about power, leadership – and what people believe to be a right way of worshipping God – but is there a right way? Jesus taught us how to pray when he gave us the Lord’s prayer – it is heartening to think that this is one of few things that is still used by all Christians. Does it matter that one prefers it in the context of a solemn High Mass and another in a service of choruses and prayers?
The theme for this year’s Week of Prayer is the verse above, from St Luke’s gospel. It is the injunction that Jesus gives before he tells the story of the Good Samaritan – where he makes the point that no matter how different people are from ourselves, we must love them, do them good and not harm, and we must show particular love for our fellow Christians however different from us they may be.
In the Church Times last week one headline read ‘Attacks on Christians soar globally.’ In many places, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, increasingly authoritarian regimes and violence means that Christian Communities are in danger of extinction. North Korea, however, is still the most dangerous place to profess to be a Christian.
We must now be one with all who profess Christ crucified. We must put away our petty squabbles and show a united face to the world – the face of love as represented by Christ Crucified. We must start where we are, one act of love at a time, and whilst we are doing it, we must pray earnestly for all our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.