Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2013: Day Two, “Walking with the broken body of Christ””

Jan 19th, 2013 | By | Category: Blog Posts

For the second day in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we continue our reflections on the daily themes and Scripture readings that have been set forth by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Please read here for our day one reflections and here for the entire set of readings and prayers set forth for this week.

Day Two’s sub-theme of the broader theme of walking humbly together with God is entitled “Walking with the broken body of Christ”. To meditate on unity, we are given four readings and a reflection, which can all be found below at the end of this post. The Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel’s meditation on the dry bones begins the readings, which is found in Ezekiel 37:1-14. The idea of dead and broken bones coming to life is used to create an image of a forthcoming restoration of life to the People of God. More than reflecting only on a past state of affairs, the brokenness and lack of life in those bones can be used as a meditation for lamenting our own brokenness. The next three passages from the Psalter and the New Testament then call us to reflect upon Christ, who died and gave Himself for us, bringing us life by allowing His Body to be broken, and His Blood to be shed. In Psalm 22:1-8, we are brought prophetically to the Holy Cross, where the isolation and agony of the crucifixion was mystically foretold by David. Lastly, in the New Testament we see Christ as the Author of the New Covenant, who gave His Body to be Broken, that we may be healed. In the Gospel of Luke we are taken to the Upper Room, when this Covenant was revealed to the Apostles, most clearly through the Eucharist. And in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we realize that Christ our High Priest suffered as a Priest outside of the gates in isolation to bring us to a united life of praise and thanksgiving (which is, after all, what Eucharistia means) to God.

Below are some further reflections stemming from these passages and reflections that may add to furthering Christian unity, especially in the context of Catholic/Reformed dialogue. May we have the courage to walk more closely together on this journey.

We find our unity by understanding our brokenness. In many ways, there may be Calvinist critics of Catholicism who would be shocked by the entire premise of the day two readings, my former Presbyterian self included. How could a Catholic speak of brokenness, when their ecclesiology is so focused upon a visible body?  Is this an admission of an invisible Church? As is the case so many times in dialogue, an either/or distinction fails to grasp the mystery of the Church. In contrast, the Catechism of the Catholic Church captures the visible and invisible natures of the Church, which coexist as does the divine and human natures in Christ. Quoting from multiple patristic and conciliar sources, CCC#771 states:

771 “The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men.”184 The Church is at the same time:

– a “society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ;

– the visible society and the spiritual community;

– the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches.”185

These dimensions together constitute “one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element”:186

Meditating upon the human elements which have sadly brought about a real sense of brokenness in the world and in the Church is so important for the cause of unity. Despite being essentially One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, our human failings have produced so much sad division within ourselves and as a broader community of people. However, if we never feel that we are divided, our hearts would not spur us on to unity. By understanding and admitting to our brokenness, we can search together to find ways to reconcile. If we instead consider brokenness to be normal, we will be overcome by apathy.

We find our unity through Christ, who heals our wounds. In reflecting upon Christ as high priest in whose priesthood we all share through baptism, we realize that if He did not escape suffering, neither shall we. This suffering, when transformed, leads to healing. Thus, in all ecumenical dialogue, if we keep our eyes fixed on Christ as the source of healing, we will find the path to reconciliation. Several questions arise from realizing that God is our strength and source of healing:

Have we relied too much upon our own strength to find unity and healing of our brokenness?

Do we fix blame on others, making every cause hopeless because of someone else?

Can we repent of this, and open our hearts more to Christ?

If so, we will be able to triumph over our wounds as they are mended through love.

We must find a way to become more Eucharistic in our whole way of life. Like Christ’s own life, we find our life to be most full when we give our lives up for others. The Orthodox idea of the liturgy after the liturgy, which is mentioned below in passing in the reflections is extremely important to this idea. It speaks to the idea that our liturgical worship is really the start of our life to serve Christ. As the Byzantine liturgy ends, the priest prays, “Let us go forth in peace”, because we leave the Eucharistic liturgy empowered to live a life in peace in repentance. In the Roman Mass, the closing phrase “Ite Missa Est” carries the same sentiment. (For more information on the liturgy after the liturgy, see here.) When we work together as Christians to serve the world through feeding the poor, etc., we partake of a common act of thanksgiving for God’s blessings. At this point, Christians who are not in full communion with one another experience a very real intercommunion of sorts. It can be a wonderful spur towards seeking that full communion and unity for which Christ prayed to the Father in John 17. On a personal level, if we live in a more Eucharistic manner, we will find a way to see God in all of our lives, and all of our brethren, journeying on the same path that is in truth and love.

BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS AND PRAYERS
 FOR THE ‘EIGHT DAYS’

Day 2 Walking with the broken body of Christ
Readings
Ezekiel 37:1-14 “Shall these dry bones live?”
Psalm 22: 1-8 God’s servant, mocked and insulted, cries out to God
Hebrews 13: 12-16 The call to go to Jesus “outside the camp”
Luke 22: 14-23 Jesus breaks the bread, giving the gift of himself before his suffering

Commentary

To walk humbly with God means hearing the call us to walk out of the places of our own comfort, and accompany the other, especially the suffering other.

“Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” These words from Ezekiel give voice to the experience of many people across the globe today. In India, it is the “broken people” of the Dalit communities whose lives speak vividly of this suffering – a suffering in which Christ, the crucified one, shares. With injured people of every time and place, Jesus cries out to the Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Christians are called into this way of the cross. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes clear not only the saving reality of Jesus’ suffering, in the place of the margins, but also the need for his disciples to go “outside the camp” to join him there. When we meet those who have been excluded and we recognise the crucified one in their sufferings, the direction we should be going is clear: to be with Christ, means to be in solidarity with those on the margins whose wounds he shares.

The body of Christ, broken on the cross, is “broken for you”. The story of Christ’s suffering and death is prefaced by the story of the last supper: it is then celebrated as victory over death in every eucharist. In this Christian celebration, Christ’s broken body is his risen and glorious body; his body is broken so that we can share his life, and, in him, be one body.

As Christians on the way to unity we can often see the eucharist as a place where the scandal of our disunity is painfully real, knowing that, as yet, we cannot fully share this sacrament together as we should. This situation calls us to renewed efforts towards deeper communion with one another.

Today’s readings might open up another line of reflection. Walking with Christ’s broken body opens up a way to be eucharistic together: to share our bread with the hungry, to break down the barriers of poverty and inequality – these, too, are “eucharistic acts”, in which all Christians are called to work together. Pope Benedict XVI frames his reflections on eucharist for the church in just this way: that it is a sacrament not only to be believed in and celebrated, but also to be lived (Sacramentum caritatis). In keeping with the Orthodox understanding of “the liturgy after the liturgy”, here it is recognised that there is “nothing authentically human” that does not find its pattern and life in the eucharist. (SC 71)

Prayer

God of compassion, your Son died on the Cross so that by his broken body our divisions might be destroyed. Yet we have crucified him again and again with our disunity, and with systems and practices which obstruct your loving care and undermine your justice towards those who have been excluded from the gifts of your creation. Send us your Spirit to breathe life and healing into our brokenness that we may witness together to the justice and love of Christ. Walk with us towards that day when we can share in the one bread and the one cup at the common table. God of life, lead us to justice and peace. Amen.

Questions

  • In light of that prophetic tradition in which God desires justice, rather than ritual without righteousness, we need to ask: how is the eucharist, the mystery of Christ’s brokenness and new life, celebrated in all the places where we walk?
  • What might we do, as Christians together, better to witness to our unity in Christ in places of brokenness and marginality?

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  1. […] follow this link for some reflections on the annual week of Christian Unity, put forth by the Vatican. I found the […]

  2. beautiful!

  3. Jonathon,

    Before becoming Catholic…actually before learning about this site, I never really thought about Jesus’s prayer in John 17. I read it but had no clue what it meant.
    Because one of the first bible pictures that stood out to me was of Abel’s sacrifice being accepted and Cain becoming angry that God rejected his, I had the idea that there was another brotherly feud of some kind, but it also sounded vague and sentimental so I never wondered about it. And anyways, if Jesus prayed for it, it would happen….. I also think because in vs. 24 Jesus prays, “I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me.” I considered the fulfillment of this to only be realized in heaven. I bet most people think it will only be fulfilled in the end.
    Only now does it make sense to me. You are right, if we don’t feel that we are divided then our hearts will not spur us on to unity. We are divided and the world doesn’t believe.

    Susan

  4. Susan,
    Thanks for your comments. It is so true that many times we view harmony and union as an impossibility. We have seen so much fracture and division at times that we may feel that the search for unity is a flawed quest. Is unity just for God to sort out in heaven or “on the way up” during the Rapture, as so many of my non-Reformed Evangelical friends would say in the past?

    The more that we meditate on John 17 and the concept of love and union, we cannot let our hearts grow cold to unity. On that note, an Eastern Catholic monk has written a wonderful post about Catholic/Orthodox reunion. In this post (which you can read here), it is clear that our reunion will not come to pass if we do not love one another. If we instead long for mutual understanding and full communion, we will live the prayer of Christ out more truly as we live out our vocation to be saints.

    In Christ,
    JAD

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