22 January 2023
Praying through the Week of
Christian Unity and with USPG:
22 January 2023
Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).
Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I have been reflecting in these ways:
1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;
2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’
However, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began last Wednesday (18 January 2023), and until next Wednesday my morning reflections look at this year’s readings and prayers.
Today is Third Sunday of Epiphany (Epiphany III) and the fifth day in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Later this morning, I plan attend the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles. As part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the visiting preacher is the Revd Geoffrey S Clarke, Moderator of the East Midlands Synod of the United Reformed Church.
Later today, Churches Together in Milton Keynes continues to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with a concert to concert to celebrate the formation of Churches Together in Milton Keynes in the Church of Christ the Cornerstone at Saxongate at 7:30. The programme includes Bach’s Magnificat and Michael Tippett’s ‘A Child of our Time,’ with the Cornerstone Chamber Choir, Orchestra and soloists, directed by Adrian Boynton.
Sir Michael Tippet wrote and composed this moving oratorio during the dark days of World War II. It reflects on the experience of oppressed people across the World, with a longing for peace and reconciliation.
Michael Tippett was a former Conscientious Objector and President of the Peace Pledge Union. At the turning point of this week, this concert performance will root the search for justice in the depths of the human soul. Tickets (£20/£16) are available from Cornerstone or at the door.
Day 5: Singing the Lord’s song as strangers in the land
Psalm 137: 1-4:
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked us for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
Luke 23: 27-31:
Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
The lament of the psalmist originates in the exile of Judah in Babylon, however, the pain of exile is one that reverberates across time and culture. Perhaps the psalmist shouted this refrain towards the heavens. Perhaps each verse was given voice between deep sobs of grief. Perhaps this poem emerged with a shrug of indifference that can only come from living within injustice and feeling powerless to effect any meaningful change. However, the words were brought forth, the heartache of this passage finds resonance in the hearts of those who are treated as strangers in other lands or in their own lands.
The demand in the psalm comes from the oppressor to smile and make merry, to sing the songs of a “happy” past. That demand has come to marginalized people throughout history. Whether it was in minstrel shows, or Geisha dances, or Wild West cowboy and Indian shows, oppressors have often demanded that oppressed people perform happily to ensure their own survival. Their message is as simple as it is cruel; your songs, your ceremonies, your cultural identity, that which makes you sacredly unique, is only allowable so long as it serves us.
In this psalm generations of the oppressed are given their voice. How could we sing the Lord’s song when we are strangers in our own land? We sing not for our captors but to praise God. We sing because we are not alone for God has never abandoned us. We sing because we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The ancestors and saints inspire us. They encourage us to sing songs of hope, songs of freedom, songs of liberation, songs of a homeland where a people is restored.
Luke’s Gospel records that people, many of them women, follow Jesus even as he carries his cross to Calvary. This following is faithful discipleship. Furthermore, Jesus recognises their struggles and the suffering that they will have to endure in faithfully carrying their own crosses.
Thanks to the ecumenical movement, Christians today share hymns, prayers reflections and insights across traditions. We receive them from one another as gifts borne of the faith and loving discipleship, often enduring struggles, of Christians from different communities than our own. These shared gifts are riches to be treasured and give witness to the Christian faith we share.
How do we raise up the stories of ancestors and saints who lived among us and have sung songs of faith, hope, and liberation from captivity?
God of the oppressed,
Open our eyes to the harm that continues to be inflicted
On our sisters and brothers in Christ.
May your Spirit give us the courage to sing in unison,
And raise our voices with those whose suffering is unheard.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
USPG Prayer Diary:
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began last Wednesday (18 January), and the theme in the USPG Prayer Diary last week was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The theme this week is the ‘Myanmar Education Programme.’ This theme is introduced this morning with a reflection from a report from the Church of the Province of Myanmar:
‘The Church of the Province of Myanmar (CPM) knows that education is key to development and human flourishing, and to Christian discipleship. Throughout the pandemic and amidst Myanmar’s turbulent political situation it has persevered with its educational programme to improve training of its members and the people they work amongst. By focusing its attention on targeted rural communities across eight regions, it has set out to raise the status of secular, theological and health education.
‘The Church’s long-term goal is to equip members of the diocesan education committees with the necessary management and leadership skills, underpinned with theological learning, to lead the programme into the future. The strategic use of existing educational facilities in the target areas to train and resource volunteer teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge of good practice, is already reaping dividends.
‘Among the many activities the dioceses have delivered in recent months has been training on emergency preparedness, trauma healing, child protection, gender awareness and personal hygiene. It has provided teaching and study guides and facilitated motorbike repair training, as well as promoting the need to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the training it offers.’
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
Lord, give us minds to think
and hearts to love you,
wisdom to know you
and courage to proclaim you.