INTRODUCTION TO 2017 WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY THEME:
Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us
(cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20)
Germany: The Land of the Lutheran Reformation
In 1517 Martin Luther raised concerns about what he saw happening in the Church by making public his 95 theses. This year marks the 500th anniversary of this key event in the reformation movements, often controversial in the history of inter-church relations in Germany. This is why the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has invited its ecumenical partners at various levels to help commemorate the events of 1517.
After extensive discussions, the churches in Germany agreed that the way to commemorate this Reformation event ecumenically should be a Christusfest – a Celebration of Christ. If the emphasis were to be placed on Jesus Christ and his work of reconciliation as the centre of Christian faith, then all the ecumenical partners of the EKD (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Mennonite and others) could participate in the anniversary festivities.
The Lutheran – Roman Catholic Commission on Unity has worked hard to produce a shared understanding of the commemoration. Its report, From Conflict to Communion, recognizes that both traditions approach this anniversary with new understandings of their own history and theology. In 2017 Lutheran and Catholic Christians will, for the first time, commemorate together the beginning of the Reformation.
From this agreement and the wider ecumenical context emerges the strong theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: “Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14).
The Council of Churches in Germany (ACK) and the Reformation Anniversary 2017
It was in the context of this anniversary that the Council of Churches in Germany (ACK), invited by the World Council of Churches, took up the work of creating the resources for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A committee representing different churches met to develop the necessary texts. A particular emphasis was placed on the preparation of the ecumenical worship service, which is intended to serve the general purpose of the Week of Prayer, while at the same time commemorating the Lutheran Reformation.
The Theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2017
When the planning committee met, it became clear that the materials for this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity would need to have two accents. On the one hand, there should be a celebration of God’s love and grace, reflecting the main concern of the churches marked by Martin Luther’s Reformation. On the other hand, the materials should also recognize the pain of the subsequent deep divisions which afflicted the Church, and offer an opportunity to take steps toward reconciliation.
Pope Francis’ use of the quote “The Love of Christ Compels Us” (2 Cor 5:14) in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”, Paragraph 9) provided the theme for this year. With this scripture, taken in its fuller context, the committee formulated the 2017 theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
This biblical text emphasizes that reconciliation is a gift from God, intended for the entire creation. As a result of God´s action, those who have been reconciled in Christ are called, in turn, to proclaim this reconciliation in word and deed, living no longer for themselves, but for Christ who died for all.
Compelled to Witness
The love of Christ compels us to pray, but also to move beyond our prayers for unity among Christians. Congregations and churches need the gift of God´s reconciliation as a wellspring of life. Above all, they need it for their common witness to the world. May the wellspring of God´s gracious reconciliation overflow in this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, so that many people may find peace, and so that bridges may be built. May people and churches be compelled by the love of Christ to live reconciled lives and to break down the walls that divide!