Biblical reflections and Prayers

for the “eight days” - 2007

Day 1 - In the beginning was the Word

'And God said…' (Gen 1)

Gen 1: 2 – 2: 4 By his word, God created the universe
Ps 104: 1-9 The Lord of all creation
Rev 21: 1-5a God makes all things new
Jn 1: 1-5 In the beginning was the Word

In the beginning was the Word…on this first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we want to contemplate the work of the Creator. In the silence of the void – the book of Genesis recounts – God created the world through his Word. “And God said…” In the very beginning, when there was nothing but chaos and confusion, the Word of God came to break through the silence to assign to each being its proper place. At the summit of creation it is one humanity which God creates, in the image of his oneness.

The group which inspired this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity comes from South Africa. Its members have recounted how much the Aids epidemic can throw human lives into distress. Often, we also have the impression that our world is in chaos: when the elements engulf us, when war plunges us into terror, when sickness or grief overcomes us…

“And God said...” Confronted with so much suffering, all Christians want to believe that the work of the Creator continues. Despite their divisions, it is the same hope which fills the hearts of all Christ's disciples: the Word of God continues to create today's world by snatching it back from the void, in keeping humanity united. More than ever, Christians of all confessions need to hear this promise: See, I am making all things new, there will be no more mourning and no more pain.

The chaos in which we live can be paralysing. However, the men and women of our world do not want to resign themselves to despair. Thus in South Africa a group of women (Kopanang) who have a family member infected with Aids, come together to weave magnificent cloth. Their creations allow them to provide for their families. Created in the image of God, we too – in our own way – can bring beauty out of chaos.


God our Creator, we gaze at the splendour of your creation. It is your Word which created the universe. When our lives fall into ruin, we beg you to renew your marvellous works. Despite the scandal of our divisions, we can pray with one voice: that your Word never ceases to make all things new in the heart of our broken lives. Give us courage to be artisans of creation too. We pray that the unity we seek for our churches may be truly at the service of the unity of the whole human family. Amen.

Day 2 - The Saving Word of Christ

He makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak' (Mk 7, 31-37)

Is 50: 4-5 God has given me a tongue ... that I may know how to sustain the weary
Ps 34 (33): 1-16 I will bless the Lord at all times
Col 1: 11-20 Jesus is the image of the invisible God
Mk 7: 31-37 Jesus makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak

Isaiah realizes the cost of the gift that the Lord God has given. He has received the power of a word which can sustain the weary and broken hearted. For this to happen he needs ears with which to listen and learn as a disciple. Since the Lord God has called him, he cannot turn back.

Saint Paul understood that the definitive Word has been spoken in Jesus Christ. Paul portrays for us humanity in the unity of its relations with the Son of God, image of the invisible God in whose likeness we have been created. God has rescued us from the power of darkness and taken us into the kingdom of his Son in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. We are one through our baptism in Christ, for we are united to him and Jesus reconciles all things to God. Through the blood of his cross Jesus has given us lasting peace.

The gospel passage illustrates how the power of Jesus enables the deaf to hear his saving word and then to proclaim it to others. Curiously, Jesus commanded those present to remain silent about what they had seen but, like all good news, this could not be contained. Those present became witnesses to the saving power of God's chosen one. It is not only the healed person who proclaims the goodness of the Lord but all those who have witnessed it.

In the South African context as in the gospel, someone will be touched by the Lord and be freed to speak about his or her condition. In turn, this will allow the church to minister to him or to her. As a result others will be able to do the same. This leads to many tongues being loosened and ears being unstopped. Many people living under the conspiracy of silence surrounding such taboo issues as the abuse of women and children, crime in society and HIV/AIDS will step forward to break the silence which in turn will enable others to minister to those most in need. In this context we can see how God continues to open ears and free tongues to hear and then proclaim the saving Word of Christ. It is our common faith celebrated in baptism that enables us to proclaim together the compassion of Christ. In spite of suffering, we become one as we come nearer to Christ by recognizing that in Christ all things are reconciled and held together. This is rooted in the oneness of baptism and the subsequent obligation to glorify God in his work.


God of compassion, you have spoken your saving Word in Jesus. Through his intercession, we pray that our ears may be open to the cry of people caught in the conspiracy of silence. May Jesus loosen our tongues, that together we may proclaim his healing love for those who suffer in silence. Strengthen us by the grace of our common baptism, that the unity we have in Christ may be our strength in bringing hope to those who despair. And together let us proclaim our deliverance through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Day 3 - The Holy Spirit gives us the Word

'The Spirit …will testify on my behalf' (Jn 15: 26)

Joel 2: 26-29 I will pour out my spirit on all flesh
Ps 104 (103) You renew the face of the earth
1 Cor 12: 1-4, 12-13 No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit
Jn 15: 26-27; and 16: 12-13 The Spirit of truth will testify on my behalf

We are one in the Spirit. All have been nourished by the one Spirit. Is it in the same Spirit that we have been baptized into one body? It is the Holy Spirit who speaks and who gives us the crucial energy, the inner power to speak, to announce and proclaim together the good news of the kingdom of God.

Our desire is to live in the Spirit, as a community on the pilgrimage towards unity. If we live according to the Spirit, we desire that which is of the Spirit. And the desire of the Spirit is life and peace.

The Holy Spirit impels us to act. We must break the different forms of silence which get in our way and hold us back: chaotic situations, human division, all those things which offend the dignity of persons and of peoples. How can the word be freed? Where can we find the strength to sow a seed of life, of hope, of openness? How can we break away from all that closes us in and immobilises us?

The Spirit which is poured out upon all flesh drives us to prophesy. It is the Spirit which recreates us in renewing the face of the earth. It is the Spirit which makes us cry 'Jesus is Lord'. It is the Spirit which witnesses to the Lord and enables us to become courageous witnesses. It is the Spirit whom God sends into our hearts, who makes us proclaim 'Abba, Father' and who thus reveals to us our true identity: we are no longer slaves but sons and daughters of God.

When the children and young people of the secondary school COMTEC of Umlazi, South Africa, come together for an ecumenical celebration (cf. Introduction to the Theme), when together they call upon the Holy Spirit, new hope is born for the whole world. It is the Spirit who encourages these young people not to cover up their great problems - family life, unemployment, crime, sickness – in silence and despair…Instead, they praise Christ and start to follow him. They commit themselves with generosity to the service of their brothers and sisters. They bear joy, peace and unity in the Spirit. On our ecumenical journeying, these young people of Umlazi are signs of hope and unity in the Holy Spirit.


Come Holy Spirit - may we know the gift of your presence on our pilgrimage towards unity. Give us the inner strength to become instruments of joy and hope in the world. May your spirit make us one. May your voice give us the appropriate words to confess together our God and Lord and to break the silence which destroys. Spirit of life and of love, renew us in unity. Amen.

Day 4 - The silence of the forgotten and the cries of the suffering

'If one member suffers all suffer together' (1 Cor 12 : 26)

Ex 3: 7-10 God heard the cry of the oppressed
Ps 28: 1-8 O Lord be not silent
1 Cor 12: 19-26 Many members yet one body in Christ
Mk 15: 33-41 Jesus cried aloud: My God why have you forsaken me?

The world in which we live is one in which many people are suffering. Almost everyday we see dramatic pictures in the media and read news about the great catastrophes people have experienced. But the suffering of many people is not acknowledged. They are forgotten. It seems that they suffer silently, but this is a fiction; the silence is more a sign of our ignorance and our egoism.

God hears what we often do not want to hear. He hears the cries of the suffering and he sees their oppression. He does not ignore it (Ex 3). When the people in South Africa read the story of Israel's deliverance from Egypt they remember their own way out of apartheid. Although the people were systematically silenced, their cries for freedom and justice were loud; the pain was deep, and it took a long time for their longing for liberation to be fulfilled.

Nowadays many people in Africa are victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. No war in the world has ever taken more lives than Aids. But the interest – especially in the western world – is not very great. A wall of silence divides the world. Psalm 28 shows us a suffering person, who is crying to God. It is to God that he addresses his misery and his hope. He prays in the trust that God will take notice of him because others do not see his pain.

Together we believe that God shares the trouble and the apprehension of the suffering. Christ crying out on the cross is the clearest sign of this (Mk 15). God is not far away, but in the midst of our suffering.

We are one body in this compassionate Christ. The misery of some members is not their trouble alone but is the responsibility of all. The cries of the infected cannot be ignored or hushed by saying that they are judged by God. If Paul is right when he said: “If one member suffers all suffer together” (1 Cor 12) then we could say that “the whole church has Aids”. We are bound together as one body in Christ. Together, we must take care of the marginalized and ignored.

The great challenge of HIV/AIDS needs a united not a divided or segregated church. It needs a church which cooperates and builds a community of compassion and faith as the one body of Christ, a community where the silence of the forgotten is broken and the cries of the suffering are heard.


Eternal God, you are the hope of those who have been omitted from the agenda of our world. You hear the cries of the wounded hearts and the voices of the despairing souls. Teach us in the power of your Spirit to hear with your ears and reach out through the silence to hear the voices of suffering and longing. As one body in Christ, make us more and more a communion of compassion and a prophetic sign of your incarnate grace and justice. Amen.

Day 5 - God's judgement on our silence

'Just as you did not do it to one of the least of these..' (Mt 25: 45)

Mic 6: 6-8 What does the Lord require of us?
Ps 31 (30): 1-5 God, the refuge and faithful redeemer
1 Pet 4: 17 Judgement begins with the household of God
Mt 25: 31-46 (41-46) You did not do it to me

Those who suffer in silence – who have lost their voice, or had it taken from them – have their refuge and hope in God, who is faithful to redeem them. Yet they rightfully look for help, not only to God but to God's servants, and not least to Christians and the churches. These are called to speak on behalf of those who cannot, or will not, lift their own voices; and to empower the powerless to speak for themselves: the Lord requires us to do justice first of all.

Yet too often the hopes of those who suffer are met with silence. Christians and the churches do not always speak out when they should or work to empower the voiceless to find their own voice. Called to serve others, to do it unto the least of these; too often we do not. Even knowing that Jesus is present in the least of these, we do not always serve them as we ought.

We know that it is time for judgement to begin with the household of God. What we do is set alongside what we are called to do, any difference is made plain: insofar as we are silent and do not empower the powerless to speak, we are judged. Yet the purpose of God's judgement is not to condemn, but to bring us to new life. Confession leads to liberation: recognizing that our silence makes us complicit in the suffering of others, we may yet speak on their behalf, and empower them to speak for themselves.

As Christians and churches – wherever we are – we must ask ourselves whether we are sometimes too silent, with questions such as these:

  1. ·Are we speaking out on behalf of others as best we can, and empowering them to speak for themselves?

  2. ·If not, is it a question of being able to hear the cries of those who suffer? Or have we become numb in the face of so many cries of grief, of (for example) the constant burials in the townships, informal settlements, and rural areas?

  3. ·Are individual churches sometimes so concerned with internal matters, that they are unable to hear the cries of those outside their own walls?

  4. ·Are the churches hampered by their divisions from hearing the cries of those who suffer?

These are difficult questions, but by asking them together we may be able to break the silence and thus show our unity in service to those who suffer.


God our refuge and redeemer,

Hear the voices of those who have no voice;

Open their mouths to speak, and grant them justice and healing, joy and peace at last.

Open our ears to hear the cries of those who suffer;

Open our mouths to speak out on their behalf; and

Open our hearts that we may work to empower others to speak. Amen.

Day 6 - Empowered to speak out

'But the woman…came in fear and trembling…and told him the whole truth' (Mk 5: 33)

Judg 6: 11-16 I will be with you
Ps 50: 1-15 Call on me
Acts 5: 26-32 Obeying God
Mk 5: 24-34 Telling the whole truth

There are topics one is not supposed to talk about : notably, sex, money and religion. And for Jesus to deal with a woman with a haemorrhage was both amazing and groundbreaking. It was faith and confidence in Jesus which encouraged her to reach out to him knowing that healing would flow from him. Being touched, Jesus realised that power had gone out from him while the woman experienced healing and empowerment - the empowerment to speak out and to tell how her whole story of long silent suffering had come to an end. And it was only after she had told her story that Jesus could say: Be healed.

This parallels the situation of many pastors in South Africa, longing to minister to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, but hampered by a conspiracy of silence and shame. Only when those infected and affected are prepared to tell their stories can the words and acts of healing happen and people be ministered to. There is a Zulu saying that keeping silence about a great secret is like sitting on a scorpion. Churches have the task and challenge of providing safe space for those infected to speak out.

The churches themselves need to be outspoken about issues that, for whatever reason, are difficult to talk about. These may include, beyond South Africa, issues of war and peace, the life-destroying effects of global capitalism, the tragedy of asylum seekers, or hidden child abuse. This is not a choice for the church but it points to the very centre and reason for its existence. God has called the church to proclaim his Word to the world, to bring good news to those in need, and churches cannot remain silent when external forces hinder the ongoing incarnation of this Word. But at times, the churches themselves are an obstacle to this incarnation because of their divisions and disunity. The Word given to the church is one, and it is only when churches speak with one voice and act with a single compassion that they become true and credible witnesses to this Word. Therefore the churches have also to be prepared to speak about the shame of their own disunity. Only if we tell the painful truth of our disunity is our healing possible.


Creator God, you spoke and made the world to be good; your risen Son intercedes on our behalf; your Spirit guides us into all truth. Forgive us for those times when our silence has damaged your world, hindered the ongoing work of Christ and muffled the truth. Give us courage, as individuals and as churches, to speak the truth in love with one voice, to embody your compassion for all who suffer, and to send out the good news of the gospel to all the world; in the name of him in whom the Word took flesh among us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Day 7 - Forsakenness

'Why are you so far from helping me?' (Ps 22: 1)

Is 53: 1-5 Bearing our infirmities and carrying our diseases
Ps 22: 1-5 Abandonment
Rom 8: 35-36 Separated from the love of Christ?
Mt 27: 57-61 Love entombed

Jesus' cry of abandonment on the cross echoes the words of the psalmist and asks: 'Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?' Here the suffering servant bears the stigma of a common criminal's execution. Then follows the total silence of death and of the tomb, closed by a great stone, with the two Marys sitting opposite, speechless.

There are times in our lives when suffering exceeds all measures, when there are no words to express our grief, no cries, no tears, no gestures. We are there with the women at the tomb watching everything we had loved and hoped for being buried.

The cemeteries in the townships and rural areas of South Africa are filled with dashed hopes and unspeakable pain. Families that used to have a single grave now have nine. Because of a shortage of cemetery space people are buried on top of relatives, and clergy frequently conduct multiple funerals. It used to be that parents planned their future around a growing family. Now in countless cases children look to a future without parents. Death can silence whole communities.

Yet Christ's suffering was redemptive. He bore the sorrows of all people and by his death redeemed us all. He was lifted up on the cross to draw all people to himself. In his suffering and desperation on the cross he shared and truly participated in the darkest and most fearful experience of pain that humankind can have. The closer we come to the cross of Christ, the closer we come to each other. Christ gave his life for all people and we discover an inherent, given unity when we acknowledge that we all depend equally on this one saving work. The life of the church must express this unity of indebtedness.


Giver and sustainer of life, we thank you that you know and understand when we suffer. In Christ you have even taken our infirmities on yourself and by his wounds we are healed. Grant us faith and courage when we are overwhelmed. In the face of great suffering such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, malaria and traumas of war, remove from us a sense of hopelessness. When life's meaning disappears behind the cloud of suffering, may we focus our attention on Christ, who suffered and yet conquered and made us one redeemed people. In his name we pray. Amen.

Day 8 - Resurrection - glorification

'Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord' (Phil 2:11)

Ezek 37: 1-14 The Lord will bring you up from your graves
Ps 150 Let every thing that breathes praise the Lord
Rom 8: 31-39 It is Christ Jesus, who died, who was raised, who intercedes for us!
Lk 24: 44-52 The apostles were constantly in the temple praising God

South Africa is in torment, the victim of violence and disease. Unjust death knocks at the door of the poverty-stricken inhabitants of the townships and rural areas. Despite this, every Sunday people proclaim the Lord's resurrection with confidence, often following upon funerals the day before.

This determination to celebrate the Lord's resurrection brings all grief and sorrow into a context of hope. Christ was raised from a tomb, revealing God's glorious victory over death on a cross. With faith in God's power to bring life from death, churches in Umlazi begin their Easter celebration with a night vigil where they process to the cemetery with lit candles, proclaiming that 'Christ has risen' amidst the tombs of their loved ones. This echoes Ezekiel's vision of a new earth, wherein the Spirit of God breathes life into dry bones and they are brought back to life. Christians celebrate God's power to transform death into life.

Saint Paul's letter to the Romans speaks of the risen Christ seated at the right hand of God from where Christ announces that every human being has his or her place next to God; evidence of God's reaching out to the world with an offer of reconciliation, consolation and mercy. Trust in the power of God's love gives us confidence to face death and seemingly overwhelming situations. We can also be confident that if nothing can separate us from the love of God, then through the grace of God, nothing can ultimately separate us from one another.

God brings life out of death. God whispers a word of hope in the ears of those in agony, in the ears of those who yearn for unity. It is a hope in that which God is bringing about, of which believers are barely conscious and which remains mysterious: the coming of the kingdom of God. It is the hope that all despairing silence and relentless division will one day give way, so that every tongue might declare with one voice the glory of God the Father. What God whispers in our ears as a foretaste of the kingdom remains a mystery, but it demands our engagement even now. The hope which sustains the believers of South Africa and prevents them from surrendering to despair, should empower all believers to stand in solidarity with those who suffer. All must be willing instruments in God's mission to bring life and light to those who dwell in the darkness of suffering and injustice. This same hope must inspire Christians to seek unity through an ecumenism of daily life, ever receptive to new ways to give expression together to the faith we hold in common.


Lord God, whom we love, before the cross of your Son we contemplate the suffering of a world which longs for your saving help. Raise up in us a hymn of victory which proclaims that he has conquered death 'by death' and that the risen life which was made known on Easter morning offers us life and victory over death and the forces of evil. Amen.


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