The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has just ended with a flourish, as a large group of Christians worshipped together on Zoom, in a service inspired by the Feast of the Epiphany and prepared by the Churches of the Middle East. For me, there is an interesting symbolism in this celebration of unity being centred on the Magi from the East, in that some strangers from afar who weren’t connected with the Jewish Tradition undertook long journeys to honour an extraordinary happening, God had become incarnate as a tiny baby. This was God being revealed to the wider gentile world – to all.
In thinking about unity, we shouldn’t however confuse unity with uniformity. Uniformity is all thinking the same and agreeing with each other. Unity is accepting and respecting difference in the pursuit of shared values and goals. In many areas, there’s a tendency for church congregations to be rather homogenous, though certainly in the Episcopal Church in the Highlands because there’s less scope for choosing a church to suit your preferences. Whilst homogeneity isn’t all bad, there are dangers in it: that we come to see what we like, what we choose and the way that we do things as ‘normal’, universally applicable and unchangeable for all time – ‘the proper way of doing things’. Sadly that results in folk becoming defensive and upset by anything or anybody that rocks the boat, challenges the ‘proper way’ or pushes us out of our comfort zone.
Our celebration on Tuesday evening brought together many people of different traditions and practices, to honour an extraordinary happening – the coming of God into our world as one of us – and what that has meant for people all over the world in the 2000 years since. It was a service that brought some of the riches of the Coptic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the French Ecumenical Taizé community and invited us to celebrate using elements that were unfamiliar to most of those present – but you know what, we all enjoyed the experience.
We met as people from across the Churches and Denominations in Sutherland and Easter Ross and one or two from further afield. We met as Christians united in a common faith. We met as part of
“a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”.Revelation 7:9
We met “united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
We met because before Jesus died, he prayed to his Father:
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”John 17:20-23
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity may have ended on Tuesday, but we need to continue in our effort to work more closely together. In every encounter that I have with Christians in another fellowship, denomination or congregation, I realise what riches each have to share with their fellow travellers in Christ. Now where did I put the link to that 2 hour and 47 minute video of a Greek Orthodox celebration of the Epiphany?