By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“Peter was kept in Jail, but the people of the church were praying earnestly to God for him.” — Acts 12:5
Week of Prayer
In January of every year, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Vatican sponsor a worldwide celebration of a Week of Prayer for Christian unity. This activity is founded on a living hope that people on bended knees can be more loving and kind, more open-minded, compassionate, and considerate with one another and therefore they can unite more easily for a common good.
Here in Baguio the Week of Prayer for Christian unity was celebrated this past week, January 15-20, 2018. Member churches of the WCC, like the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Philippine Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, Lutheran Church of the Philippines, and the Roman Catholic Church took turns in hosting the prayer services.
It is important to note that the celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is perhaps the only concrete expressions of grassroots ecumenism worldwide. There is a common observation that oftentimes ecumenism or unity among Christians remains only on the leadership level. That’s why leaders of churches who allied themselves with certain political and economic interests could easily withdraw their support to the ecumenical movement for some personal reasons. And so, the hope of the ecumenical movement lies among the masses of people worldwide who have realized the urgent need to be one in prayer in building up a better world starting from where they are.
Church in Prayer
The Book of Acts talks about the life of the Early Church. It shows how the Gospel spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. In order to please the Jewish leaders who were alarmed and jealous about the phenomenal growth of the Christian movement, King Herod (Agrippa I) started persecuting Christians. He ordered the execution of James, the brother of John. They cut off his head and brought it on a plate to the Sanhedrin. Then, King Herod ordered the arrest of Peter and put him in jail. The Book of Acts says, “Peter was kept in Jail, but the people of the church were praying earnestly to God for him” (Acts 12:5).
The church community was united in prayer for Peter. Indeed, there were times in history when the only option left for the church is to kneel down and pray. Today, when an innocent person like Peter is imprisoned, we can have other options to make, like holding some mass actions or seeking for a dialogue with the authorities. But apparently in the Early Church, none of these options were possible. Christians can only come together in an Upper Room and kneel down in prayer.
According to the story, Peter was sleeping when an angel of the Lord woke him up and sent him out of the prison cell. His chains fell off; the prison cell was opened and Peter was set free (Acts 12:6-19). Upon knowing that Peter was nowhere to be found, King Herod ordered the execution of the guards.
Power of Prayer
We must not underestimate the power of prayer. This is our way of communicating with God who created the heavens and the earth. Our prayers may not be able to set free today’s political detainees and other innocent people languishing in jail, like what happened to Peter in the Early Church.
But perhaps by kneeling down together in prayer, we might be able to free ourselves from the prison cell of self-righteousness and closed-mindedness that prevent us to unite as one people for the fulfillment of our common vision of a nation that is just, genuinely peaceful and truly free.
Kneeling down together in prayer might free us from our own prejudices and allow ourselves to mutually listen to each other and to learn from each other and thereby enrich and build up each other’s faith and practice. Kneeling down in prayer might deliver us from self-centeredness and self-preoccupation, leading us to live a life of solidarity with people at the margins of society. Hence, to pray for unity is to live in solidarity with our masses of people. # nordis.net