I have just returned from Ripon’s Harrogate Road Methodist Church and the city’s united service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The minister explained that the title of the worship material was Crossing Barriers; it has been produced by the churches in Germany for global use.
That is significant, since it was in Germany 500 years ago this year that Martin Luther – a priest, monk and scholar – famously attached his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg.
Luther’s theses were assertions about the Christian faith and he was inviting people to enter into debate with him.
In fact, by his action, Luther succeeded in triggering the European Reformation and so influenced the history of this continent and the wider world from then on.
It could be thought that Luther created more barriers and division.
The Church fractured further into many different denominations.
Last week, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York recognised that the Reformation brought great blessings – such as communicating that we are put right with God by his free love and not by our deeds, and being able to read the Bible in our own native language.
But the Archbishops also acknowledged that the Reformation did lasting damage to the unity of the Church. And who can tell what difference the resultant barriers have made to the political unity of Europe? This is worth pondering when our national leaders are considering possible trade deals and the possible barriers to free trade.
Ripon’s unity service, the sort of event that will have taken place across this region and, in fact, around the world, made a clear point. Ultimately, the only thing that breaks down the barriers that human beings put up, between themselves and God and between each other, is the cross of Christ himself. In revealing God’s undying, forgiving love, Christ showed the way to all lasting unity: barriers are crossed.
Well, some barriers were crossed for a while with the coming together of representatives of the Roman Catholics, the Church of England, Methodists, the United Reformed Church, the Salvation Army and others.
It was good while it lasted and it gave us an opportunity to remind ourselves that more unites us than divides us – leading us all to light candles of peace.
I was delighted when the chap behind me said: “Candlemas has come early!”
Candlemas: a spectacular event held in the cathedral
We look forward to Candlemas on Thursday, February 2. The cathedral is hosting its customary spectacular candle-lit celebration to which people from across the region are warmly invited.
It is incredible how far some people travel to join us. Many come from way beyond the county borders, often booking into local restaurants for a pre-service meal – the light shines out in different ways!
And I also have an opportunity to stress how welcoming we like to be in this Yorkshire cathedral.
Candlemas, 40 days after Christmas, is when we remember how Jesus’ parents took him to the Jerusalem temple to make the sacrifice demanded by the Jewish law.
Also, for children and those who want a slightly more informal service, the cathedral is hosting a Candlemas Christingle service on Saturday, February 4 at 3.30pm, followed by refreshments. In the cause of crossing barriers, all are welcome!