Praying for Reconciliation

The Gospel of Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is sparse when compared with Matthew’s or the version we’re used to praying in worship. 

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

For we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial. (Luke 11:1-5)

Yet even this bare-bones version of the prayer carries the fullness of Jesus’ message and mission: putting God first; relying on God for our needs; God’s grace for us and our sharing of that grace with others; trusting our future to God. As we pray for God’s kingdom to come, we are reminded of what that kingdom looks like. As Sharon Ringe put it: 

What is at stake is a wholly new basis for human interaction – the polar opposite of the systems of debt and obligation, patronage and merit, honor and shame, that characterize life under various human institutions and authorities. In the realm of God, those old rules are canceled, and all things are made new. It is a prayer to be both spoken and lived. 1

During the night of November 14, 1940, firebombs fell on the English city of Coventry. The medieval cathedral there took heavy damage, and only its spire and a few outside walls were left standing. The next morning a local priest came to take in the ruins, and he collected a few medieval nails that he found amid the wreckage. Taking some wire, he bound the nails together into the shape of a cross. 

Soon the words “Father Forgive” were carved on a wall in the ruins, right behind the communion altar. Not “Father Forgive Them,” but simply and broadly: “Father Forgive.” 

A month later, on Christmas Day, the community gathered in the cathedral ruins and defiantly celebrated the birth of the Savior. The cathedral’s provost later said on a BBC broadcast:

“Early this Christmas morning, here under these ruins, in the lovely little stone chapel built six hundred years ago, we began the day with our Christmas communion, worshiping the Christ, believe me, as joyfully as ever before. What we want to tell the world is this: that with Christ born again in our hearts today, we are trying, hard as it may be, to banish all thoughts of revenge… We are going to try to make a kinder, simpler, a more Christ Child-like sort of world in the days beyond this strife.”

This declaration was a seed that grew into the Community of the Cross of Nails, a global network of organizations who commit to these guiding principles:

  1. Healing the wounds of history;
  2. Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity;
  3. Building a culture of peace.

Valparaiso University is a member of this community. The cross in this picture is of our own Coventry Cross of Nails, which we received in 1965, symbolizing our connection to this network. This is the cross we use in our worship services.

But more potently, we remind ourselves of our community’s commitment to reconciliation by regularly praying the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation. At the Coventry Cathedral, this litany is prayed daily at noon, in the ruins themselves. Here at Valpo, we often say these words together during Thursday morning prayer, and other confessions we use, which have been written by students over the years, have been inspired by this litany.

The Coventry community hopes that the litany “serves as a reminder that when we pray about the problems of the world around us, we need to begin by acknowledging the roots of those problems in our own hearts.”

As we continue to lament the news headlines; as we pray for the people of Ukraine, Myanmar, Nigeria, and all who live amid war and violence; as we go numb with arguing about the pandemic; as we gird ourselves for another election cycle…

May the Lord’s Prayer be our daily reminder that God has called and claimed us for a radical way of being in this broken world: with lives centered on God’s love and grace, lives that build up love and grace in the world around us.

May prayers like the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation remind us to look both inward and outward as we pray for God’s grace to cover and transform the broken places in our world. 

May God make our commitment bear the fruit of reconciliation in our own Valpo community and beyond.

The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,

Father forgive.

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,

Father forgive.

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste to the earth,

Father forgive.

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,

Father forgive.

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,

Father forgive.

The lust which dishonors the bodies of men, women, and children,

Father forgive.

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,

Father forgive.

Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

1 Sharon H. Ringe, Luke, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 165.

Pr Kate

March 23, 2022

Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay takes turns writing weekly devotions with Rev. James A. Wetzstein at Valparaiso University, where both serve as university pastors.