Ecumenism sometimes really feels like dreaming the impossible dream. Christianity is so fragmented and has been that way for so long. A hundred years of hard work sometimes seems to have brought us little closer to the goal of restored Christian unity. So many wounds to be healed, so many disputes to be resolved, so many sins to be confessed and forgiven…
But we all know that what is impossible for humans is possible for God. And sometimes what looks impossible to humans at first glance is not that impossible after all.
Just out of curiosity, I decided to calculate how many steps it takes to get from Erfurt to Rome. The journey itself is, according to our best estimates, 1732 kilometers (or 1076 miles—sounds more impressive in kilometers). The average number of steps in one kilometer is 1320. Multiply the two figures and you get a whopping 2,286,240 steps! My feet hurt already.
It sounds absurd, it sounds impossible, it sounds painful—but actually it’s not. You can actually walk 2,286,240 steps in 75 days. Even less, if you move a little faster, which is what Luther would have done, and in unpleasant winter weather without orthopedic footwear, during the Advent fast, for that matter.
This strikes me as a good symbol of ecumenism itself. There might be 2,286,240 steps that separate Lutherans and Catholics at present. The distance sounds insurmountable. But it’s not. It’s quite manageable, given time and diligence. There are no maps for ecumenical reconciliation, so we don’t actually know how far we’ve come. But maybe by now we’re closer than we think.