R is for Reconciliation
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. [2 Corinthians 517-19]
Much of the pain and sorrow we face in the world arises from disunity and disharmony. Conflicts between individuals, families, groups, countries and even between humanity and the rest of the environment, point to a basic fault in the relationships which govern our lives. Asit is with our relating to other people, so it is in our relating to God.
There is an element in our lives which means we can never quite achieve that perfect unity of love and of purpose for which we long. We may, at times, get close but even in the most harmonious of relationships there are times of strain, argument, and injury. To know fully and to be fully known, to love completely and to be completely loved, lies ever just beyond our grasp.
The Christian Tradition calls this basic fault in our relating to self, to others, and to God, Sin. It is that fundamental self-centredness which transforms the desire for harmony and unity with others, into the desire for power mid control. It is the urge within us, not to be one of Godâs creatures, but to replace God the Creator altogether.
What Saint Paul is saying in the passage above, is that in Christ, God has established a new way of relating for human beings. God has found a solution to the age-old problem of Sin. In Christ, God has reconciled us, which means he has brought us together in love and harmony, with himself. Not only that, but with and through Christ we can be reconciled to each other and to ourselves (how often isthe easiest person to hate and the hardest to forgive our own self?). Old injuries hurt and pain will be forgiven and healed. Afresh start is available: âeverything has become newâ.
Of course, we still await the final fulfilment of this work. Our lives and the world are far from perfect. But the promise of full reconciliation is one of the central messages of the Christian Faith: Forgiveness, love, harmony, and reconciliation are freely available in Christ. One day Godâs Kingdom will be fully established âon earth as it is in heavenâ, and Godâslove and forgiveness will rule the day.
One of the surprising things about this amazing gift of reconciliation is that God, as Saint Paul says, âhas given us the ministry of reconciliation,â and entrusted âthe message of reconciliation to us.â For some reason, God has given his Church, the community of Christâs disciples, a role in his ministry of bringing love, unity and forgiveness. Together, we are to be an avenue of Godâs grace and mercy. Akey purpose for Christians and the Church is to bring about reconciliation. It can do this in three areas:
First, the Christian community should be a place which is loving and caring to all, so that people find a safe environment in which to be open and honest and so be reconciled to themselves.
Second, the Christian community should promote unity and harmony in wider society. It should seek justice for all so that different people and groups can be reconciled to one another. It should work against those forces in the world which aim to increase division and hatred between people.
Third, the Christian community at its core should be about reconciliation between humans and God. This is the most important. In order to be reconciled to one another, we need to be reconciled to God, who is the source of all love, forgiveness, and unity. We do this in many different ways. For example, at each Eucharist we begin by asking our Heavenly Father for forgiveness. Also, we have two seasons of penitence each year, Advent and Lent, when we concentrate on our need of Godâs forgiveness and mercy. And we have the sacrament of reconciliation (going to confession) where we ask God to forgive us and hear the assurance of Godâs love. The emphasis in each of these Church practices is notwhat terrible people we are (a common misunderstanding, particularly about âgoing to confessionâ) but rather what a great God we have who freely forgives us. God wants to set us free. There is no need whatsoever to walk around burdened by guilt and sin.
I finish this article with a poem by the great Anglican poet George Herbert about Godâs desire to reconcile himself to his people.
by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin
But quick-eyâd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lackâd anything.
A guest, I answerâd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, the ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marrâd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
âReconciliationâ by by Josefina de Vasconcellos
St. Michael's Cathedral, Coventry.